Posted by: tomciocco | September 25, 2014

SOMLOI JUHFARK – IT’S NOT A SWEAR, IT’S NOT A SLUR, IT’S A HUNGARIAN WHITE WINE

For a host of reasons, the whats, whys and wherefores of Hungarian viticulture, eastern Europe’s most viticulturally oriented wine nation, are mostly unknown – the great white dessert wine Tokaji or maybe the fiery red called Egri Bikaver (Bull’s Blood) rank, but that’s where it all stops for most. And then there’s something called Somloi Juhfark. Yeah.

So just what the hell is Somloi Juhfark? Well, the first word is the Hungarian form of (“from the”) Somlo’ region which is situated in the northwestern section of Hungary, and Juhfark is the somewhat silly-sounding (at least to the Anglophone ear) for the region’s signature grape. The Somlo’ region is dominated by a large loaf-shaped mountain that rises from mostly flat land, and as it turns out, this feature is the remnants of an extinct volcano. Juhfark means “sheep’s tail” in Hungarian and the variety is so dubbed due to the fact that its berry bunches often resemble the shape of the rear appendage of said wooly creature.

To say that Jufark is not a run of the mill white grape variety is a dramatic understatement. In terms of it tendencies in the vineyard, it’s not the world’s fussiest vine variety, but it’s not exactly a weed either. Its yields are high, but it buds very early making it susceptible to late spring frosts and it can incur serious damage or even vine death from winter temepratures that drop too low. It is also quite prone to dampness-elicited ailments like botrytis and downy mildew. Thankfully, in addition to volcanic soils being a paradise for vines in terms of providing minerals and micro-nutrients, its loose, so-called “cold” characteristics make it exceptionally well-draining.

The real issues with Juhfark however rest mostly in its basic nature. This is a very high acid variety that if not handled right, can be pinched and tough. But even assuming proper siting and a good vintage, this is a variety that absolutely REQUIRES at least a few years of aging for it to really blossom, and if that aging is done in wood, all the better (this particular wine is aged for three years in large, re-used Hungarian oak barrels). But Juhfark’s oddness doesn’t stop there. To really get the most from a Juhfark wine it needs lengthy aeration after the cork is pulled and a full and proper decanting is often the only way to achieve this.

In terms of character, Juhfark is weird. Period. As already mentioned, it is very high in acid, but also typically very high in alcohol as well (this one reaches 14.5%!) and it powerfully channels the smoky flavors from Somlo’ volcanic soils as well as possessing a powerful, sapid “twang” that no other grape anywhere can replicate, and there are more than a few drinkers that would say “thankfully”. This is not a to give to your Aunt Tilly if you get me…Juhfark is absolutely not Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, and Juhfarking better believe it.

This is the sort of wine that should be served with a non-Hungarian menu under the penalty of incarceration or death, so to avoid these pains, I matched this truly unique wine with a cream of savoy cabbage soup followed by pork cutlets cooked with green beans, yellow banana pepper, white wine, sour cream, tomato, paprika et al. with potato dumplings on the side.

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Fekete Pince Somlovasarhely Juhfark 2011

Seductive yellow/golden color. Super concentrated aromas of lemon oil, yellow pomegranate nectar, white currant jam, yellow flowers, sweet herbs, ginger, honey, toasted hazelnut and a touch of coal smoke. The palate is viscously full-bodied and very intense with a cutting and fiery but elegant acidity that beautifully balances big, powerful and luscious flavors of apricot, peach nectar, orange cream with a strong salty undertow. Very long and concentrated finish. The unquestionable paradigm for this region and variety.


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