Posts Tagged Binny’s

An Exotic Hungarian Beauty

23 March 2013

Evolucio FurmintThe wines of contemporary Hungary have yet to achieve the fashionability of their Austrian neighbors. Although Hungary’s decadent Tokaji Aszú was all the rage in the 18th century — in fact, in 1707, the vineyards of Tokaj were part of “the first national vineyard classification anywhere,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine — there have been a few bumps on the road since then, most notably when the communists invaded and the state monopoly took over.

Communism tends to value quantity over quality, and during this unfortunate period in Hungarian history, much of the wine industry was devoted to exporting “huge quantities of very ordinary wine to the USSR,” as the Companion explains. Fortunately, Hungary managed to maintain a somewhat mixed economy even under the communist fist, and many individual vineyards remained privately owned, easing the transition to a mostly free-market economy.

Hungary once again exports high-quality wines, both red and white, though it’s usually much easier to find the famed Tokaji Aszú than any of the fine dry table wines being produced. Part of the problem may be that, like Germany and Austria, Hungary often labels its wines according to the grape variety used to make them. This theoretically should be an advantage in the U.S., where we’re far more comfortable with varieties than geographical locations, but it starts to get dicey when the varieties have names like Kadarka and Hárslevelű. And Furmint.

Furmint, unlike Hárslevelű, we Americans at least have a shot at pronouncing. If you happen to find a dry Hungarian white wine in your local shop, it will likely be made from this exciting variety. The Companion calls Furmint “fine and fiery,” and The World Atlas of Wine notes that when Furmint is treated like Chardonnay, “the result is dry, intense, perfumed and mineral-laden.”

The delights of Furmint are unknown to most wine consumers outside of Hungary, however, which means that Furmints tend to be excellent values. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the 2011 Evolúció Furmint is the best white-wine value I’ve tasted since I started writing this blog. The Furmint in this wine came from Tokaj (just to keep things confusing, Tokaj is the region and Tokaji is the sweet wine), where volcanic soils and plenty of south-facing slopes make for ideal vine growing. Beyond that, some sort of magic must happen in Tokaj, because they managed to bottle a thoroughly memorable wine that retails for less than $10.

I knew at first sniff I would love the Evolúció — the spicy, exotic aromas of incense, apples and ginger sucked me right in. It had lush fruit, a midsection of ginger and white pepper, and a punch of tart acids on the finish. I can’t deny that it had a bit of a watery underbelly, but it tasted exotic and sexy nevertheless.

When I found this wine at Binny’s on North and Clybourn, I bought half a case. I never do that. But with flavors like that and a price tag of just $9, I dare say I found my new house white.

SUMMARY

2011 Evolúció Furmint: Aromatic and sexy, with lush fruit and exotic spices. Chill well before serving, and pair with mild to moderately spicy chicken and pork dishes. An amazing value for the money.

Grade: A-

Find It: I purchased this wine at Binny’s for $9.

Read about another fine dry Furmint I tasted here, an unusual late-harvest Furmint here, and a Slovenian Furmint here.

A Nice Cool Byrrh

27 February 2013

ByrrhI love drinks ressurected from the grave, such as the violet-flavored Crème Yvette or Old Tom Gin. The aperitif called Byrrh (pronounced “beer”) wasn’t dead, exactly, but for years you couldn’t find it in the United States. France stopped exporting it to the U.S. during Prohibition, and for some reason never started again. And so we were left bereft of Byrrh, because as charming as it is to travel to France for a little aperitif shopping, it can get a little impractical.

I had heard of the sweet vermouth-like Byrrh, but I had never tasted it because my aperitif shopping tends to be limited to the northeast side of Chicago. Then one day, there it was! Just standing on a shelf in Binny’s, like nothing had happened. I snapped up a bottle posthaste.

I couldn’t wait to try it, because although at first glance Byrrh appears to resemble many other sweet vermouths, or even Port, it differs in one important respect: It’s spiked with quinine, the anti-malarial compound found in cinchona bark that gives traditional tonic its unique flavor.

I tried it first at room temperature, though it’s traditionally consumed chilled. It had a Porty, richly fruity aroma with something herbal in there as well — a bit of parsley perhaps. I loved the round, luscious mouthfeel which slowly developed into orangey acids and the barest hint of menthol on the finish.

After that taste, there was no question — I needed to see what it would do for a Manhattan. I shook two parts Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, one part Byrrh and a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters with ice, and strained it into a martini glass. It proved to be a balanced but very bright and lively Manhattan. It seemed to end with a deep note from the bitters, but it jumped up again at the last second with a little cedar and mint.

Fun to drink on its own, and fun to mix in a Manhattan — I’d say Byrrh is a winner. And it’s not even that expensive. I picked up a 375 ml bottle at Binny’s for $13. So by God, go out and get some Byrrh!

Pinot Mutant

8 September 2012

The first time I heard of Pinot Meunier was back in 2004, when I visited the Pommery Champagne caves in Reims. There I learned that it is one of three grapes allowed to be used in Champagne blends (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the others). According to “common wisdom,” The Oxford Companion to Wine somewhat dubiously notes, “Meunier contributes youthful fruitiness to complement Pinot Noir’s weight and Chardonnay’s finesse.” But though we tasted Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), we never tasted a 100% Pinot Meunier Champagne. Even then, long before Odd Bacchus was even a teeny glimmer of an idea, I was most intrigued.

In the intervening years, I’ve never forgotten about Pinot Meunier, especially once I discovered that it occasionally did appear as a varietal wine. Perhaps three or four times, I’ve even seen Pinot Meunier on a wine list or in a shop, but I never got up the courage to order it. It tended to be expensive, and I didn’t want to risk it, especially if I had to select a wine for the table in a restaurant.

Finally, at Binny’s on Marcey, I broke through the fear and plunked down $20 for a bottle of German Pinot Meunier. I mean, if anyone could make a great red wine from Pinot Meunier, it would be the Germans, right?

(more…)

Germany’s Comprehensible Sekt

5 September 2012

Try as I might, I’ve never been a fan of Sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine. Almost ever time I’ve tried it, Sekt has lacked any grace whatsoever, with huge, clumsy bubbles and one-note, unexciting flavors. My German heritage has not been able to overcome my natural, human distaste for the stuff. In researching this post, I felt vindicated by most sources I checked.

Germany produces just under half a billion bottles of Sekt each year, compared with about 250 million bottles coming out of Champagne. With that production level, it’s impossible to maintain a high level of quality. But then, if The Oxford Companion to Wine is to be believed, “The average Sekt consumer buys a branded wine, and is interested neither in its method of production…nor in the origin of the base wine.” In fact, some 85-90% of Sekt is produced with fruit grown outside Germany, coming from Italy or goodness knows where in the E.U.

For some reason, Sekt has a “peculiarly domestic appeal,” The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia dryly notes, “that sparkling wine drinkers in most international markets cannot comprehend, whether they are used to Champagne or New World bubbly.” Perhaps that’s why “foreign markets represent barely 8 percent of sales.”

Despite my dislike of Sekt, I decided to give it one more try. I was browsing the sparkling wine aisle at Binny’s when I noticed a bottle of Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling. One of the finest Rieslings I’ve tasted was a Dr. Loosen, so I decided what the heck, I’ll take a risk. If nothing else, I’ll save it for the end of a party and foist it on some half-drunk guests.

(more…)

Next Page »