Monday, February 14, 2011

Eastern European Wines Shine at the Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Festival

This weekend we attended the 12th Annual Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Festival and spent the majority of time tasting wine produced in Eastern Europe and the Finger Lakes. Yes, other wine regions were well represented, but on the heels of our article, Blue Frankish - A Great Wine By Any Name, we decided to taste the wines we described in the article. Our day started comparing Hungarian Kékfrankos and Finger Lakes Lemberger; although they weren't exact comparisons because the Finger Lakes versions were 50/50 blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Hungarian side we tasted the Heumann Villany Kékfrankos and the Pfneisxl Sopron Kékfrankos. The latter is lighter, made organically, but with the same smoothness and cherry flavors as the Heumann. On the Finger Lakes side, Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company were both pouring Lemberger\Cabernet Franc blends. These wines reflect the natural balance that occurs with blending these two grapes - the fruit forwardness and spiciness of the Lemberger and the green fullness of the Cab Franc. We actually experimented, creating our own 50/50 blend of
Heumann Kékfrankos and Heumann Cabernet Franc - and this mixture was easily more enjoyable than each as a single varietal. Just remember, whether Hungarian Kékfrankos or Finger Lakes Lemberger, all are very good, affordable, every day drinking wines.

We also tried several other Hungarian wines, from dry reds and whites to the famous Tokaji Aszu. We tasted the Eszterbauer Szekszárd Kardaka Nagyapám, a dry, medium bodied wine with some similar characteristics as the Kékfrankos - without the complexity. Kardaka is a traditional Hungarian grape that was once the dominate grape in the famous Egri Bikaver - Bull's Blood. Its nice to see a single varietal Kardaka make the journey West. There was also plenty of dry Furmint available, another traditional Hungarian wine grape that is normally vinified into Aszu. Made dry, it is a refreshing wine, balanced between fruit and mineral characters. And we had to sample the sweet Furmint displayed in two wines: Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos and the 6 Puttonyos Aszu. Both had the powerful apricot flavors - definitely strong - but not gritty or syrupy. The "Dessert Wine of Kings". Check out the Blue Danube Wine Company more more information about these wines.

After tasting the various Hungarian wines, we moved to neighboring wines produced in Croatia and Slovenia. We are more familiar with Croatian wines, particularly those made from Crljenak Kastelanski - better known as Primitivo and Zinfandel. Another familiar grape is the indigenous Babić as well as its parent Placac Mali. Both of these were available today: Babić Piližota and the Lirica Plavac Mali Peljesac Dalmatia. Both these wines are produced in the warmer climates in the Dalmatia coast. The Babić was smooth and silky, balanced between fruit and earthiness. The Plavac Mali featured more red fruits and seemed more tannic and spicy. Both were very good and extremely affordable. Check out Fine Croatian Wines for more information.

Even with a visit to Slovenia, we are not very familiar with Slovenian wines, but after tasting the wines made by Ptujska Klet, that will change. This winery is the oldest in Slovenia with its cellars dating back to 1239. We started with the Pullus Pinot Grigio Ptuj. Normally not fans of wines made from this grape, this wine was more than drinkable - fuller than most of its kin with an actual tail. Not bad. But the second we tasted was the bomb; the
Pullus Sauvignon Blanc. This wine had everything you would expect from that variety - refreshing acidity, tropical flavors - this wine just exploded in the mouth. Will definitely give some New Zealanders a run. Wow. Once again, check out Fine Croatian Wines for more information.

We did try other wines, in particular several Pinotages from the large contingent of South African wines. The best trend was that most lacked the strong tobacco - smokey characteristic that repelled us from consuming more of wine varietal. In fact, most resembled its parent, Pinot Noir, with silky bodies and creamy texture. These were nicely done and very affordable. Time to re-evaluate these wines.

Then, of course, we had to sample the Finger Lakes dry Rieslings and the Rhatiselli from Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. Combined with the reds we tasted earlier - we must include a trip north this summer. Too much good wine being made in that region to miss.

And finally, there were a few spirits. It was nice to see our friends from St Lucia Distillers Group, producers of Castries Crème, rolling out a new line of rum under the Chairman's Reserve brand - Chairman’s Reserve and Chairman’s Reserve Spiced. The spiced rum was very interesting - with the spices and botanicals contributing like a fine gin rather than a chemical additive as with many spiced rums. And Philadelphia Distilling returned, pouring their Vieux Carré Absinthe and Bluecoat American Gin. We didn't sample today, but expect a future episode featuring these spirits from

In sum, another enjoyable wine festival with enough diversity to keep us interested. Until next time....


barricas said...

It less like being back in the same saddle so much as a saddle adjustment. It's always a good idea to write about what you know and what's closest to your heart. With the move to WA, it would seem that the wine industry there is now the new obvious regional topic to focus on.

Dr. Christian G.E. Schiller said...

The show was indeed very interesting with the Eastern and Central European wines and the huge selection of South African wines. I visited SA a few months ago and wrote about it on schiller-wine