Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Let's try them all.
I'm developing a reputation. People know that I drink "weird" wines. "Have you had Ciliegiolo?" they ask. "Do you know anything about Zibibbo?" (Yes, and yes, I answer.)
"I brought you a Juhfark," a friend announced when she arrived at a party. "Umm, what??" I asked, unsure if she'd just said something inappropriate.
"I couldn't resist it when I read the back label," she clarified, handing me the Hungarian wine.
Juhfark, or "sheep's tail," a rare grape grown only in Somló, produces savory, smoky white wines of concentration and vigor unlike anything the world over. Ideally enjoyed with wild fowl by candle light.
Obviously, I had to make this happen. I schemed a special date night and consulted my trusty Wine Grapes book for additional notes about Juhfark's style and clues on possible dinner pairings. "Minor Hungarian variety that needs aging and aeration to swap asperity for elegance," Wine Grapes announced. The entry went on to mention that plantings of the grape are dwindling—Juhfark is not all that "internationally appealing", says the book, due to its high acidity and relatively rustic nature.
International appeal be damned, I dig wines of character—concentration, vigor, acid and rusticity included. Jeff Berlin, wine director of Oakland's À Côté restaurant, calls the wine "totally hedonistic"... but I'd clarify that this is hedonism in a full-throttle, forward, wild countryside kind of way—quite opposite that lush "hedonism" embodied by polished, rich and sexy-smooth reds.
We were still sans kitchen table on the day I picked up two adorable Cornish game hens, a sugar pumpkin to make homemade pie, and the rest of the makings for my wild fowl feast. So I spread a picnic blanket on the floor, lit a bunch of votive candles and tried to keep our pup, Napoleon, from lying down on the dinner plates while I waited for my husband, Josiah, to get home from work.
The Juhfark was a brilliant, deeply concentrated yellow color and smelled like fall: apple cider, cantaloupe, dried apple slices and yellow roses, some mushrooms and a slightly smoky, toasted almond finish. It made me want to eat stinky cheese and, well... admittedly, wild fowl—something rich and a little funky. I pulled the hens out of the oven and stripped mine of its salty, thyme-and-fennel-seasoned skin: the fatty bite was a perfect precursor to a swig of Juhfark with its juicy acidity and earthy soul.
When Josiah finally arrived home, my bird was half devoured and Napoleon had successfully trampled the plates and silverware and made himself comfortable among them, so we set the roasting pan and serving bowls right on the blanket and greedily ate with our hands in the flickering candle light... totally hedonistic, in that wild countryside kind of way.
2009 Fekete Béla Juhfark - Somló, Hungary
The Grape: Juhfark
The Region: Somló, Hungary
The Importer: Blue Danube
Retail Price: $25
About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.
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