Wednesday, August 12, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Bloggers

While Boo needed to trundle home to Vancouver, I shuffled off (kinda close) to Buffalo. The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference was about to get underway in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. Needing to be in Corning by mid-day Wednesday, I made my way from NYC - by bus none-the-less (no planes or trains and I didn't have an automobile) - and spent the balance of Tuesday getting acclimated to Corning with a night on the town.

No sooner had I settled into the Conference hotel then I ran into blogging buddies from past Conferences, Peter and Nancy Bourget - better known as the bons vivant behind the Pull That Cork blog. Feeling the need for some nourishment - and, of all things - a glass of wine, we toured Corning's main drag and happened upon the delightful restaurant/bar, Hand + Foot. Not only did the vibe call out to us but the cozy hideaway was made all the more enticing by the little poster in the window announcing that they were featuring wines especially for visiting wine bloggers. How could we pass them by?

After striking up a full-out wine nerd conversation with one of the owners and the bartender du jour, we took them up on one of the bar's current faves.

1972.  2014 Getariako Txakolina Ameztoi (Getariako Txakolina D.O. - Spain)

So the story goes, this wine is called Txakoli and the additional letters on Txakolina translate to "the Txakoli." Ameztoi is the producer and is one of the biggest fish in a small pond when it comes to Txakoli. The wine has been largely made for home consumption, in the Basque region of Spain, until the 1980's when a few districts and varieties achieved Denominación de Origen (or appellation) status. Txakoli wines are primarily produced as white wines but there are also red versions and, as we discovered here, a few Rosés as well.

Txakoli whites are made from the Hondarribi Zuri grape and they are known to exhibit a slightly chalky, minerally with citrus notes and a noticeable spritz or light fizz to them. They are made to be drunk while young and fresh. This Ameztoi Rosé is similar in profile but is a bit bolder with a 50/50 blend of Hondarribi Zuri and its red counterpart, Hondarribi Beltza.

I was particularly gung ho to try the wine, thinking that I was going to add two new grapes to my Wine Century Club tally. After all, Hondarribi anything was as foreign a sounding grape as I could remember running across. Hondarrabi Zuri is apparently also known as Crouchen and learning that surprised the hell out of me because we actually drank a bottle of Crouchen (blended with Riesling) a couple of years back when Boo and I were touring wine country in Australia. I'd have never guessed that I'd already added Hondarribi Zuri to my tally as Crouchen. Go figure.

Luckily, I still get to add the red grape, Hondarribi Beltza to my tally as grape #196. While the white grape seems to have travelled a bit - if only to Australia in small amounts - Jancis Robinson reports, in her tome Wine Grapes, that the red Beltza is extremely rare and isn't found in many vineyards outside of Basque country. She notes that it reminds some of Cabernet Franc when made into a full red.

Eric Asimov wrote in the New York Times that "the vast proportion of Txakolina is consumed in Basque country. You find it virtually nowhere else in Spain, except in Basque restaurants, and very little is exported around he world, with one major exception: the United States." Mr. Asimov also reported that the Ameztoi family only started making the Rosé in the last decade but they find that the local population has no affinity for this different take on the wine and almost all of the winery's Rosé is shipped to New York.

Txakoli traditionally accompanies Basque snacks like anchovies and preserved tuna. I'm not so sure it was the best of fits for my incredibly rich pulled pork, grilled cheese sandwich. But the sandwich was so good, I likely could have drunk the bar's dishwater and still been sated.

1973.  2012 Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec (Hungary)

Being the experienced drinkers that we were, we decided - after a little bit of discussion - that we just might be able to handle a second bottle before calling it a night. We stayed on the wine trail less travelled and ordered a dry Tokaj. I'm not all that familiar with Tokaj wines - primarily because they aren't that common in our Vancouver market but also because they're often found only as high end dessert wines that come in at a pretty penny - but, unlike the Txakoli, at least I knew of them.

Királyudvar is an historic estate in Hungary. The name translates to "Kings Court" but the estate had lost much of its glory until an American businessman, Tony Kwang, purchased it in 1997. The tale goes that Mr. Kwang was visiting Budapest and tried a "6 puttonyos" Tokaji Aszú dessert wine that made such an impression that he travelled 200 kilometres the next day where he discovered Királyudvar, purchasing it a couple of months later. He has since embarked on a modernization of the winery that also included the introduction of biodynamic farming to the estate.

As mentioned, Tokaj wines are probably best known as dessert wines, in large part because the local Furmint and Hárslevelu grapes are susceptible to the botrytis rot, as are the world renowned Sauternes wines of Bordeaux. As such, the promise of a dry Furmint was an intriguing option.

Similarly to the recent introduction of the Ameztoi Rosé, this dry version of a Tokaj was only proposed as a new innovation for the winery in 2005. Indeed, it is still sees a relatively limited production in that only 2000 cases made in 2012.

A blend of 85% Furmint and 15% Hárslevelu, I found the Királyudvar to be more enjoyable to my palate that the Txakoli. And, more than that, these actually are two new grapes to add to my Wine Century Club tally - numbers 197 and 198. I'm getting so achingly close to 200 that I might even reach my Doppel membership before we knock back the 2001st wine on The List. Furmint and its offspring, Hárslevelu, are grown mostly in Hungary where they are believed to have originated from; however, they have travelled somewhat around Central Europe, to neighbouring countries like Austria, Slovakia, Croatia and Romania. The two even found their way, as a pair, to South Africa.

This little venture on the town in Corning certainly proved that there's a whole world of wine out there to be discovered.

I've since read that Txakoli is often "poured in an exuberant arc from a bottle held high above the shoulder into tumblers to create a bust of bubbles in the glass." Such an experience was not our's but I think my excitement at getting another three grape varieties to add to my Wine Century Club tally more than made up for the lost opportunity for a show. Besides I think there'll be plenty of show to come with Mr. and Ms. Pull That Cork - and all the other bloggers - over the next couple of days.

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