31 August 2015

Hungarian Guest Wine - Vylyan 2012 Ordog

We continue with our "guest" posts on Hungarian wine!

The Vylyan 2012 Ordog we found at a restaurant one evening. Our choices were limited to only three reds (one of which was immediately eliminated for the sin of being a Merlot) and of the two remaining options, the Vylyan won because of the fantastic description:

Because this is Hungary, the description in the menu was in Hungarian, English, and German. I have no idea what the Hungarian says but the English translation was pretty boring telling is only that "barrel aging makes this wine really demonic". It's in the German though that we found the best description: "Der Teufel der alten Legende ist liebevoll!" Or: The Devil of old legend lives!

Even the label reflected boasted of the wine's demonicness (demonocity?)!

I'm not really sure what a demonic wine should taste like but I rather don't think it would taste like the Vylyan. They pulled us in with clever advertising and then gave us the old bait and switch.

The clear, cherry red color gave way to a slightly woody nose with underlying scents of red fruits and spice. Once it hit the palate though I realized that the description was the most exciting thing about it. Not that I've ever done free association games with wine and religion before but were I to think about what a demonic wine would be like, I would think of something dark, heavy on the tannins, maybe to the point of being chewy, with lots of spice, maybe some tobacco, and dark fruits.

I would not think of a wine that's a little on the flabby side with low tannins and a mouth puckering tart, black currant and sour cherry flavor. That's what we got though. Still entirely drinkable but I certainly felt a little cheated.

26 August 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Sevillen 2012 W

A while back E and I trekked out to the Kanyon mall to visit Macro Center-a place I have avoided for two and a half years because I heard it was addictive. Macro Center, you see, is the import grocery store. In the end I was actually pretty disappointed by it. My local Carrefour carries a lot of the same things; although I was thrilled beyond measure to find large tubs of red curry paste! No more having to get people to bring/send me the itty bitty pots of Thai Kitchen paste. I was of course hoping that the import store would have a decent selection of foreign wines (and I heard that you could get them cheaper there than at La Cave)...

I bought local wines. Who goes to the fancy import store and comes home with local products? Apparently I do. The imported wine selection was slim and, like at many of the alcohol stores in Istanbul, it was a selection of the bottom of the barrel wines at top shelf prices. No thank you. So I purchased a couple Turkish wines I'd never seen before, one of which was Sevillen's 2012 W.

Frankly I was drawn to this because of the label. I'm not too proud to admit that I often choose wine based on how attractive I find the label so, kudos to the ad people. This particular label reminded me of "Wicked" which has long been both one of my favorite books and musicals.

The W is a blend of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc, a blend we tried (in reverse) recently with Suvla. The W is a very pale straw yellow with a delicate floral, citrus, apple nose. On the palate it's clean, dry, and with a long finish with a lot of citrus and apple. Really lovely. We really liked this one. 

The W went beautifully with our dinner that night of grilled vegetables, Turkish carrot salad (recipe below!), and...the Heaven...pork sausage. Which we bought at the Macro Center. I love you, Devil's Meat.

I would definitely by Sevillen's W again. We all really enjoyed it and even as much as I love wine even I have to say that it can be difficult to find a wine that you like both with and without food and that is an easy drinking experience. I may even dare to blaspheme and say that I liked this better than the Suvla iteration...

Turkish Carrot Salad:
  • 4-5 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 big cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 500 grams thick yogurt (suzme if you're in Turkey, otherwise Greek yogurt should work)
  1. Heat the oil over medium flames and cook the grated carrots with salt and pepper until they're about half done, you want them still crunchy. Frankly I don't know why you want to half cook them but the chef on our blue cruise (who taught me the recipe) said to do it. When they're (half) done set them aside to cool.
  2. Crush the garlic cloves and combine them with the yogurt.
  3. When the carrots are cool, combine them with the yogurt and let your taste buds explode! 

24 August 2015

5 Slightly Off the Beaten Path Things to Do in Istanbul

When most people think Istanbul the images that come to mind are the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus...of course these are fantastic sights and I'm always happy to go back to the museums (especially since thanks to my Museum Card I don't have to pay for most of them!) but there are so many other things to do and see here that get overlooked.

1. Markets

Shop like a local and visit some of the weekly markets around the city. Some of the markets are largely food but some of them carry everything and anything you could possibly think of...and some things you can't.

Fatih Çarşamba (Wednesday) market is one of the latter, you can find just about anything at this market. It spreads out behind the Fatih mosque so if you're unfamiliar with the area it's probably easiest to take a cab.

Beşiktaş Saturday market  - located between Taksim and Örtaköy, you can either walk to this one down Dolmabahçe Cd then up Şair Nedim Cd, or take bus 43 from Taksim and get off at Ihlamur, or take a cab.

Inebolu - This Sunday market starts early (around 6) and closes early (4). It's worth the early wake up to get to this one though. Vendors from Turkey's Inebolu Black Sea area set out late Saturday night to set up their wares in Istanbul's sketchy Kasımpaşa neighborhood on Toprak Tabya Sokak, Kucuk Piyale. 

Besiktas Saturday market

Yeşilköy's market is also on Wednesday. In a classier area of town this 2,000 stall market offers a variety of products and vendors who take credit cards. Take the 72T from Taksim or the 81 from

Eminönü and get of at the Park stop. Alternatively you can take the inner city train from Sirkeci and get off at Yeşilköy where apparently there is a free transfer service.

If you're looking for a market on the Asian side then head to Kadıköy on Tuesday or Friday. The Kadıköy market is huge with over 4,000 stalls, many of them run by women. To get there from the European side take a ferry from Karaköy or Eminönü then take cab or bus 8A to Mandira Caddesi or S.Er Bulent Altinsoy station. 

2. Wander!

 Get lost, it's ok. If you're worried about getting lost make sure to get a business card from your hotel and carry it with you to show cab drivers. For me though, wandering is the best way to learn a city.

Istanbul has some amazing architecture, much of which is sadly deteriorating.Wandering is also a great time to take advantage of Turkey's tea culture. Stop in a tea house for a rest, a game of backgammon, and chat with some locals.

3. Dolphin watch

Sadly I don't have any pictures of dolphins. It seems I never have my camera on me. Dolphins are not an uncommon sight while traversing the Bosphorus. Even if you don't see them though, it's always fun to ride the vapur and enjoy a çay and a simit.

4. Kariye Müzesi

The Kariye Müzesi, or (St. Saviour in) Chora Church is my favorite of the Istanbul museums. It's probably the best example of Byzantine art and architecture left in Turkey and while it may be a mere fraction of the size of the Aya Sofia, its mosaics and frescos are far better preserved. You also won't have to Photoshop out of your pictures as many other tourists. Given its not central location, the Kariye Müzesi is not as well visited as are other museums.

It's a bit of a trip but totally worth it. To get there, take the tram to Topkapı stop then switch to the light rail and get off at Edirnekapı. From there, walk to the nearby, large intersection where you will take your life in your hands and cross Turkish-style (ie sans signal and crosswalk) and you'll start seeing signs for the museum.

5. Eyüp Cemetery

Nearby the Kariye Müzesi is Eyüp. While it sits outside Istanbul's ancient city wall, Eyüp is of huge importance to the city. It is home to the Eyüp Sultan mosque, the burial place of Eyüp Ensari, standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed. In addition to visiting the mosque, Eyüp's market area and main square are a much quieter cousin of those in Sultanahmet and are a nice break from that area's tourist experience. 

In addition, the Eyüp cemetery is famous for its highly decorated grave markers and shaded pathways. Even if you can't read the old Turkish script (similar to Persian) you can tell a little about the person buried there by the decorations. A woman's marker will often be decorated with flowers, one for each child. Fez's adorn the grave markers of a paşa, the size of a turban reflects a man's status, and third type of hat (for which I don't have a name) indicates the grave of a member of a Sufi order. However all three of those headgear having been banned at one time or another you don't see them on the more modern graves.

There are a lot of ways to get here. If you're already at the Kariye Müzesi you could actually walk, take a ferry, or hop in a cab. But if you're starting from a little farther away take the ferry from Karaköy or Eminönü.

Whether you walk up through the cemetery or take the cable car, the views at the top are spectacular and it's worth the climb to sit and have a tea while taking it all in.

19 August 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2012 Viognier-Narince

I'm still excited over having found Turkish Viognier. There are truly very few dry white wines I can even tolerate let alone like and I thought Viognier was lost to me when I left the DC metro area. I won't give Virginia props for much but they grow an outstanding Viognier.

So, it seems, does Chamlija which creates a bottle worth 90-something TL (from Sensus).  We've already swooned over the straight up Viognier so now it's time to talk about the Viognier-Narince blend.

Pale yellow in color, the nose is a little on the flat side (often typical with Viognier) but there are soft notes of floral, citrus, and maybe a little grass?

A lingering finish full of flavor including peaches, citrus, white flowers, and maybe a little tropical something make this a very nice wine for sipping on its own or pairing with food (both Viognier and Narince pair well with spicy food). This is a medium bodied wine without a lot of pronounced acid but the textures and flavors all combine to create a very even and enjoyable drinking experience.

Between this blend and the earlier-reviewed Viognier I prefer the Viognier...but this wine is winning awards for a reason and you should check it out.

17 August 2015

Hungarian Guest Wine Chataeu Vazsonyi Zweigelt 2012

This is only the second of the Hungarian wines I have but there are a lot more to come. In addition to all the drinking in Hungary I brought home another four bottles.

A dark, opaque red, the Zweigelt is very hot in the nose with hints of raspberry.

It's definitely a little hot. Not much for the tannins, nor is there a great deal of flavor beyond the initial taste of dark fruits, raspberry, and spice-maybe clove? What flavor there is though is nice enough. Goes pretty well with grilled meats.

It's definitely much better chilled a bit. I know you really should chill most wines (even reds!!) for 20 or more minutes before serving but usually I'm too impatient to do that. However my limited experience thus far with Hungarian wines makes me think that I'll want to take the time with the rest of the bottles I brought home.

12 August 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Bigalı White 2014

Suvla has out a new series this year: Bigalı (running 19TL/bottle). I believe we've already covered the red so, in keeping with drinking more whites during the summer, it is time to discuss the white.

The Bigalı white is like a super blend combining Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Roussanne, and Marsanne. I'm not even sure where to begin with all of them especially as I am completely unfamiliar with the latter two.

So with everything I don't know in mind...here we go.

The Bigalı 2014 White is straw gold in color.  The nose is very floral (unsurprising really with any of these grapes). On the palate it's floral, pear, fruity, and a bit buttery perhaps. It was a little on the bright (higher acid) side for my personal taste but wasn't at all astringent. It just really wanted to let us all know that it had its fair share of acid.

For me...not a huge win. And it really hurts me when I have to say that about a Suvla. To be fair, I am notoriously hard to please when it comes to dry whites. Even though it didn't win any medals with me I would still recommend it for being a solid white with a crazy reasonable price for Turkey.

10 August 2015

Budapest Revisited

Twelve years ago I visited, not only Budapest, but Eastern Europe for the very first time. I hated it. I did not get why people liked Budapest so much. It did not help that it was still fracking winter and snowing and bitterly cold. Or that I was getting a little culture shocked from the Eastern European mindset, or that I couldn't speak the language.

Well I still can't speak the language (I'm sorry Hungarians but really?) and my German is actually worse now than it was 12 years ago but now I'm a lot more accustomed to being able to communicate without a firm grasp of the local language. Plus, a lovely, cool summer day makes just about any city enjoyable. So on the one day we had free from the travesty of a work event that had me stuck in Hungary I took a train into Budapest and enjoyed the day.

First up of course was Mass at Szt Istvan Bazilika. In Hungarian. Sigh. I miss Latin.


After Mass I met up with my colleague with whom I had taken the 7AM train into the city. We wandered a bit, had a drink a schmancy hotel near Saint Stephen's, and then saw this:

You can't really see it in this picture but it's a Georgian restaurant called Hachapuri!! A GEORGIAN RESTAURANT!!!! We had a moment of mind meld and headed straight for it without a word. Heaven. Pure heaven. We stayed there eating, drinking, and talking for about three hours...just long enough for all the grey clouds to disappear and the sun to come out!

We had those eggplant rolls with walnut paste (I can never remember what they're called: let's go with transcendent deliciousness), khachapouri ajari (the only khatchapouri in my book), mushroom khinkali, and beef/pork khinkali. And there was wine. Georgian wine! A lovely Rkatsiteli, perfect for a summer day.

After we pulled ourselves away from the Georgia restaurant (where I bought a bottle to go!) there was more wandering around.

While walking around we found the synagogue and I was reminded of how much I love this building. Sure I think Saint Stephen's is stunning (although the interior is a little too Byzantine for my taste), but the synagogue is stunning. The largest in Europe, it is over 150 years old and built in a Moorish style. Sadly we didn't have enough time to take the tour but maybe next time.

The train ride back to the middle of no where was a nice end to the day. I forget how much I love trains. We had a spectacular sunset to admire as we raced (well chugged along speedily I suppose) through the Hungarian countryside.

Between stalls at the festival and dutyfree I came home with a pretty decent haul: five bottles of Hungarian wine, one bottle of Georgian wine, one bottle of vodka, one bottle of rum, 3 pounds of brown sugar, and a giant pork sausage.

And Sherlock was almost as happy to see me as she was to play with the suitcase.