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Stay Home and Drink Wine (but Always in Moderation)

Drinks

The Budapest Business Journal’s regular columnist Robert Smyth looks at how the developing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has hit even the local wine business.

First, it was ProWein, probably the wine world’s biggest event on the calendar, which brings wineries and wine professionals each year to the German city of Düsseldorf, that was postponed until next year, from the original date of March 15-17, 2020.

Then, unsurprisingly, Vinitaly, which was originally scheduled to be held in the northeastern city of Verona from April 19-22, was postponed. Rather than call it off altogether, the organizers have decided to move it to June 14-17, a date which is already looking fairly optimistic given the tragedy that has unfolded in Italy.

Then, the London Wine Fair, which was due to take place May 18-20, was postponed with a new date yet to be announced.

Locally, Hungary’s VinCE Budapest wine show, a major wine event involving 160 exhibitors and lots of juicy masterclasses, which was due to take place April 3-4, has also decided to move the event, to June 6-7. It would be wonderful for us to be “back to normal” by then, but right now even that looks like a best-case scenario.

As people tasted with abandon at the buzzing Badacsony NewYorkban tasting as recently as February 28 (see my article in our previous edition) in the famous coffee house, nobody was predicting a wine-tasting lockdown here.

Then, as the threat of COVID-19 became very real and immediate, Tokaji Március was the first major local event (originally March 15) to be cancelled.

While there’s nothing quite like attending tastings and chatting with the winemakers as they pour you their wares, or (even better) visiting wine regions and the vintners at their wineries to understand precisely what’s in your glass, wine can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere.

Sip and Surf

Indeed, I have learnt a heck of a lot about the subtleties of wine while sitting on my settee, gorging not just on wine but also on wine literature, with so much good stuff to be found online; taking a sip and then a surf, as it were.

For example, the appropriately named WineSofa (Winesofa.eu) is a valuable English-language source of wine-related news and features in Hungary and the other winemaking countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

“Stay home and drink wine” posted one wine colleague on her Facebook profile pic. Meanwhile, a meme has been doing the rounds in the wine community, entitled “Planning your next wine tour made easy”, which depicts the layout of a house and glasses of wine to be drunk in the various rooms.

Funny as this may be, the consequences for those working in wine tourism are dire, as it is in so many other service-based industries, and plenty of others too.

My last trip before the coronavirus clampdown took me to neighboring Croatia, including the Vinart Grand Tasting in Zagreb. It was exciting to encounter the Pušipel grape from the Croatian Uplands (the local moniker for Furmint), a couple of examples of which eschewed the use of oak, yet the wines were ripe, juicy and varietally pure with a tropical fruity twist.

For its Pušipel Prestige 2017, the Dvanajščak-Kozol winery decided to use acacia rather than oak, which beautifully supports the wine’s natural fruitiness, rather than impedes it. In other parts of Croatia, Furmint can also be called Moslavac and Ripon.

Sourcing Wine Amid Coronavirus

Taste Hungary, a dynamically expanding company for which I have led lots of wine tours, has unsurprisingly witnessed the mass cancellation of its tours and tastings, almost overnight.

Over 12 years it has steadily expanded from the husband and wife team of Gábor and Carolyn Bánfalvi taking guests on wine and food market tours to become a bastion of high-end wine and gastro-related tourism, employing more than 30 guides and sommeliers, replete with its own cellar tasting room/shop called the Tasting Table at Bródy Sándor utca 9, in District VIII.

The Tasting Table has cancelled tastings until April 15 and is now functioning solely as a shop (11 a.m.-3 p.m. every day) with discounts now placed on its impressive wine selection (including exciting small producers and an outstanding collection of Tokaji Aszú. It also offers curb-side pick-up for advance orders, free delivery in Budapest, and is also doing its signature cheese and charcuteries board for take-away and home delivery.

Tokaj’s Disznókő, the first major estate you encounter as you enter the Tokaj region and one which is delightfully surrounded by its own sloped vineyards, is staying sanguine on the subject on wine tourism. As recently as March 19, the French-owned winery posted on Facebook that it is looking for a new wine tourism manager.

Meanwhile, Bortársaság’s 20 shops remain open, with the gloved-staff regularly cleaning handles and surfaces while keeping a safe distance, and the distributor has lowered the threshold for free delivery to anywhere in the country from orders of more than HUF 15,000, to orders of more than HUF 10,000.

If you want the wines quickly, just ask and they pledge to deliver the wines within four hours. In cooperation with Wolt, Bortársaság can also deliver chilled wines. Another contactless delivery solution the company offers is Foxpost, whereby the wines are delivered to locker terminals where you can pick them up.

Antal Kovács’ natural wine outfit Pincearon.hu already gives free delivery on orders of HUF 20,000 or more, but now is also adding a 10% discount to orders above HUF 20,000 or more.

Radovin is keeping its three shops open from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. every day, delivers free in Budapest for orders of more than HUF 20,000, and gives an 8% discount on purchases of more than HUF 15,000.

Monarchiaborok has closed its bricks and mortar store for now, but its online webshop remains open and delivers free in Budapest for orders of more than HUF 15,000.

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