Kadarka, Cadarca, Gamza

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Based on a post first written and posted for Blue Danube Wines and a masterclass at RoVinHud in Romania, November 2016. Updated 16 March 2017 following a Kadarka tasting in Szekszárd.

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Line up of Kadarka wines from Romania, Serbia and Hungary at my masterclass RoVinHud in Romania

Hungary is increasingly looking to its vinous history and indigenous varieties. There is a growing number of winemakers, who, with the help of research institutes like the one at Pécs, are replanting varieties which were almost lost during the phylloxera epidemic. Kadarka is one of those varieties now seeing a revival. It also happens to be my current favourite variety. Continue reading

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Hungarian Cabernet Franc

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4th December is Cabernet Franc Day. Happy #cabfrancday!

Cabernet Franc featured high on my recent trip to Romania and Hungary. I had been asked to talk about marketing Hungarian Cabernet Franc wines, specifically from the region of Villány, at the 2nd  Franc & Franc Conference in Villány on 18th November 2016. Caroline Gilby MW presented a tasting of Cabernet Franc wines from elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. Zoltán Győrffy presented a range of Cabernet Franc from Friuli in northern Italy.

Elizabeth Gabay MW at the Villány Franc & Franc Conference 2016

Elizabeth Gabay MW at the Villány Franc & Franc Conference 2016

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Southern French Carignan Revival

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Hiding away in southern French blends, Carignan is often unnoticed by wine drinkers. However, an enthusiastic trend amongst a few growers in southern France, Spain, Chile, California and Israel to produce this variety in all its glory, has captured my imagination. The more I taste this variety, the more I enjoy it – from the fresh zippy bramble wines to wines which are deep, black and velvety – this is a variety well worth looking out for. If you see it bottled as a single variety, the chances are it was made by a true lover of this grape.

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

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A Bouquet of Tibouren Rosés

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Tibouren is regarded by many in Provence as the traditional variety for making rosé, unique to the area. Tibouren is a pale-skinned grape, suited to making rosé, as it allows for fuller fruity character to be developed without extracting lots of colour. An early ripening variety, it seems to do best in sunnier sites, usually the hotter coastal regions which also benefit from damper maritime winds. Plantings have never been extensive (currently around 450ha), as it is regarded as slightly temperamental, with susceptibility to coulure (poor fruit-set after flowering), and irregular yields. Most Tibouren is from old vines. DNA analysis suggests a close connection with the equally rare Rossese which makes red wine in Dolceacqua, just over the border from Nice in western Liguria, Italy. Continue reading

10 Exciting White Wines at Vinisud 2016

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Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 – the three day exhibition in Montpellier focusing on wines of the Mediterranean.

This is a vast fair, making it impossible to taste all the wines I wanted. Many gems I wanted to taste and never reached – but here are 10 whites which stood out. In some cases, a producer had different white wines or appellations which were also excellent – but I have restricted the choice to one from each domaine and from each appellation.

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A Tasting of International Rosés

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As most of the rosés I taste are from Provence, it is always interesting to look further afield to compare those from other countries and in other styles.

So, in August I organised a group of wine professionals to meet at Domaine le Grand Cros in Carnoules, to taste a range of rosé wines, to see which styles we liked and to create an atmosphere in which to challenge accepted ideas. Especially as rosé styles are fast evolving.

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We had an eclectic mix of 19 rosés from Hungary, Italy, Spain, USA and Lebanon. Some were received as samples from producers. Others we chose as being easily available in France, and were bought from Metro, the nationwide food and wine wholesalers.

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Unpronounceable Grapes from Hungary

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The Unprounceable Grape

The Unprounceable Grape wine label

Ever since an Hungarian wine made with Cserszegi füszeres was labelled as “The Unpronounceable Grape” for the UK market, there has been some caution as to whether Hungarian varietal wines are handicapped in the international market.

I was asked to talk at the Prowein wine fair in March 2015, about whether I thought this was so. We looked and tasted a range of Hungarian varieties, many with wonderfully poetic translations: Arany Sárfehér (golden mud), Hárslevelü (lime leaf), Királyleányka (the King’s daughter), Leányka, Szürkebarát (hooded grey monk – Pinot Gris), Portugieser (red – previously Kékoportó), Irsai Olivér and Cserszegi Fűszeres (the spicy grape from Cserszeg) – but we could have also included Juhfark (sheep’s tail), Kadarka (red), Kéknyelű (blue stalk), Ezerjó (1000 blessings), Kékfrankos (red), Olaszrizling and Furmint,

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Provençal Carignan

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Following on from the successful Israeli Carignan tasting, I decided to look more closely at Provencal wines made from Carignan.

Until the 1970s, Carignan was one of the main grapes of Provence, blended with Grenache and Cinsault to make classic Provençal red and rosé wines. Grenache provided the fruit and sugar, Cinsault the charm and floral notes, Carignan the tannin and acidity.

However, Carignan’s main claim to fame was its potential for high yields. It was regarded as a poor quality grape – tough, unyielding and lacking in charm, a cash crop. Efforts to raise the quality of wine in Provence led to changes in the appellation regulations in the 1970s and restrictions in planting Carignan. As a result, much of the Carignan vines in Provence date from the 1970s or earlier. Continue reading

A Taste of Carignan

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Tasting line up at Shulchan Restaurant, Tel Aviv

On a recent visit to Israel, I was invited by David Perlmutter to present a tasting on wines made from Carignan. This is a variety of which I am very fond, but, living in Provence means that, whereas 30 years ago I may have tasted a fair amount of this variety, today it here is rarely available. It is not popular, or is not successful, in rosé wine, now nearing 90% of Provençal wine production. In red wines, the once standard trio of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault is steadily becoming subservient to the stronger flavours of Mourvedre, Syrah and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon.

So I was very excited by the chance of tasting a few varietal Carignan wines. I was able to discuss the variety’s potential with local winemakers – Assaf Paz, Yotam Sharon, Kobi Arviv and Barak Dahan were all present to present their wines, as well as Adam Montefiore representing Carmel. Carignan is experiencing a small revival in Languedoc and Chile and now it looks like its reputation is growing in Israel.

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