Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Degenfeld Wines and Hotel

We had a lunch on the terrace at Hotel Tokaj with a marvelous view of the river. There were hundreds of song birds singing and lots of martins and swallows zipping through the air. A swallow on the beams on the terrace.

The menu was fantastic and not over priced. They have many delicious local dishes and specialize in fish.
Stunning ancient acacia tree on the grounds to the front.

We then went on to our next stop Gróf Degenfeld. The wine production is directly behind the manor house which has been converted to a fine and luxurious hotel. My friends had booked an appointment for the delux wine tasting on line. Although there was a mix-up with the on-line booking, we were seated in a comfortable and opulent front room with views to the manicured grounds and made very comfortable.This man (possibly the head waiter) spent a great deal of time discussing the wines on offer during the tasting. The presentation was entirely in Hungarian, but thankfully I was with two people who speak fluent Hungarian and English. They were perfect translators! At one point in the proceedings, the general manager of the hotel came through and introduced himself and hoped we were enjoying the wines.This establishment produces a marvelous white Muscat wine (Gróf Degenfeld Muscat Lunel). It is semi-sweet and smells of elderflowers. I just love it.
Half way throught the wine tasting the chef came through with a plate piled high with just-out-of-the-oven pastries. They were made with puff pastry and filled with local plum jam. At first, the pastries were a bit too hot and we had to blow on them a bit. We were greedy and couldn't wait for them to cool. The pastries were as luxurious as our surroundings!

Again, I could not buy any wines as I was restricted by airline regulations. Fortunately for me, once I was through security and waiting to board my flight, I discovered they sell Gróf Degenfeld Muscat Lunel at duty free!!! I was able to take a bottle home to share with The Man of the Place.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Boutique Wines in Hungary

I like wine and I love good wine. As I have always lived far from anywhere that could be considered a serious wine producing region, I never clapped eyes on an actual vineyard until I was almost 40 years old. When I get the chance to actually visit a vineyard and talk to the producers I try to be cool and worldly but in reality I still feel like Charlie Bucket and I’ve just walked through the gates of the Wonka factory. I try to manage my wide eyed enthusiasm, but after ten minutes of wine tasting anybody worth their salt as a salesperson can spot me as the novice.

After a holiday near Bordeaux, The Man of the Place and I became insufferable wine experts. Hey, we had visited three chateaux!! One can tell when a wine producing area has been entered, they don’t bother with fences. A fence takes up valuable space that could hold another entire row of precious vines. The vines quite often come right up to the road. Wine regions are also the cleanest places I’ve ever seen. There is never ever a single weed.

My dear friends who have much more experience and knowledge of the wines of the Tokaj region planned out an entire day of wine tasting. This included finding somebody to drive us there so that we could all be full participants in the wine tasting activities!

For those who don’t know, Hungary is home to no less than 22 different wine producing regions (according to Wikipedia) when I visited the House of Hungarian Wines last year, they said there were 14 separate regions. To be sure, the wine regions and the vineyards themselves do not match the scale or volume of production found in Bordeaux, Stellenbosch or Napa Valley but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality and old world charm.

Hungary makes gorgeous, drinkable wines and two are quite famous. Egri Bikavér or Bull’s Blood a dark red wine with a colourful past from the Eger region and Tokaj or Tokay (pronounced TOKE-eye) the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings from the Tokaj region which is made from grapes that have botrytis or noble rot.

The conditions in the Tokaj region in the foothills of the Zemplén mountains are perfect with its volcanic soil and the long Indian summers for the formation of botrytis on the late harvest Formint grapes.

As I was familiar with Tokaj wine and wanted to know more about it, I implored my friends to fix it for me to visit during my brief stay. I must say that I didn’t have to twist any arms. They were keen to go there as well and arranged and booked three wine tasting sessions on a full and glorious day in May.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It was warm without being oppressive and I saw storks for the first time. The small picturesque towns and villages still hold nesting sites for these large birds. Like in the children’s stories and fairy tales the storks have nests on chimneys. Less poetically, they also have nests on street light posts and power line poles. I had never seen them before and my indulgent pals stopped the car more than once so I could take photos.

The first place we went for wine tasting was out of this world. We were met by Istvan Balasso a small wine producer in the centre of town and we followed him to one of the cutest, tidiest little houses near the edge of town. Naturally, this house had its resident stork, tending her eggs while the male stork soared around looking for frogs and fish.

We followed our host to a large room at the back of the house that had been turned over to the serious business of wine tasting. The house had thick stone walls that had a fresh coat of white paint, high ceilings with polished beams.

He told us that we would taste five of his wines, two dry wines and three sweet wines. He then got the wines out of the cooler and started uncorking ….

His vineyard is run by just him and his wife. The runs are small – he produces up to 700 bottles of any one kind of wine. Even fewer bottles of the sweet wines are made. If you follow the link to the website, you will read that the first year he was in production; the vines were attacked by hungry starlings. Up until now, starlings were one of my favourite birds of all time. They make spectacular displays on winter evenings as the sun sets. Now that I know they are grape stealing thieves, I like them a little less.

Istvan Balassa could very well be the very embodiment of everything a boutique wine producer should be. A dynamic young winemaker who uses traditional Hungarian wine varieties to make small batches of gorgeous wine and has a web site! As we worked through the fruits of his labour, I knew we were being traded up by an expert. By the time we got to the last bottle, the Zéta Mézes Mály I was caught. The 2006 production of this particular wine was sold out and he had the 2007 almost ready to go but hadn’t put the labels on it yet. I had consumed a couple of glasses of delicious wine, the charming wine maker was tanned and ever so slightly gorgeous and I felt I could not leave the country without a couple of cases of this wine. But there were two factors that kept me from doing that. 1. I had taken a Ryanair flight from Prestwick to Budapest and could not take any of the wine on board. The other factor was the price. We have to get a new water tank here at the house and The Man of the Place wouldn’t be over pleased if I dropped a couple of hundred pounds on wine while I’m away on a holiday. I bought two label-less bottles (See? I showed restraint!). They will be with me in July when my friends visit.

Aside from the bottle of 5 puttonyos Tokaji Aszú wine that Tesco carries (God bless them for that!!) I am astounded that these delicious wines are not available in Scotland. There isn’t a single wine merchant in Scotland that carries Hungarian wines. I’ve checked!

Little toad hiding from the storks in the cellar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back to Budapest!

I have just settled back home after spending a lovely three days in what is fast becoming a favourite place for me, Hungary! Last year was the first time I had ever been there and this year on my second visit, I found my love of the place deepening.

As I was there for only a short period of time, we were very busy! When I was invited back to visit my dear friends I said that there were three things I hoped would happen. I wanted to:
1. Visit Tokaj region of Hungary where the excellent Tokaj wine is made.
2. Return to the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest
3. Have some traditional goulash as we had seen being made over an open fire in a cauldron suspended by a tripod frame.

My dear friends managed to help me get all three of those things squeezed into the brief stay!

On the way from the airport to where we were staying there was a stop for cake! I love these guys! They have their priorities in the right place!We ate these lovely cakes outside in the shade on a perfect, warm spring day.
To add to the celebrations, when we got there a rare and beautiful bottle of Tokaj wine was opened (bottle number 192 of a mere 700 bottles that were produced that year from that particular producer) and sipped in the garden. We walked around picking cherries off the a tree, nibbling on some peas and listening to crickets and woodpeckers. You can see the acacia blossoms were starting to fall. They littered the place like confetti. The air was still perfumed with their sweet perfume.
From left to right, Chameleon, The Hungarian, Jo and Me! This picture was taken Sunday evening. We had again gone to the excellent Szephalom Vendeglo - always worth a visit too see what is being served up. In addition to the regular menu, this restaurant dedicates a section of the menu to what is in season so that the chef can take advantage of the best of what Hungary has available that month. Raspberry Fanta? It certainly isn't available HERE!

Next time - Tokaj, One of the most famous wine producing regions in Hungary.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Joy of Spring!

Last weekend was absolutely glorious. The Man of The Place and I got a great deal accomplished as we took advantage of the fine weather. I got some things planted in the garden and some hanging baskets filled. Rugs were taken up and either beaten, washed or both. It was so nice to have the doors open and fresh air circulating through the house. I managed to get all the beds stripped and the sheets. I think line dried sheets are one of my favourite things of all time!
female Orange Tip - Photo by Dean at mostlymacro

I did manage to get a bit done in the vegetable garden. It was wonderful to hear the cows crunching on grass just on the other side of the hedge from me (just a few feet away) as I worked. The orange tip butterfly that only flies at this time of the years flitted by and there were a few bumble bees buzzing by. This is all happens while the swallows chatter happily on the power line overhead and the curlews down by the burn call to each other.male Orange Tip - photo by Dean of mostlymacro

The apple tree is in blossom again. Let's pray for good, frost free weather for the little apple blossoms. I only had six apples in total from the two apple trees last year.

This weekend is has more typical Scottish weather. It is overcast with occasional sprinkles that keep me indoors. I have much cleaner floors when the weather is not good. I'm not as distracted by nicer, outdoor jobs and the carpets and kitchen lino get attention.

I'm off to Budapest again tomorrow morning. I'll write and tell you guys all about it when I return!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Loch Long

I was at it again! While The Man of the Place and our boy were in Sunderland watching the team get beaten again, I was already 20 meters under the sea with the Dumfries Sub Aqua Club in Loch Long.

The weather forecast wasn't that fabulous yesterday, but we don't let things like bad weather put us off. We are getting wet anyway!

As with a lot of day trips, it was an early start. We met up in Dumfries in the car park (parking lot) behind the swimming pool at 7:30. As Dumfries is about 45 minutes away from where we live, I was out even earlier!

Here are some of us as we organise the air tanks and see who is going to drive and who will share a lift up north.

The drive up to Glasgow is one that I do all the time, so I wasn't paying much attention to the scenery. Once past the airport though, it starts to get interesting. The further north one gets, the prettier Scotland becomes!

I think Loch Long is stunning! There were a few gannets in the sky to greet us. There were also a couple of oystercatchers on the shore of the ever receding shore line. The tide was just beginning to ebb when we arrived. If you do a search on Loch Long, you will see that from time to time a visiting humpback whale will come up to investigate this deep loch. This is the car park just above our planned point of entry. You can see up the loch from this viewpoint. The day was mostly dry and clear but we could see the occasional shower coming toward us from a long way off so we had plenty of time to get things under cover. Thankfully the showers were always short. Setting up the gear.This was where we went in, just north of this pier. Aside from Roger, whose neck seal split after his first dive, we all had two dives each. I am still struggling to adjust my bouyancy with a drysuit. It is a big more complicated than using a wet suit. That'll just take some practice. The water was about 8C or just over 46 F. The visibility was good at about 10 meters on both dives.

We dived a popular dive on Loch Long called The A Frames. Named for some concrete structures that are down at about 20 meters (low tide). There were so many things to see in Loch Long. In addition to the hundreds of common star fish there were some brittle stars. I was surprised at how quickly the brittle stars moved. I thought they'd be slow like all other starfish. I disturbed a few queen scallops and they clapped away from me like living castanets.

There were plenty of mussles down there. It is no wonder there are starfish!

One of the things I was delighted with were the jellyfish. There were two varieties on offer today. Moon Jellyfish, and the Comb Jellyfish.

Comb jellies are not true jellyfish, but for the sake of the story, let them be jellyfish for a bit. If direct sunlight hits them OR if you shine your dive torch underneath you will see rippling lines of irridescent colour. They are absolutely beautiful and as delicate as they are beautiful. It is so easy to inadvertantly rip them apart with the turbulence of a fin kick.
At the end of the day's diving we met just up the road at The Green Kettle for mugs of tea and coffee and get our dive logs updated. The proprietors were so kind and accommodating. They put two tables together so that the eight of us could all sit together. The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful. If we had finished our dives earlier and weren't in such a hurry to get home to our families, I think we would have stayed and ordered the Shepard's Pie and crusty bread that was on special.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Reformed Gardener?

Sometimes in the spring, especially when we've had a really lovely day and that lovely day happens on the weekend, I will go out into the garden and do some jobs. My activity outside in the garden bordered on industrious!

Today was one of those days.

I started planting up the hanging baskets . . . .I got the rest of the potatoes into the ground . . . .and I planted out some cabbage plants (they are frost hardy).
I can also plant out the sweet peas and sow the regular peas as they are really frost hardy. If I have any more rain-free time this weekend, I'll get to it.

I still have loads of things to do . . . but it if the weather holds, I may have to re-name the blog.
The Man of the Place was organising the tins, plastic containers and glass for recycling. Julio, the ever helpful cat was ensuring that things get done properly.