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Furmint Forever
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 31 January, 2017 in Danube Wine Cruises

February in Hungary is long, grey, cold, wet, and gloomy. But for the past eight years at least we’ve had furmint to look forward to in February! Furmint Február (“Furmint February”) is a series of events, including a grand tasting in Budapest, dedicated to promoting this grape varietal which is so important in Hungary. This year the festivities are going international, with the debut of International Furmint Day on February 1st. If it was up to me, I’d make furmint the most widely planted white grape in Hungary. It’s already the signature grape in Tokaj and Somló (along with juhfark and olaszrizling in Somló). Sporadically (but increasingly) you can find some great furmints in Northern Balaton and Eger. I’m hoping to see much more of that all over the country because this grape—if done right—could be Hungary’s flagship wine. There’s no other grape that can make such complex sweet wines, consistently delicious easy-drinking dry wines, and full-bodied single vineyard terroir-driven wines.

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The Most Rewarding Moments of 2016: Taste Hungary and The Tasting Table Budapest
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 01 January, 2017 in Danube Wine Cruises

2016 was such an amazing year for Taste Hungary and The Tasting Table that it was not easy to narrow them down for this post! Many things happened that opened the doors for other things to happen. Now it’s the end of the year (and I am enjoying a glass of Samuel Tinon’s dry szamorodni). I’ll put my plans aside for a few days and will start fresh and motivated for the beginning of 2017. There is so much more we can do that it feels like we’re just getting started …

Building The Taste Hungary Team

We are fortunate that Taste Hungary has been growing nicely and that we have an increasing number of customers every year. To make our offerings more colorful and attractive to a wider range of guests, we frequently develop new tours and offer more services … and we have so many new ideas (and not enough time to follow up on them!). Now that we have around 4,000 guests booking tours with us annually, our team is more important than ever. We’ve put a lot of effort into building a circle of very smart, highly-qualified people who love food and wine (and also beer) as much as we do. We’ve ended up with a team of colorful people, who all bring very different skills and interests into the mix. We all come from different areas of life, and we are all experts at some aspect of food/drink to connect us to Taste Hungary. Since I don’t meet every guest in person, the values that I believe in and share with the team are my way to communicate with guests even without meeting them. These values are the foundation of our team, and they shape us and ensure our commitment to high standards (which results in great service at the end of the day). The importance of our team goes beyond business. Our team is a happy (and growing) community made of people who make this world a better place to live.

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Wine Pairing (With a Side of Thai Massage)
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 05 December, 2016 in

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Now that the year is almost over, I have time to reflect on some of our best food and wine moments of 2016. One of these happened when Louis Watana, the first secretary the Royal Embassy of Thailand, reached out to me with an interesting idea. He wanted to organize a few Thai dinners paired with Hungarian wine. He suspected that the two put together could lead to some great pairings. The dinners were also part of Watana’s larger project of producing a Thai e-cookbook featuring Hungarian wine pairings.

For our experimentation in finding the best pairings, we split the job: Watana was in charge of arranging the food (his area of expertise) and I chose the wine pairings (my expertise). The first dinner would be at the Thai Ambassador’s Residence, and the second would be at the Tasting Table. The guests were ambassadors and diplomats residing in Budapest, as well as a few visiting diplomats.

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The 1956 Tokaj Aszú: A Wine With A Long Finish
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 14 November, 2016 in

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The 1956 vintage was a good one in Tokaj. But 1956 didn’t go down in the history books because of the great quality of botrytis in Tokaj that year, rather because of the revolution that began 60 years ago on October 23rd. On a warm fall day, a revolution against Soviet rule in Hungary broke out. The streets in Budapest, and other cities, filled with people who were fed up with the Rákosi regime. The oversized statue of Stalin (which sat next to Budapest’s City Park) was pulled down by the protesters on the first day. Shots were fired at the National Radio building on Bródy Sándor street, just next to The Tasting Table. After a few glorious and violent days, the revolution ended up turning into a war of freedom against the Soviet empire. Russian tanks, barricades, freedom fighters, and Russian soldiers filled the streets of Budapest. In some neighborhoods, battles raged from building to building. It was a war we could not win. The wounds from the siege of Budapest in World War Two had still not healed, and now there were more bullet holes in facades across the city. The war was lost in a few weeks, and Hungary remained part of the Communist block for the next three and a half decades. Hundreds of thousands left the country, prisons were filled with the revolutionaries, and a new communist leader called Kádár was named.

During that fall, despite the Russian tanks and soldiers, grapes still had to be picked and wine still had to be made. As the revolution raged, aszú berries were being harvested and wine was fermenting in the caves of Tokaj. In the fall of 1956, due to the long fall, there were lots of aszú berries and a good amount of wine was made. After it was bottled a few years later, most of it was soon drunk by Russian officials coming to check on Kádár or by good comrades from the Hungarian Communist party. But not all of the 1956 batch was imbibed. Somehow a few hundred bottles survived in a remote corner of the state cellar until the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Perhaps when the communist leaders visited the state-owned cellar for a tasting, the winemakers were afraid of serving the ‘56 vintage and served a ‘55 or ‘57 instead. Even the number 56 was a taboo for almost four decades. I remember a scene I once saw in a movie when the number 56 was even skipped when the presenter announced the winning lottery numbers of the week. After Communism was finished, the remaining bottles of ’56 aszú, along with other vintages, were sold to private investors.

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The Lost World of The Jewish Wine Trade in Hungary (and The Old Habsburg Empire), Part II.
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 12 October, 2015 in

Read Part I of this series here

After researching Central European wine history—particularly how Jews were involved for centuries in the wine trade and in winemaking—over the past few years, I have found this untold story: the fascinating back story preceding the takeover of the state-owned coops in Hungary, which lasted more than forty years (and devastated Hungarian wine). The family names and trading houses that I have been reading about were big players in the European wine trade in their day, only to have their stories forgotten. Here are a few brief stories of some of the families …

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Part II.

A Few Abaúszántó Families
The Teitelbaum family, which lived in the Tokaj region for many generations, is another great example of how Jewish families were able to set up big and successful businesses which lasted for generations. Their winery was founded in 1783 in Abaújszántó. Until the beginning of World War One they saved a few bottles from every vintage since the winery was founded, making it the biggest (and oldest) collection of wine in the region. Also located in Abaúszántó was the Flegmann family. As you can see on the label here, they had an importer, the Krauss Brothers, in New York. These families knew what they were doing: selling beautiful wines in the world’s most important wine markets, with different labels depending on where the bottle was going to be sold.

Kassa 1 1938

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The Lost World of The Jewish Wine Trade in Hungary (and The Old Habsburg Empire)
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 09 October, 2015 in

Part I.

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There’s no denying that the Hungarian wine industry has come a long way since Communism ended in 1989. The story of the first generation of winemakers—as well as the foreign investors who brought know-how and money—to re-start the wine industry in the early 1990s is a compelling one which has been often told. But what about the Hungarian wine industry before 1990? The unfortunate Communist period, during which quality was not a concern and winemakers were expected to hand over their wines to the cooperative to be unceremoniously mixed together, is part of the narrative. And the story of phylloxera wiping out much of the vineyards during the late 19th century is also an important part of the story, which is often told.

But what about the rest of the story, particularly the period when Hungarian wine was renowned around the world? There was a time when Poland was the major export market for Hungarian wine (and the Poles are still crazy about Tokaj aszú) and Tokaj sweet wine was sold all over the world, praised by royalty, politicians, and popes. When I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia, I was happy to see that a plaque stating the countries where his sizable wine collection came from included Hungary. This story of how the Hungarian (and Central European) wine trade functioned before the two world wars and communism is not a well-known one, and the practicalities of how the bottles got from their sleepy countryside villages of origin to the tables of fine restaurants around the world is a forgotten part of the story.

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