Monday, November 06, 2006

Cserszegi fuszeres! Gesundheit!

Last night I ventured into wine territory unknown, and opened up a bottle of the 2005 Hilltop Neszmely Woodsman's White (Trader Joe's, $3.99) from Hungary. What a find!

The 2005 Woodsman's White is made with the varietal cserszegi fuszeres, a cross between Irsai Oliver and a strain of gewurztraminer. What is Irsai Oliver, you ask? Irsai Oliver is itself a cross between Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba. If this doesn't send you to your wine encyclopedias and the internet to find out more, nothing will. This varietal is distinct for its citrus, gooseberry (think really tart granny smith and you're not far off if you've not had a gooseberry), and clove flavors. Nicknamed by clever marketers "the unpronounceable grape" you can impress your friends by practicing how to say it: Chair-saggy Fooser-raish. (No, I don't speak Hungarian but that's the phonetic spelling given on the back of the label.)

In a recent post comment, Ruarri drew attention to the significance of wine regions, like Hungary, where wine has been grown for centuries but whose wine is relatively unknown here in the US. Most familiar in the US are the sweet Hungarian Tokaji dessert wines, but there is an intriguing variety of other varietals and wine styles in the region. Finding such wines can be hard, but it's never going to get any easier unless we walk into our local wine shops and say, "Hey, do you have any Chair-saggy Fooser-raish?" (You might want to write the name down before you leave your house in case the wine merchant wants you to spell it). Meanwhile, it's a good idea to scour the bottom shelves at places like Trader Joe's where all kinds of unusual varietals can lurk, or seek some out at online merchants. And then tell those merchants that you liked it (if you did) afterwards, so that they are encouraged to go out and find more.

This wine had something of a split personality, but that could be an advantage in this case. It was pale straw in color and had the most amazing aromas: flowers, honey, apples, lemons, peaches all were noticeable and recognizable. I thought at this point the wine was likely to be sweet and perhaps even syrupy. But on the palate this wine was bone dry, with striking crisp and tart granny smith apple, mineral, and lemon peel flavors. The only note that I felt was missing was the clove you should get with this grape. But for the price, and given the varietal characteristics that it did show, I still feel that this was excellent QPR.

What should you eat with your Woodsman's White? We had some grilled chicken apple sausages and potatoes with a salad because I wasn't sure how sweet this wine was and was being careful to pick something that would be fine regardless. And, these foods were indeed wonderful with the wine. But I think it would be great with traditional Hungarian chicken paprikas (June Meyer has a great recipe online for you to try) or other dishes that use sour cream like chicken stroganoff. It would also be good with asian stir-fries (nothing too spicy), or other food that is highly aromatic yet can handle a lean, unoaked wine.


Unknown said...

This is indeed a very good value for the price. I am from the area where cserszegi fuszeres was developed. I was thrilled to discover it at Trader Joe's the other day for $2.99. The Hilltop Neszmely winery is one of the most successful producers of this wine.

Here is a tip for the adventurous. A similar varietal that I like even more is called nektar. It's a cross between cserszegi fuszeres and another varietal (judit). I believe it was developed by the same vintner (Dr. Karoly Bakonyi) as cserszegi fuszeres, but don't quote me on this. Watch out for it, although it's hard to find commercially even in Hungary at this point. But things may change. Ten years ago I never would've thought that cserszegi fuszeres would be available in Trader Joe's.

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome, Imre, and thanks for the tip. I love the Woodsman's White and it goes well with such a nice variety of foods. I will keep on the look out for nektar. I haven't been able to find cserszegi fuszeres outside Trader Joe's--who knows, maybe they'll be the first to carry nektar, too!