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Fantastic wines from lesser-spotted European regions and where to buy them

Entrepreneurial immigrants from central and eastern Europe are broadening Irish oenophile palates

The recent flow of migrants into Ireland has brought with it an increased awareness of central and eastern European wine. Many of the countries in these regions have a long and noble wine culture, interrupted for a short period by communism, but are now producing wines of real interest.

In recent months, I have tasted wines from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Georgia, Greece and Turkey. Here, three of the many foreign-born people who make a living in the Irish wine trade tell their story. Two are importing wines from their mother country, the other has plans to do the same.

Sevgi Tüzel-Conghaile, A Wine Idea

Sevgi Tüzel-Conghaile grew up in Izmir on the Aegean coast in Turkey. She studied food engineering and on graduation wasn’t sure what to do next in her career. “Food Science qualified me to work in a winery as there is no degree in viticulture or vinification in Turkey,” she says.

“I thought wine sounded nice so I started looking for a job. I worked two years with Château Kalpak in Thrace on the Aegean coast – one of the most important wine regions, with lots of wineries. But decided I needed a proper wine education so I did a masters in oenology and viticulture in Montpellier, which included time in Bordeaux and in Geisenheim in Germany. My husband, then boyfriend, was from Connemara, so we came back to Ireland and I wrote my thesis in NUI.”


She started A Wine Idea in 2020 as a blog, while she was studying, but developed an interest in doing wine tastings. During the pandemic she started online tastings.

“It became very important for my business,” says Tüzel-Conghaile. “It wasn’t local any more but all around Ireland, the UK, the US and Germany. I did more than 150 virtual tastings in a very short time.

Turkey is one of the birthplaces of wine so they have a lot of native varieties and I would be interested in importing those

—  Sevgi Tüzel-Conghaile

“We moved to Dublin during lockdown. I decided I needed a bigger audience and Dublin was the answer. I began planning my online wine shop and tastings, which I run in The Tasting Room.” She also offers corporate tastings. See for details.

Tüzel-Conghaile would love to import Turkish wines but wonders if the market here is ready.

“Importing is easy but selling would be the problem. I am waiting for the right moment, when the Irish market is ready for more niche wines. Turkey is one of the birthplaces of wine so they have a lot of native varieties and I would be interested in importing those. People can buy but merlot or cabernet sauvignon from anywhere.”

Balázs Rakamazi, Vinifinesse

“I always wanted to be a cook or a chef,” Balázs Rakamazi says. “I was born in Budapest but spent summer with my grandparents in the middle of Hungary. They were completely self-sustainable. There was no fruit or vegetable that they didn’t grow.”

While he had trained as a chef in Paris and worked in several restaurants in Ireland, Rakamazi had always had an interest in wine. “The more I worked, the more I realised I got my inspiration by combining food and wine, and found myself creating a menu to match the wine. Hungary has 22 wine regions, so it was normal to have wine with food.”

“I always thought there was more potential for the wines of Hungary in Ireland. I could not find many Hungarian wines in Ireland, so I decided to try and bring some in. It’s been less than a year but the response has been overwhelming. I have received amazing, really positive feedback.

“Most independent wine shops have taken them and reordered them too. I rely on the shops and the passionate sales people working there. Nobody comes in to a shop looking for Hungarian wine – until they try one. When I open the wines and people taste them, they are shocked by how good they are and think they are good value too.”

Everyone agrees furmint is capable of getting up there with the rest of the world’s great whites

—  Balázs Rakamazi

Most of Rakamazi’s wines retail at €20-30, but some cost more. “I’m not concentrating on cheap wines – they don’t show the potential of Hungary and they would be lost on the shelves. I want to show the depth Hungary has. It might take years but I want to get a Hungarian shelf beside the Austrian wine shelf.”

Rakamazi is determined that Ireland will learn to appreciate furmint, kadarka and kékfrankos. These three indigenous grape varieties produce world-class wine. “Some call kadarka the pinot noir of Hungary; I don’t like this, although it is all about elegance and lightness and can be complex, with paprika and spice. Kékfrankos is the most important red wine in Hungary, and Hungary is the largest producer in the world. Different producers and different regions make a variety of styles.

“Furmint is originally from Tokaji, and used to produce sweet wines. But now, with climate change, it is very hard to get botrytis – it’s not happening. Now the climate is more suited to a big Burgundian style. Everyone agrees it is capable of getting up there with the rest of the world’s great whites.”

His company, Vinifinesse, does not sell directly to the public but the wines are available through independent wine shops.

Vakhtang Abalazade, Taste of Georgia

Leinster rugby fans will be familiar with Vakhtang Abalazade as a tighthead prop who was recently capped for Georgia. Born in Georgia, Abalazade moved with his family to Blanchardstown when he was five years old. He began playing rugby for Coolmine at the age of 12 and played for Clontarf while studying at DCU, before turning professional with Leinster.

He became interested in Georgian food and wine during trips back home. “It is a lovely culture; you get filled with love and emotion,” he says.

Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, and has unique winemaking traditions and grape varieties. Many wines are fermented and aged in qvevri, clay amphora, buried in the ground and sealed with beeswax. The flavours are intense, distinctive, at times exotic.

In recent years the wines have been rediscovered and have become very fashionable. The country is famous for its “supra”, lengthy feasts involving toasts, poems, songs and lots of wine. Abalazade now hosts supra for his friends. “I love the warmth it generates,” he says.

Aware that a career in professional rugby is precarious, he began thinking about setting up something different. “I wanted to do something for Georgia in Ireland. I am very entrepreneurial and competitive by nature, and wine seemed the perfect answer as a business idea.”

He joined forces with college friend John Clarke and the two began importing Georgian wines. “It is very difficult to balance rugby and wine, but I really enjoy both,” says Abalazade.

Taste of Georgia brings in a range of wines, including some every good traditional orange and amphora wines. They are available through independent wine shops.