Volcano spewing lava into a wine glass

Being from Istanbul, I have known a thing or two about Hungary: how it was under the Ottoman Empire for nearly 160 years, how the Orient Express passed through Budapest on its way from Paris to Istanbul, connecting the West to the East, and how the Hungarian-made Ikarus buses with their articulated bellies like accordions serviced Istanbul for half a century. What I didn’t know was how hip Budapest has now become, with its graffiti-adorned streets, trendy boutiques, and ruin bars converted from abandoned buildings.

My opportunity to rediscover Hungary arrived last October when Budapest hosted the Terroir forum, where chefs, journalists, winemakers, and sommeliers got together to discuss the legacy and the future of Hungarian gastronomy. When the founder of the Toronto-based Terroir Symposium, Arlene Stein, told me there would be local food and wine showcased, like Hungarian grey cattle, goose liver, and the sheep-like Mangalica pigs with their curly wool coats and marbled meat, I was intrigued. When she told me that there would be a wine-tasting event by the winemakers of Volcanic Wines of Pannonia, I was sold.
More… “The Renaissance of Hungarian Food”

Demet Güzey writes and teaches about food and wine, in Verona, Italy. She is the author of Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild. Her writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Eaten, and numerous scientific journals. You can follow her on Instagram at demetguzey and twitter @demetguzey


If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?

That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay


Whatever happened to viognier becoming “the next chardonnay”?

That’s what they told us back in the 1990s, when I was a young man first stumbling into wine. I drank a lot of viognier back then. You couldn’t avoid it. Viognier was found on nearly every wine list you’d encounter. Now? I almost never see it, and I don’t know a single person that says, “Boy, I’d really love me some viognier tonight.” Viognier feels like a vestige of an era when Microsoft might hire Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston to show people how to use Windows 95.

Jason Wilson is the founding editor of The Smart Set. He also edits The Best American Travel Writing series (Houghton Mifflin).

Who knew that expressing a warm affection for lovely, drinkable Austrian red wines could be construed as a revolutionary act that threatened civilized wine culture? Or that someone who champions Austrian grape varieties might be viewed as a wild-eyed radical, intent on casting the world of wine into a state of chaos “to the detriment of the wine consumer”?

Well, according to the eminent wine critic Robert Parker, wine writers who enjoy and advocate lesser-known grape varieties are “Euro-elitists” and may as well be espousing ideas comparable to “Kim-Jung-unism.” Blaufränkisch, otherwise known as lemberger and grown mostly in Austria, was singled out by Parker as “virtually unknown” and one of those “godforsaken grapes, that, in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc., have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest.” Recommending that people drink blaufränkisch, according to Parker, was something akin to the “propaganda machines… More…

For the past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying red wines made from the indigenous grapes of Greece. I’ve tasted mostly xinomavro from Naoussa, in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, and agiorgitiko from Nemea in the Peloponnese, but also little-known varieties such as limniona, mavrotragano, and mavrodaphne. While you can certainly find bottles of xinomavro and agiorgitiko on American shelves and wine lists, let’s just be clear: These are obscure wines.

Why would I recommend such obscure wines? A few weeks ago, I might have simply said: These obscure wines are fascinating and strange in the best way, and they repay an adventurous wine drinker by providing good value and deliciousness. But apparently, according to the eminent wine critic Robert Parker, I’m all wrong.

Jason Wilson is the founding editor of The Smart Set. He also edits The Best American Travel… More…

I am hopeful that Portuguese wines will take off in the United States one day and I eagerly await the meteoric rise of Portugal’s great-value reds, either from a famed region like the Douro Valley or from lesser-known regions such as the Alentejo or Dão or Setúbal. My wait has been very much in the vein of Waiting for Godot, and it has been going on two decades now. I remain patiently optimistic.

This story is an excerpt from Planet of the Grapes Vol. 1: Alternative Reds by Jason Wilson. Smart Set Press. Get it for only $2.99 — plus check out When Wine Talk Gets Weird, a companion essay, for only 99 cents.

I’m always speaking with people who are fixated on a quixotic quest to find that “great bottle… More…

Are there still wine people out there who won’t give beer the time of day? Seriously? Sadly, it appears so. When I’ve mentioned to wine friends that I’ve started writing about beer, some act as though I’d told them I’ll be writing about bromance comedies, Hooters’ waitresses and fantasy hockey.


I actually saw a Wine Spectator forum this year that began, “Why do you consider wine to be far superior to drink than beer?” Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised by the responses:

“I think the superiority is clear. … For one, I find the flavors of beer to be quite fatiguing. … The range of bright and fruity flavors that wine can portray just cover a broader and more impressive scale than that of beer.”

“Hot wings, hot dogs, potato chips = Beer. Everything else wine…. More…

People in the wine world spend an awful lot of time wringing their hands over alcohol content, creating what blogger Alder Yarrow calls “the modern hysteria about rising alcohol levels in wine.”


I did it myself just the other night when my father opened a bottle of 2006 Alto Moncayo Veraton ($25), a Garnacha from Campo de Borja. My father always opens good wines, and he’s been on a Spanish kick for some time, after moving away from California wines, which he’s collected for years. My father is of the opinion that 1) most California wines have gotten too expensive and 2) he feels they’re too high in alcohol. “One glass of a big Cab or Zinfandel and that was it. Your mom and I just couldn’t drink a bottle of it… More…



I recently purchased a kit called “Le Nez Du Vin” that professes to teach me how to identify various aromas in a glass of wine. The kit, which is imported from France, comes in a dictionary-sized case covered in red fabric so that it resembles an old book. Inside are a dozen tiny glass vials, each of which is redolent of a specific, essential red-wine scent when uncapped. These vials are cosseted in crushed velvet (or likely velour). It was purchased at Williams-Sonoma. It cost $130.

Go ahead: Roll your eyes; chuckle derisively; whatever you have to do. I’ll wait until you finish. OK, finished?

The “Le Nez Du Vin” kit contains two slim manuals both written by Jean Lenoir, a French wine critic who over 25 years ago developed this method of wine education by way… More…


What do you tell parents of would-be poets who worry about their children’s ability to make a living writing sonnets? — Your father, Sierra Vista, Arizona P.S. Do you want me to send you that law school application?

It is perfectly natural to feel the worry you express, and especially if your child is nearing the end of her MFA program that offers no job placement upon completion, but I don’t think she is relying solely on her ability to write sonnets to make her living. The great Nobel laureate, poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky makes a bold and validating claim that, in my personal experience, I have found to be true:  “The more one reads (and by extension, writes) poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be it in political or philosophical discourse,… More…