The last year has been a veritable odyssey, a journey through wine and around the world, meeting fascinating, inspiring people, experiencing beautiful countryside and tasting wines both in situ and here in Budapest. Well, perhaps mainly in Europe, but I’ve also been to South Africa and touched down briefly on the Asian side of Turkey. The journey began in Gascony, with Armagnac and Gascon wines, through southern Portugal, with the luscious fortified Moscatel de Setúbal and the tongue-twisting Portuguese varieties, and to South Africa, where forest fires were unfortunately raging, some of which encroached on the vineyards around Cape Town. It took me to prestigious regions, such as Bordeaux, Barolo and the Loire, and to less well-known regions in Sicily, Turkey and Bulgaria, tasting varieties such as Nerello Mascalese, Karasakiz and Mavrud. Of course, I also discovered Hungary, visiting Szekszárd, Tokaj, Eger, Badacsony, Balatonfüred, Balaton, Kunság, Neszmély and Villány. I certainly tasted Hungary and I could probably say I tasted the world. And it has given me the appetite for more.
2015 has also seen me start my WSET diploma, become an associate judge at the International Wine Challenge and begin working with WineSofa...
I have come to realise that the more you learn about wine, the wider and wider your horizons become, until the vista is seemingly infinite. The view beyond Chardonnay, Merlot et al continues far into the distance. The last year or two has seen my horizons expand exponentially, and I can only imagine that this will continue. Orange wine, biodynamic wine, natural wine, wines produced in qvevri or concrete eggs, or wines from indigenous varieties being rediscovered like the Hungarian Purcsin, produced by the Bükk wine region’s Zsolt Sándor in minute quantities from vines in Tokaj, from a couple of rows of vines at Oremus. Wines from pioneering winemakers in Bulgaria, working out of buildings that resemble a disused warehouse more than a winery, wines from the slopes of Etna, where the might of the volcano and her eruptions threaten the very livelihood, and even lives, of those who work the black-soiled vineyards there, such as the Benanti family, and wines from Turkey, where the present regime and its anti-alcohol laws threaten the renaissance of Turkey’s ancient wine-making traditions.
I’d like to say I found a particular wine that stuck out from the rest, that gave me a greater ’wow’ factor than the others. However, I can’t say that I can, or indeed want to. I tasted many wonderful wines, all of which had something individual, something of their own to commend them. If I mention one or two, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to the others. Of course, I also tasted some duds too, but we won’t talk about them.
One of the things that strikes me the most, in addition to the wines of course, is the sheer variety of wonderful people that I met. Generous, welcoming, creative people. People nurturing traditions, breaking traditions, reinventing traditions. People innovating, experimenting, discovering. People taking the time, and pleasure in it too, to show you their wine and their world and to offer you amazing hospitality.
In a world where wine, like everything else in life, is becoming increasingly commoditised, it is an inspiration to see how many individuals are striving to break the mould, not just fit into it. And here I’m not talking only about winemakers and viticulturalists, I’m talking about all the other people who populate our wonderful wine world and who we need to ensure it continues to exist. I’m talking about coopers, cork manufacturers, inventors of wine ‘gadgets’, wine educators, wine writers, wine importers, people organising wine tours and tastings, and last but not least, the growing communities of curious global winelovers, without whom the kaleidoscope of colours in the wine world as we know it might well lose its bright glow.
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