2004 Lot 2 Cuvee
California: Carmel Valley
What we say
If you are visiting us for the first time, Welcome! The Wine Spies feature one exceptional wine each day – and we only bring you wines that we ourselves seek out and love. Always, the wines are great. Sometimes greater than great, as is the case with today’s wine from Szalay Winery.
Mission Codename: Budapest, California
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: While traveling in Eastern Europe, keep an eye out for spectacular wines to bring back for our Operatives
NEW MISSION OBJECTIVE: While in Hungary, Agent Red has located a spectacular California wine. *Objective Update*: Return to California for an immediate mission to Szalay Winery
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Szalay Winery
Wine Subject: 2004 Lot 2 Cuvee
Winemaker: Jozef Szalay
Agent Red was sent to Eastern Europe to scout great wines for our Operatives to experience. While there, Red is introduced to a wine produced in California, by a 3rd generation Hungarian winemaker. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and mission report below.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – A dazzling clear heart of deep garnet is accentuated by a bouncy surface, glistening edges and thick, tightly-spaced legs
Smell – Deep and richly layered with dark plum, sweet pipe tobacco, sweet cherry and raisin at first, followed with smoky oak and mineral
Feel – Cool and immediately grippy, this wine has really wonderful structure with medium to big tannins and a drying effect that does not suck the life out of your mouth like some other big-tannin reds
Taste – Delicious with big fruit up-front, delivering dark cherry, dark plum, blackberry and raisin with mild liccorice and a hint of toasted oak
Finish – Cool, long, lingering, flavorful, delicious and dry
Conclusion – This wine, from 7th-generation Hungarian winemaker, Jozsef Szalay, is an incredible offering of exceptional value. Built in what I can only describe as a Eastern Euro-American style, this wine finds a great balance between European restraint and California boldness. Its flavor and aroma profile are certainly big, but there is a subtlety and refinement to the wine which speak volumes about the winemakers old-world sensibilities. I give this wine a BIG Wine Spies recommendation and would suggest that, how ever many bottles you buy, that you drink half now – and hold the rest in your cellar for a few years, where the wine should soften and become even more expressive.
Eastern Europe is freezing this time of year and my mission to sleuth out new wineries, while going very well, was starting to wear on me. Sure, call me wimpy, but as a California Wine Country native, I am used to much warmer climates.
While the European Union declares many of the countries I was touring as Central European, most of the people I have met during my travels through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary consider themselves Eastern European or even former Warsaw Pact. I simply consider them great places with warm and friendly people – and some surprisingly great wine offerings.
Nearing the end of my tour, I stayed in downtown Budapest. My modest hotel (I was maintaining a deep cover during this mission) neighbored a great wine shop called BORTÁRSASÁG – BAZILIKA. It was while I was standing outside this shop, admiring the wines on display, that a young man approached me and said in heavily accented, but nonetheless perfect English, “Do you enjoy drinking great wines, Sir?”
How he knew I was not Hungarian, I could not guess. In years past, I would have guessed that my Nikes or Levi’s might have tipped him off.
I answered, “Yes. Do you know of any good Hungarian wines?”
“In fact, yes.” Was his reply. “But its made in California.”
I asked him to clarify.
“If you care to come to my uncle’s restaurant, I will share a bottle with you.”
I could not resist and after a short walk in the brisk air, we arrived at a small but elegant and lavishly appointed restaurant. On entering, there were happy shouts from staff and customers alike.
My new friend, who I was soon to learn was named Istvan, said, “Uncle, this is my friend….”
I extended my hand and said, “My friends call me Red.”
The chuckled at this and invited me to join a group already seated at a long table at the back of the dining room.
More introductions ensued and it seemed that the entire extended family was here, enjoying wine and a hearty meal.
Words were exchanged between Istvan and the waiter (his second cousin) and soon a bottle of Szalay “Lot 2” arrived. The crest on the bottle, along with the name, Szalay, gave it a decidedly Hungarian look, but the words “Carmel Valley” revealed its true origin.
The wine was exceptional, as was the mean and the raucous conversation that was enjoyed throughout dinner. See my tasting notes above for the complete profile on this great wine.
The Szalay Winery, it turned out, is owned by Jozsef Szalay Kovacs, an 8th generation Hungarian-born California transplant that is a bonafide Master Winemaker that makes wines of great character and distinction.
:: mission update :: I am now back in California and recently returned from a great meeting with Jozsef Szalay Kovacs. Jozsef is a man of great passion, warmth and serious conviction. His mission, to bring forth generations of winemaking traditions and blend them with new world techniques, I declare a smashing success!
Wine Spies Mission Recon Photo:
The location of Agent Red’s chance encounter with Istvan, can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
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About The Winery:
We are one of the most recent boutique wineries in the Santa Lucia Mountain range of Carmel Valley. In the summer of 2003 Jozsef and Bette Kovacs purchased 13 acres of land. With sons Jacob and Jesse, we began planting and building our winery. Located sixteen miles into the valley from the Big Sur coastline, we experience hot summer days with ocean influenced breezes. Bud break on average is two weeks earlier than most California growing regions, giving us a longer growing season. At 1100 foot elevation, the south facing slope, with its sandy loam soil and sandstone base, is prime for growing exceptional reds.
Two passions were instilled in Jozsef Kovacs from childhood; the love of wine making and the importance of
preparing fresh, flavorful foods. This combination along with years of trials has transcended into his unique ability to blend wines. Jozsef’s understanding of combining different flavor characteristics, bring his wines multi-dimensional, full flavor profiles. All the wines are hand-crafted merging new and old world techniques. Grapes are open bin fermented using small lot fermentation. The wines are then carefully monitored to achieve a unique final result.
Monterey Country currently grows 45,000 acres of wine grapes. The region has seven American Viticulture areas, (AVAs) Arroyo Seco, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Hames Valley, Monterey, San Luca, and Santa Lucia Highlands.
These “appellations” now hold a world class reputation for growing many of California’s best varietals. Our grape selection comes not only from our vineyard but from other small growers of this area. These growers, most of whom use organic farming practices, have low yields with extended fruit hang time. This practice ultimately assists in producing wine with intense flavor.