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Snooth User: gyfgyf

Hungarian wines

Posted by gyfgyf, Apr 6, 2010.

Are there any place in Las Vegas which sells Hungarian wine? ( Besides Egri Bikaver and Tokaji)

Thanks,

Gyfgyf

 

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Replies

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Reply by gregt, Apr 6, 2010.

The question should be are there any places in the US that sell those wines.  There aren't many imported, although in the past five years there have been many more coming in.  A lot of them aren't particularly great, but some of the better ones are starting to appear now too, so things are looking up. 

There are remarkable wines from Tokaj and they aren't all sweet.  Their dry whites are superb and rank among the best in the world.  Not many are brought over, largely because production is small for the better ones.  However, Kiralyudvar is available, as is the wine made by their winemaker, Zoltan Demeter.  Also Dobogo makes a dry white that's not bad.  I'm not as fond of the other "big names", but they're certainly good.

Then there are a few from elsewhere like Somlo and Sopron.  But I don't think they're in wide distribution.

And don't knock Egri Bikaver.  Remember the Chianti in the 1970s?  A joke.  Today some of the wines are outstanding.  Same thing is happening in Eger and Szekszard.  The Bikaver is far better than the $5 stuff people know, and in some cases it's frankly outstanding.  None are yet imported however.

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 6, 2010.

And I believe there is considerably more experimentation with non-traditional varieties (and blending) at Eger and Szekszard - in the same way that Trebbiano was mercifully removed from Chianti.  I had a chance to sample some new wines of the type you refer to, Greg, a couple of years back while I passed through Northern Hungary.  And sure enough, these products bear no resemblance to the Bull's Blood of the 70's.

Unfortunately, the best stuff appears to stay in Land of the Magyars. Still, that might change if demand grows - though one is hard pressed to know how that would come about given the spotty distribution networks. 

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Apr 6, 2010.

I live in Las Vegas and I am unsure, but if anyone sells them, it's likely be Lee's or Total Wine & More.  Have you tried them?

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Reply by gyfgyf, Apr 7, 2010.

Thank you for your reply. I am a Hungarian born and my family had vineyard for hundreds of years before the communist take over. So I am very familiar with the different regions and the wines.

However, I am having a hard time to find Hungarian wines. Presently, I am in talks with the Lee's Total Wine & More chief wine buyer. I will have a meeting with him this week.

The problem as I see it that not many distributors are very educated about Hungarian wines, still calling them a small niche market. I try to explain to them that if you do not try, you do not know how well it will sell.

I had a horrible time with Costco, "wine chief". In my opinion she was promoted from an other job within the company and totally ignorant about wines. I believe she never had a bottle of wine in her life.

Thanks,

Gyfgyf

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Reply by gregt, Apr 7, 2010.

gyfgyf - send me a note.  I tried to import some and may still.  It's a SUPER difficult market right now because of the prices of the better wines.  On the flip side, people are more willing than ever to try something different so it's also an opportunity that some are gradually awakening to.

As a rough proxy, we can look at Austrian wine.  Gruner Veltliner became trendy, and now there's a nascent rumble for blaufrankish.  So Hungary can and should piggy-back on that work.  Still, in the general market, those wines are really niche players, so anyone looking for a breakout wine from Hungary is bound to be somewhat disappointed. 

And there is of course the problem of cooperation among the Hungarians themselves!

 

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 7, 2010.

Greg, I'm interested in the problem of price in Hungary.  Do you mean that, given the very shaky economic situation in that country, it is still quite difficult to purchase the better (or best) wines at prices reasonably informed wine drinkers would be willing to bite on?  I suppose what you're saying is, given the option of a tried-and-true "name" wine and a top-shelf Hungarian that's nearly the same price, most wine drinkers would opt for the former?

Of course, we can't deny that Hungary is a niche player in the international market today, but is there something making that situation unchangeable?  It seems to me that Hungarians produce quite a bit of juice - about 550,000 metric tonnes of wine per annum.  That's less than 1/12 of the production of countries like France or the USA, but a sizable vat of wine nonetheless.

From my limited trips to Hungary, I think the problem likely relates to certain unresolved issues in the country as a whole. But I'm wondering if you can be more specific. 

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Reply by gregt, Apr 7, 2010.

Many things.  FIrst is the problem of attitude, which leads to unrealistic expectations.  People know about France, Italy and Germany and the respect accorded their wines.  To some degree there's a sense that the 50 years of communism were an abberation and Hungary should take it's rightful place as a respected wine producing country.  I suppose I'd feel that way too if I were able to shake off the Soviet jackboot. 

However, it's not that simple, because France, Italy, and Germany did not suddenly rise in 1945 to be wine powerhouses.  Among other things, they had to rebuild their infrastructure.  That's relatively easily done.

More importantly, the wine market had to develop.  It's far larger today than it's ever been and if France is at the top of the heap, it's because they've done 50 years of marketing Brand France to the rest of the world.  So people pay a premium for a wine because it says "Bordeaux" on the bottle, and not Vilanyi or Boise, even though in a blind tasting, the wines from the other places might be deemed equal or better or even much better. 

I've had a lot of conversations with producers about why we can't sell a $70 Hungarian red wine in the US.  For $17, people will take a flyer.  For $70, they want Bordeaux or some other brand name.  To get to that point with Hungarian wine will take time. But the people are impatient and feel insulted that they should be asked to wait for respect.  Again, I'd probably feel the same way.  But that's the way life is.

Second is the problem of finances.  Although in terms of per-capita income, Hungary is not in the league of Germany or the US, the cost of business there is not commensurately less.  It's kind of expensive really.  So when you look at a country like Argentina, which has one of the most inept governments around, or even Greece, you expect some kind of price break on their products.  Not in Hungary.  It's surprising how expensive it really is.  And if you consider that a lot of the vineyards were recently planted with better clones, trellising, and densities, there are costs to amortize.

Combine the two and you get a bad proposition for finding a product to break into the US market.  That, plus the complete lack of knowledge in the US regarding Hungary in general.  People think it's vaguely eastern Europe, which is another thing that gets the people riled because they feel like they're Central Europe.  And in fact, there is a marker in Tokaj that is the geographic center of Europe.  But in the US people make a sad little joke about Dracula and that's pretty much the end of their knowledge about Hungary.  And the food isn't as charming or romantic as the Mediterranean food either, although I think their pastries are among the world's best.

Before Greg was working at Snooth, I introduced him to a guy who wanted to sell his dry white wine in the US.  It was really good wine too.  He wanted it to go for $70 a bottle.  Stillborn.

Increasingly however, some people are getting it and they're willing to put out good wine at more reasonable prices.  Some very good wine as a matter of fact. 

But they're still often battling with each other, which is the third and biggest problem of all. The smart people understand how counterproductive that is.  But some can't help themselves and they don't cooperate with each other for the common good. Or they do cooperate for weird purposes.  The Consulate in NYC used to have events to promote their wines.  Who would they invite?  Hungarians!!!!!  WTF were they thinking?  They needed to invite US press and trade and somehow I'd be the lone English speaker and just wonder what they intended to do.

Again, some of those people are getting it too.  As the immediate post-communist generation is gradually supplanted by the newer generation, I think we'll see changes for the better.  The wines have certainly gotten better over the past 20 years and some are today truly outstanding.

 

 

 

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 10, 2010.

It is really too bad that such a wonderfully informative post has not received any response.  Well, you can be sure this forum contributor appreciates the time it takes to answer a question of specifics!

Thanks for the information, Greg.  It more or less confirms my suspicions, but I wanted something from the horse's mouth - if I may be permitted that expression...

Romania and Moldova is on my mind as well, but since it is exponentially more difficult to get these wines to North America (I can't even get Cotnari any more where I currently reside - maybe I should re-locate to New York with Elvis Costello and Nanaimo BC native Diana Krall...)

;-)

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Reply by gregt, Apr 11, 2010.

Thanks Zu.  I reread what I wrote and I suppose I should state that that has been the situation but more and more, people are understanding the way the market works.  So while some are arguing the same points they've been arguing, there are others who are trying to figure out how to position themselves in the current market. 

For example, some have openly stated that unless they charge premium prices, they won't be respected.  So although they were able to sell their wine at $50 US, they raise the price to double or triple that.

It's the same argument made by a few American producers, notably in CA but also the owners of Domaine Serene in Oregon. The difference is that the CA people with that viewpoint are usually wealthy from some other business and they can afford not to sell their entire production. Personally, I disagree with the philosophy but who am I to say.

As a nation, the Hungarians tend to be an educated bunch and it seems like half of them are engineers, so in terms of technology and know-how, they've got all the tools necessary to make great wine.  Moreover many of them have worked in other countries in the wine industry and they know what's going on in CA, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, etc.  So the winemaking issues remaining, at least for the people looking to make premium products, have more to do with better understanding of their vineyards and grapes and of course these are the same issues faced by anyone anywhere.  I don't think there are problems with winemaking that they don't know about and can't fix.  I think the biggest problem is really marketing. 

I know nothing about Romanian wine and I didn't know Elvis Costello was in NY.  That's a shame because it results in a net decrease in overall musicianship in the city.  After 30 years in the business, you'd think that he'd at least learn to match pitch but it seems as if he still has no idea what a key signature is, or how to sing in approximately the same key that the musicians are using. You'd think his wife, who actually is a musician, should be able to help him out somewhat.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 11, 2010.

Are you married, Greg? Do you think a wife can really teach a husband all that much? ;-)

I have enjoyed Costello live in a summer festival at the base of Mt. Fuji, but there you don't expect everyone to sound like they're working in the studio, nor did all the party favors and general conviviality of the crowd hurt. So I don't take it there's a lot of him in your CD stack or iPod list or...

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 11, 2010.

Meant to also mention that the fact that Elvis C. focuses on such things as changing guitars every song must mean that he's trying to draw attention away from the actual singing...

I guess it's time to moan once again about the lack of post-posting editing capability in these forums....

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Reply by rar8888, Apr 11, 2010.

I was recently in Budapest for work and had a chance to sample a few Hungarian wines.  I had a couple of very good wines but over all I wasn't hugely impressed.  The nice wines are pricey. 

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 11, 2010.

We've strayed a long way from Hungarian wine available to the good burgers of Vegas, but a few more comments on EC (aka Declan McManus) can't hurt at this stage.

During the second English pop music invasion known as the New Wave (1977-82), many of us found the edgy (but derivative) pseudo-rockabilly sound of groups like Elvis Costello and the Attractions a bit more interesting than the pretentious, over-blown, over-produced style popularized at the time - particularly in California.

Other British acts from the 60's like Dave Edmonds were even able to make a comeback on the basis of this renewed interest in short, catchy tunes with an attitude.

Of course, Elvis cannot sing with any range or vocal control - though he tries valiantly to do so on occasion.  He seems to have vacated his earlier position as a reasonably respected tune-smith for that of a raconteur who has successfully leveraged his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and other popular forms of music to hosting PBS and CBC programs where he can jam with legitimate stars.  Here, I'm thinking of people like James Taylor, Tony Bennett or even his own wife, Diana Krall.  This kind of self-indulgent work - if you can call it work - is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Too bad, Greg.  I'm pretty sure the Costello West Vancouver mansion is vacant at the moment.  That's so Elvis can continue jamming with the best of them in good, old NYC.  Perhaps if he continues to ply his trade in your neck of the woods, you may even develop a taste for truly amateur singing.  But of course, I would have to give the nod to Bob Dylan for the record number of most instances of non-singing masquerading as singing...

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Reply by gregt, Apr 11, 2010.

I guess.  But guys - my wife is an opera singer.  And voice teacher.  And her father was an opera singer.  And voice teacher.

Last night I had dinner with a jazz singer and a heavy metal bass player.

Costello makes my ears bleed.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 12, 2010.

I didn't say I listened to him at home. Just at that rock party in the mountains, where he was in a series of acts with Massive Attack just before and Dirty Vegas just after. I did like DV better that time, but that may have just been the type of partying I was doing (and probably more than one person there had their ears bleeding, too). No, this is not the main thrust of my musical tastes, which are extemely broad and eclectic... ;-)

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Reply by gregt, Apr 12, 2010.

OK good.  I haven't lost my respect for you!

This does tie in actually because I'm trying to get my wife a gig in Hungary next fall.  Long shot but it would be kind of nice.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 12, 2010.

For what it's worth he was definintely better than Stevie Winwood, who was on the stage two acts before. John Mayall even earlier. Some things just don't translate well over the decades, though JM&theBB were definitely doing it better than SW. And Dirty Vegas was a *lot* of fun, perhaps because of a generational advantage at that point. Even backstage Elvis was comparatively a bore....

What does your wife like to listen to, other than opera?

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 12, 2010.

And sorry, gyfgyf, for hijacking your thread like this. But this is 'social' media, isn't it, and I suppose we're curious about the sensibilities in other areas of people whose opinions we read about regarding wine. ;-)

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Reply by gregt, Apr 12, 2010.

Pretty eclectic.  She grew up in opera houses and watching casino performers, sitting offstage to the side and watching Sammy Davis Jr.  The people I referenced above are good friends - the heavy metal guy is in her Ipod.  Pretty much anything as long as there's actual music to be found in it. Doesn't listen to much opera actually.  If we've got friends performing, we may go, and if her students are singing at the Met or City Opera especially, she goes, but other than that, it's the job and when she's at home it's more likely something else. 

I don't know what's the algorithm for showing wines on threads but I'm looking at the ad that appears on the page as I'm writing this and I'm seeing an ad for a wine that we cleared out a long time ago.  No idea who's selling it or why it's appearing. They have a new importer but it's also a new vintage. 

Now this thread has utterly and completely derailed of course . . .

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 12, 2010.

Actually, that is the sad thing about Elvis; in the final analysis, he just isn't all that interesting to listen to - notwithstanding the fact that he has a very broad knowledge of music.  He has even performed with Anne Sophie von Otter - to name an operatic connection (Nordic, of course) - and was exposed to jazz  by his father, a professional musician.

In fact, that need to jam with all and every musical talent seems to expose a soft underbelly of nothingness.  But I'm probably being a bit excessive; I do admit to liking some of his early music and am in good company (look to see who has covered his material and you'll see what I mean).

Also, Greg, if you can arrange a concert for your wife in Hungary, maybe you can use that as a forum for some of the finest wines of the country. But you'd need to have not a few non-Hungarians attend; I keep thinking of your remark about the wine events held at the consulate in New York - not enough appreciative generic Americans to spread the good news.  

 

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