Chris Boiling is a winemaker and wine and travel writer. You can find his work at JancisRobinson.com, VinCE magazine and of course WTM, where he wants to share his passion for the wines and wine regions of Central and Eastern Europe.
Don’t tell the bride but her wine-loving father has hijacked her theme to promote some obscure grape varieties. Wine writer and part-time winemaker Chris Boiling aims to use his daughter’s wedding to raise the profile of Laški Rizling, Juhfark, Blaufränkisch, Kadarka, Furmint, Plavac Mali, and Rară Neagră.
“These are some of the world’s finest and least-known grape varieties,” Chris said, as he unpacked the latest delivery of wedding wine – 24 bottles of Juhfark from a variety of producers in Somló, Hungary.
“I think the official theme for the wedding is green, as my daughter’s name is Jade,” Chris said. “I’ve been put in charge of the wine and I’m sort of sticking with the theme in that half the grapes were green before they were turned into wine and most of the bottles are green. But I think it’s a great opportunity to convince the 70 guests to look beyond Pinot Grigio and Merlot. All the wines I’ve selected are from lesser-known wine regions and feature lesser-known and vastly underrated grape varieties.”
He said he is turning his father-of-the-bride speech into a wine tasting that will span the course of the meal, with the descriptions and stories behind the wines tenuously linked to stories of the bride and groom. He reckons the Schieber Bikavér 2013 reminds him of his son-in-law-to-be: “When we first met Phil he’d spent the night on a park bench after coming back from Spain late at night. His hair was all over the place and he was unshaven. When I first encountered Bikavér it was known as Bull’s Blood – it was cheap and rough – but now it is quite sophisticated. It’s a smooth, stylish blend featuring Blaufränkisch and Kadarka.”
No wedding is complete without the rare Hungarian grape Juhfark, argues Chris. “It was THE wedding wine during the Austro-Hungarian Empire,” he said. “The Hapsburgs used to order it for royal weddings because the grapes are grown on an extinct volcano and the high mineral content was thought to be the cause of the higher proportion of males born in the area. That’s one reason I’m using it, the other is for the sniggers – Juhfark is pronounced you-fark.”
The main focus, however, will be the four Laški Rizling wines. This is because this is the grape variety that Chris and wife Karen grow at their small vineyard in northeast Slovenia, in the historic wine-producing region of Jeruzalem-Ormož. “It’s the workhorse variety of Central Europe but in the right hands – not mine, obviously – but in the hands of Philipp Oser at Villa Tolnay in Hungary and Uroš Valcl of Marof in Slovenia, it becomes a delicious, special white wine that ages with interesting results. Philipp says it’s the best ambassador of terroir that he has found. As a surprise for the bride and groom there is also a Laški from their birth year – 1990. It’s an auslese from the archive of P&F in Slovenia.”
Chris got the idea for educating the 70 wedding guests about the delights of Laški (also known as Welschriesling, Graševina and Olaszrizling in different parts of the world) while writing his monthly column, Diary of a Dream, for JancisRobinson.com. “When I bought our vineyard in Slovenia, in a moment of madness, I asked about the grapes, heard the word ‘rizling’ and thought the grape variety was Riesling. But Laški Rizling is not even related. However, it does have its own merits and I thought more people should know about them. I’m using the occasion to give our family and friends their first taste of the wine I have made, but I also wanted to show them the best two examples I have found – the wines I aspire to make.”
Asked if he feels guilty about turning his father-of-the-bride speech into a Laški Rizling wine tasting, Chris said: “My daughter only has herself to blame. When she left home for university, my wife was devastated. Jade is our youngest daughter. My response to empty-nest syndrome was to find a project for my wife and me. A new hobby in a new country seemed like the ideal solution!”
The wedding will take place in an old fort in Cornwall, England, on February 3.
Is this the most interesting wedding wine list?
The wine list in full
The welcome drink: Zlati Grič Konjiška Penina 2015 – a sparkling rosé made from young Blaufränkisch vines. “Young, fresh and sparkling – like the newlyweds,” is how Chris describes it.
For starters: Phil and Jade’s Wedding Wine, a Laški Rizling made by the father of the bride, Chris Boiling, in 2014. He also labelled it specially for the event. His goal this year is to sell one bottle of his 2015 vintage. “I aim to make 365 bottles a year. This year I have about 450 so I’d like to sell the spare ones and recoup some of my outlay. The price is £12 per bottle but that’s a fairly random figure as each bottle has cost me about €200 to make and it tastes like the wine you can get for €4 or €5 in a supermarket in Slovenia. But it is a limited edition and it is all made by hand, and I’m sure someone will be curious.”
Whites for the main course: Two of the world’s best Laški Rizlings from great years – Villa Tolnay Welschriesling 2008 (the year the bride and groom met at Plymouth University) and Marof Laški Rizling 2012; plus a selection of Juhfarks (a different producer, style and vintage for each table to encourage some mingling).
Reds for the main course: Schieber Szekszárdi Obsitos Bikavér 2013 from Hungary (showing how Bull’s Blood has become more sophisticated); Equinox 5 Elemente 2013 from Moldova (another excellent red blend; this one features 25% Rară Neagră).
For dessert: Another expression of Laški Rizling – an auslese from the bride and groom’s birth year, 1990, from the archive of P&F in Slovenia; and a Tokaj Kereskedőház Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos – another Hungarian wine that claims to be great for weddings because “women want to and men can”. The main grape variety here is Furmint. The newlyweds and other couples will feed this dessert wine to each other on love spoons. “It was supposed to be Essenzia but that’s too expensive,” Chris said. “But this Aszu from the state-owned Kereskedőház is fantastic.”
For the toast: Something very special – a flagship English sparkling wine, the Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2010. Chris says: “I know Chardonnay is not a lesser-known grape variety but England certainly is an up-and-coming wine region that deserves more attention.”
The party wine: Dry Furmints from Slovenia and Hungary, both from 2014 and made more or less the same way. The big difference between the P&F Furmint and the Kereskedőház Furmint is the soil. “Okay, not everyone wants to ponder this during a wedding party,” Chris admits, “but I will be asking some people if they can tell which one comes from volcanic soil. I expect people will be avoiding me by the end of the evening.” The red party wine is the Plavac Mali Majstor Barrique from Stina in Croatia. “It’s another fantastic red grape that deserves more recognition,” Chris says. “And Stina have a label that I’m sure will get people talking – it’s white and the lettering is embossed.”