I am writing this while traveling 238 kilometers per hour on the Frecciargento between Rome and Lecce, which is in the far south of Italy… The heel of the boot to be exact. This is the final leg of a trip that began in Prague then on to Vienna and Budapest. While not a wine trip per se, wine is everywhere and each stop an opportunity to learn and savor the wine culture.
The Czechs are proud to be returning to local quality wine… A recovery after years of Communist collectivism and state control that destroyed the winemaking culture and infrastructure. Most of the wine comes from the Moravia region, which borders Austria to the north of Vienna. The white are tasty and include (I won’t even try to type the Czech names) Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Gruner, Muscat, Muller Thurgau and other grapes. For reds there is a version of Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch. I wasn’t impressed by the Pinot but really enjoyed the Blaufrankisch. The most interesting wine experience though involved a wine from Bosnia that we sipped at a Balkan restaurant. Yummy and full bodied it tasted to me like Syrah… But translation escaped us! We just drank and enjoyed!
In Vienna the wine was flowing. I love Gruner Veltliner, the signature white of Austria with its spicy fresh minerality. But here again the rich red, Blaufrankisch really shined for me. Perhaps it was because I haven’t had much of this varietal, rather most of the Austrian red I have enjoyed has been Zweigelt, which is better known and more available on our shelves. The surprise in Vienna was a lovely Pinot Noir from the Vienna DAC (designated wine region around the city) or as I think of it in German – Wein from Wien! It had a wonderful Burgundian character with an earthy nose and ripe dark cherry fruitiness along with the acidity to really taste great with my traditional Viennese boiled beef. The dinner, at a well known Vienna restaurant, the Bar Rote of the Hotel Sacher, preceded a concert featuring Mozart and Strauss selections. The big finish was hearing the Blue Danube Waltz played live! I love traveling!
Then on to unexpected Budapest. All of the major international varieties were on the wine list, but from Hungarian producers. My ‘on the road’ rule is “drink local” and the wines were as good as any. My favorite was an Egri Cuvée. This is their Bordeaux or Meritage style blend of red grapes. There are eleven varieties permitted overall but each wine must have at least five in the blend to be an Egri Cuvée but you can be sure that a significant amount is Bikavér… The famous “bull’s blood” of Hungary. And, wow, was it good with my chicken paprika. But the undisputed star of Hungarian wine is Tokaji.
Tokaji is the sweet wine made from the indigenous Furmint grape and it is decadently luscious. The sweetness is rated by the Puttonyos added to the wine. WINE GEEK ALERT: they were small baskets carried by the grape pickers. The ripe Furmint are picked and made into a delightful white wine of its own, but some grapes are left to hang longer in order to Botyrize… Acquire the ‘noble rot’ fungus that shrivels and concentrates the sugars in the grape. The individual grapes are then picked and put into the Puttonyos. Now days the grapes are made into a paste added to ferment with the base wine, greatly enhancing the residual sugar in the final wine. The number of Puttonyos of Botyrized grapes added is on the label, up to six Puttonyos. I loved the 5 Puttonyos Tokaji to sip as dessert but it’s also often served with richly flavored foie gras!
So now Puglia! I’ll share some wine culture from here another time… This is another “Old World” wine culture where the food and the grape are inseparable.
The discovery of wine culture on the road is a passion… And there’s a big wide world to explore! From the Czech Republic through Austria and Hungary with a detour to a wine from Bosnia, each stop brings new sips to savor.