Last week, wine lovers in Delhi had a special treat: a chance to taste wines from two great wine regions that could not be more different from each other, Hungary and Australia, arranged by Sommelier India WINE magazine for the Wine Society of Delhi and Peter Lehman Wines from the Barossa in association with Brindco. Jyoti Thottam South Asia Bureau Chief for Time Magazine, was present at both. Right: Winemaker Csaba Malatinszky
The Wine Society gathered on 15 February at Claridge’s to taste the complex wines of the Villany-Siklos wine region in southern Hungary, near Croatia. The winemaker, Csaba Malatinszky, spoke passionately about why he does as little as possible to get in the way of the grape. That means gentle crushing, hand-harvesting, no irrigation, careful management of the yield and canopy and proud use of Hungarian oak. We tasted five of the wines, beginning with a crisp rose as an aperitif and then a 2007 chardonnay with lots of citrus and mineral with the first course, a truffled fusilli. And then we moved on to the reds, which were almost as interesting to talk about as they were to drink. The 2007 “pinot bleu” is a blend of 30% pinot noir with kekfrankos, a grape native to Hungary. It had plummy black fruit, some earth and the complexity of a good zinfandel. Another blend, the 2006 “cabernoir” is just what it sounds like – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and pinot noir. Never mind the unorthodox mixing of Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals–this is a wine that’s very easy to like, with plenty of blackcurrant fruit, spice and (could it be?) some chocolate on the finish. Both these wines can age.
The wine Malatinszky seems most proud of, though, was the 2007 cabernet franc. There was no hint of the green bell pepper, vegetal taste that many people find so challenging. By the end of the evening, I understood why the New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov, finds Hungarian wines–in this case dry whites–so fascinating, as he wrote in a recent column: [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/dining/10pour.html?hpw]. Hungary’s Malatinsky Kuria wines don’t have an importer yet in India, but I have no doubt that will change very soon.
Unlike Hungary, Australia is already familiar to most wine lovers. So when Howard Duncan of Peter Lehmann vineyards came to the Imperial Hotel for a special tasting of shiraz on Feb. 16, it was like greeting an old friend. When I first started drinking wine, shiraz was my favorite, and it is still a familiar presence on my table. But this tasting was much more–a chance to see the range and complexity of wine from one region, the Barossa Valley, and experience the subtle expressions of its terroir.
Left:Peter Lehmann Eden Valley
Right: Peter Lehmann 2008 Barossa Shiraz
We started with a 2008 Riesling, a legacy of the Silesians who first settled the Barossa in the mid-19th century. It had the bright citrus of a the fine Rieslings of Germany, but with a little a more heft and a deliciously long finish. We moved on from there to several shiraz, all from Peter Lehmann’s vineyards but each one slightly different. The 2008 Art Series Shiraz had bold black fruit, spice and leather. The 2007 Futures shiraz was smoother, with plum, prune and rich coffee. In the 2006 Eden Valley, there was a little more spice, and softer black cherry fruit. Notice a pattern here? Working backwards was like watching a child grow up – fun at every age but more interesting with each passing year. By the time we got to the 2004 wines -the Eight Songs and Stonewell shiraz, the table was getting more lively, and my notes were getting more sparse. But these are special wines–the same classic shiraz flavors of blue and black fruit, and sweet spice but so well integrated that they actually taste more rich than the younger ones.
And it was fascinating to taste them alongside the “mystery” wine Howard brought with him–a 2006 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, a 100% syrah from the Rhone Valley. It had a gorgeous black pepper note, and sat comfortably next to these wines from half a world away. Duncan pointed out that, in some ways, the phrase “New World” wines is misleading–winemakers in the Barossa Valley have been using many of the same grapes and methods that their ancestors brought with them from Europe, and have treasured those traditions for generations. He proved his point to me last week, and I invite you to see for yourself.