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Wine Without Pretense: Reminder of a good Hungarian red win
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The wine: Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera 2010.

The grapes: 100 percent Barbera.

The source: Piemonte region of Italy.

The verdict: The bride and I have been Barbera boosters for many years. One of our favorite reds of all time — sadly, no longer produced — was a Barbera from the Louis M. Martini Winery in Saint Helena, Calif. The wine was a shining reflection of the Italian roots of winery founder Louis Martini Sr. This soft, yet assertive, Piemonte red is a classic example of Italian Barbera. The fruit flavors glow, yet there is a distinctive backbone to the wine. We consumed it two ways: We chilled it lightly and sipped it as a cocktail wine and it was lush and mouth-filling. Then we poured the remainder with a plate of hand-crafted veal rollups with pancetta.

The price: About $20.

You always can learn something new from The Times. I did in January. And that led to some fond memories from my past and conversations with folks with a real history in this town.

A story in the Jan. 21 edition recalled Gainesville’s connection as sister city to Eger, Hungary.

Two words came to mind: Egri Bikaver, the full-bodied, historic red wine made in the region around Eger. It’s called Bull’s Blood, and I drank a lot of it 30-some years ago.

While the sister-city connections have dulled in recent years, the connections between Gainesville and Eger remain vivid to some local folks who helped set up and nurture the relationship during a 1998 trip to Eger.

Among them was then-Gainesville City Manager Carlyle Cox, who was part of a delegation involving local public officials and folks from the local ZF Industries manufacturing plant. The trip had a dual purpose: To celebrate the partnership between the communities and herald the opening of a new ZF plant in Eger, patterned after the highly successful Gainesville facility.

Cox remembers the hospitality.

“It was a lovely area and lovely people,” he told me in January. “We were there about three or four days, then back to Budapest to fly home.”

He said Eger was “a very clean city, with a large downtown area that was closed to vehicular traffic. You could walk down the middle of the street for six or eight blocks.”

He does not remember tasting the Bull’s Blood wine, although Eger officials gave each member of the Gainesville delegation a personally inscribed bottle of the famous Eger wine.

Cox does retain the memory of being served wine in the middle of the morning ... “in the high school.”

Catiel Felts, Gainesville’s director of communications and tourism, recalls the visit.

“I remember the Bull’s Blood, and the wonderful people there,” she said. “Our names were on each bottle.”

She still has hers, but is not quite sure where it is.

One thing I am sure about is my link to Eger: Bull’s Blood.

The name? Legend says when the Turks invaded Hungary in the 16th century, a group of Hungarian soldiers was ordered to defend Eger. These brave patriots were fed fine food and red wine to fortify themselves for battle. Someone told the Turks the blood of bulls had been mixed into the wine to give the defenders extra strength. And the attackers quit the siege and went home.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Bull’s Blood was quite popular. The name grabbed your eye, but the heartiness and bold flavors of the wine kept your attention. It was the perfect company to red meat dishes and spicy Hungarian fare. I put away a lot of it and it was a great buy at about four bucks a bottle.

Today’s Egri Bikaver is more subdued, but still a likable red. I wouldn’t mind taking a trip to Eger just to sample this old favorite in its hometown, especially if I could find that high school.

* * *

News item: Guy was attending an upscale party at a Milan art museum recently when he popped the cork on a bottle of Champagne and the cork tore through a nearby work of art, causing some $1,400 in damages.


So let me advise those who like Champagne/sparkling wine, but are not overly familiar with how to get to the contents of the bottle.

A word of caution: The bubbles are the result of a second fermentation that takes place inside the bottle. Those bubbles can produce internal pressure of up to 90 pounds per square inch. That’s why Champagne bottles weigh nearly one-third more than regular wine bottles. BTW: That pressure rating is as high as what you will find in a large truck tire.

Heed these two basic rules when opening a bottle of bubbly.

First, make sure the wine is dead cold, at least eight hours in the fridge. To chill it more quickly, immerse at least two-thirds of the bottle in an ice-saltwater bath: Quart of water, ice cubes and half a cup of salt. That should bring it to temp in about an hour.

Second, do not agitate the bottle. Place it on a flat surface with your face away from the business end. Carefully peel away the foil covering the cork. You’ll find a wire cage holding the cork in place. Delicately turn the circular key to remove the cage. It always takes six twists.

Placing one hand firmly over the cork, using the other hand to keep the bottle in place, gently turn the cork. Do not try to pop it out with your thumbs. That’s probably what the dolt in Milan did. When you feel the internal pressure start to push the cork out, guide it out gently, so you hear a “Pfft” and not a “POP!”

Serve in a tall, narrow glass called a flute and enjoy.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on