January 2021: Wines of Central and Eastern Europe with Derrick Westbro | Eater Wine Club

Eater Wine Club

January 2021: Wines of Central and Eastern Europe with Derrick Westbrook

Chicago-based somm Derrick C. Westbrook
In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and trying new things, our sommelier for January, Derrick Westbrook of Chicago, curated a collection of lesser-known wines from Central and Eastern Europe. Representing Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia, these wines are wild, interesting, and yes, often natural — not because it’s cool or trendy, but because they’ve always been that way.

When it comes to unique varietals from these regions, Derrick highlighted three standouts:
  • Furmint: One of the most important Hungarian varieties, furmint is most famously used in Tokaji aszú dessert wines. It may be beloved as a sweet wine, but it’s also made as a dry wine in a style similar to riesling. Its primary notes tend to be Meyer lemon, green apple, ginger, and smoke.
  • Zweigelt: This is the red wine grape you’ll find with the most ease in Austria. It’s a hybrid between blaufränkisch (more on that below) and St. Laurent (which is reminiscent of pinot noir). The wines are bright, tart, and fruity with notes of red cherry, raspberry, and black pepper.
  • Blaufränkisch: This is a food-friendly Austrian red that is a parent grape of both gamay and zweigelt. It’s rich with black fruit like black cherry and blackberry, plus peppery flavors and even dark chocolate.
Another great note from Derrick: Because these aren’t regions folks immediately think of for wine, they tend to be less in-demand, which means better prices: You’re often getting an amazing bang for your buck with the Austrian, Hungarian, and Slovenian wines.

A line-up of January's wine selections.

As for the bottles we drank in January… 

  • Sanctum ‘Lisica’ Pinot Noir 2018 This ideal food wine, grown from rocky soil Slovenia, has complex notes of tomatoes, basil, mossy earth, and cranberry, all with a touch of funk. Juicy, fruity and mouth-watering, it’s got a good amount of acid to cut through fat, but enough weight to stand up on its own.
  • Malat ‘Crazy Creatures’ 2018The soil in Kremstal, Austria where this wine is made is fantastic, and contributes to this wine’s bright, crisp notes . This grüner veltliner is a must-try for the sauv blanc enthusiast, with elements of green apple with high acidity and white pepper spiciness. Plus the fun labels, featuring one of four different “creatures,” is the winemaker’s way of adding some whimsy.
  • Domaine Ciringa ‘Fosilni Breg’ 2017 — Fun fact: This vineyard sits on the border of Austria and Slovenia. So they had to build two different wineries, since technically they couldn't bring fruit from one side of the vineyard to the other — so it’s two distinct wineries from one vineyard. When you think about this rough, stony soil with a bit of greenery and sedimentary rock, those are the notes — rocky, chalky — that you pick up a little in the wine. This sauvignon blanc also has a salty, crisp quality with mouthwatering flavors of tart, fresh pineapple.
  • Carpinus ‘Furmint’ 2019 — This well-balanced wine, from the Tokaj region in Hungary, is made furmint, a white Hungarian grape variety, and has a rich, creamy texture and a hint of sweetness.  

Want more? We have a select number of bottles left, so you can restock on what you loved for a limited time.