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.
A Successful Year with Our Thursdays @The Tasting Table Series
2016 was the second year that we’ve been holding our Thursdays @The Tasting Table series of events. We have learned so much about how to organize and run these dinner and tasting events, and we’ve had some fantastic times this year! We have enough experience now to run these events smoothly, and to make them fun for everyone (including us!). For us, these evenings are like inviting friends over to our place for dinner. Though it’s an extra special dinner because we get to listen to the stories our special guest speaker tells, while sipping the wine he has brought. Does it involve a lot of time, effort, and stress? Yes, definitely. But at the end of the evening everybody leaves the Tasting Table very happy with memories of great food, wine, new friends, and stories to share. Our audience is growing, and we have invited some really special guests this year. My personal highlights were Samuel Tinon from Tokaj, Szabolcs Újfalussy from Oremus in Tokaj, and Tamás Dúzsi Jr. from Szekszárd. Some of the (many) wine highlights were Tinon’s dry szamorodni, Dúzsi’s kadarka … and of course, the 1956 aszú from Oremus’ cellar (see below). Stay tuned … we will soon announce the lineup for 2017, and we hope to see you there!
1956 Tokaji aszú at The Tasting Table
In October we dedicated one our Thursdays @The Tasting Table events to the Oremus Winery from Tolcsva (in the Tokaj region). The winery was represented by Szabolcs Újfalussy (who is a wealth of knowledge on the topic of Tokaj), and he treated us to a vertical aszú tasting in which the 1956 four puttonyos aszú was the grand finale. This was a very important moment this year for me—one that showed me the power of Tokaj. In 2015 I first tasted a 1956 five puttonyos aszú. I liked it, and I was impressed by it. It had flavors of walnut liqueur, dried figs, and dates, and it had a very long finish. It was an amazing wine, in such good shape after 59 years. And then came 2016 and the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s 1956 revolution against the Soviet Union. This was also the year that this beautiful wine turned 60. All of a sudden the 1956 aszú was put into historic perspective, and I realized what an incredible treasure we had. The wine (even though this was just a four puttonyos) was in incredible shape. It had a bit less body than its big brother, the five puttonyos from the same vintage. But it shared a similar flavor profile. And that was the moment that I understood the importance and the message of this wine. It is a survivor. It was made to survive the passing of time and distances, and it has outlived the Communist regime, dozens of dictators, the Iron Curtain, and the Berlin Wall. It remained elegant, sweet, and fresh, and still talks to us through time. (PS. If you want to try it for yourself, both the four and five puttonyos 1956 Tokaji aszús are for sale at The Tasting Table!)
Making The Taste Hungary Video Project
Our video project was something that has been on our minds for a few years. This year we got around to making it happen. A few years ago we visited Portugal with our #winelover friends and were so impressed by the short videos that Fabien Lainé made during the trip. They were lively and educational, and were exactly the videos that we had in mind for Taste Hungary. So when we organized a Hungary tour for the #winelover group, we invited Fabien to make videos for us. He created ten short films for us. Some of my favorites are the Somló video, the Tokaj video, the Budapest video, and the Tasting Table video. But the most popular of all is one of a young female cooper, Zita Hotyek, assembling an oak barrel by hand in Erdőbénye. The lively music accompanying the videos is thanks to the Cimbaliband.
Lazenne Branded Suitcases at the Tasting Table
Logistics is an important part of the wine industry, just as important as making good wine, marketing it, and selling it. International logistics within the Hungarian and Central European wine industry is still in its infancy. We face this every single day, and we look at it as an opportunity to improve our services. We have a long way to go, but as a first step, we ship wine from the Tasting Table all over the EU. The prices are reasonable, and it’s a popular service. In 2016 we started selling our own branded Lazenne wine suitcases with much success. We sell them empty … or better yet, full of wine either from the Tasting Table or bought on a Taste Hungary wine tour. It’s such a natural addition to a good wine tour experience, and it’s a win-win-win case for our clients, us, and the wineries we work with. The Lazenne wine suitcases have become our new key product at the Tasting Table.
Expanding The Tasting Table
Again it’s all about logistics. We needed space. Badly. Both at the Tasting Table to store wine and also as office space for Taste Hungary. This year we accomplished both. We bought a small shop across the street from The Tasting Table on Bródy utca, which had been used by a watchmaker for many decades. We cleaned it up, tore out the linoleum and paneling, and created a cozy little office. It was a really important step for us so we can get more organized and efficient. At about the same time we got the opportunity to rent an un-used area in the cellar directly behind the Tasting Table. We turned this small dungeon into a private tasting room, which connects directly to The Tasting Table. The bricks had to be cleaned and scraped, the floor had to be cemented and tiled, and electricity connected—just like when we renovated The Tasting Table (so I’m sort of used to that by now). There were some rough moments during the process, which at times felt like a multilateral war between myself, the bricklayers, the building, permits, the Tasting Table staff who was irritated by the dust and the workers, and the workers irritated by the Tasting Table staff. Moments like this made this year amazing—when I feel that our company is making a difference and we’re bringing light and wine into places where (literally) dirty coal used to be stored. We’re filling dead and unused spaces with laughter and wine. And this is what motivates me to move on to my next project.
Completing The Tasting Table Website
This project has taken us much longer than it should have. Anyway, we finished it a few months ago and it is beautiful. Check it out at www.tastingtablebudapest.com. Did I say it was finished? Well, not exactly. The site was created by András Kare and it is the face of the Tasting Table, with some essential information about our company and services. What is still missing (but we’re almost there!) is the nearly-completed web shop (which will have gorgeous photos taken by Attila Czigány). We also plan to add much more information to educate our clients and potential clients on Hungarian wine. At least we still have things to keep us busy in the new year!
Running Our First Istria Tour with Zingerman’s Food Tours
We’ve been running tours for and with Zingerman’s, the iconic group of food businesses from Ann Arbor, for several years. It began with just a few short trips with the purpose of educating their chefs and management from the Bakehouse and the Deli on Hungarian cuisine. Fours years ago we ran our first 10-day tour for them in Hungary. We had guests from all over the US signed up, and some of them said it was their best vacation ever. Next May will be the third Taste Hungary Zingerman’s food tour to Hungary. In September, after we spent about three years personally discovering the delicious Istrian Peninsula, we added a new destination to our offerings with Zingerman’s Food Tours: a 10-day food and wine tour of Istria. Our base was a five-star hotel in Rovinj, and we set off every day for day trips to discover Istria’s delicacies. We went truffle hunting. We tasted olive oil with one of the best producers. We visited olive groves. We ate raw fish (an old Istrian tradition). We visited wineries. We went out to on the sea for a day. We stuffed ourselves with fresh oysters, tons of seafood, and beef boskarin steaks …. and much more.
Becoming a Member of The Tokaj Confrerie
The Tokaj Confrerie (Knights of Tokaj) is a sort of club for people who are actively involved in helping Tokaj move forward and become recognized around the world. It is an international circle that includes people from all walks of life: winemakers, merchants, sommeliers, writers, or iconic fans can all join. You just have to be recommended by two current confrerie members. I was recommended by Samuel Tinon and László Mészáros (from Disznókő). I was inducted on a sunny spring day in a ceremony at the mold-covered Rákóczi Cellar of Hétszőlő. Here in 1526 János Szapolyai was appointed to be king of Hungary. Some history we have there! Other inductees included a couple of French sommeliers, some Tokaj winemakers, a restaurant owner from San Francisco, and a wine merchant from California-based Blue Danube Wines. This shows me that Tokaj wants to be discovered and open its doors to the world. These are very important gestures that will mean life-long connections with people who all already love Tokaj, and are now are part of a big Tokaj-loving family. The golden scarf (the color of aszú) that members receive when they are inducted will be worn in all corners of the world, and signifies the spread of the grandness of Tokaj.
Presenting at the Wine Tourism Conference in Barcelona
In the spring I was invited to the International Wine Tourism Conference held in Barcelona to talk about Taste Hungary. The specific topic was our branding and how we create extra revenue by selling products (wine, wine suitcases, paprika, etc.). Rather than talking about abstract strategies, I focused on very specific Taste Hungary and Tasting Table examples, opportunities, ideas, and challenges. There was so much to talk about! We do so many interesting things and have been moving at an amazing speed. I feel very happy to show what we achieved, the people we work with, and the great clients who find us. It’s not always bright and sunny, but the best part is that you can re-invent and re-discover your own business every single day.