Stranger Grapes with Eric Danch of Danch & Granger Selections (#WinePW)

One of the beautiful things about working in wine is getting to hear all the amazing stories behind the bottles you’re selling/repping/sharing/drinking on a daily basis. When you get to hear about those wines from a really great wine storyteller, it, in turn, makes you excited to want to try that new bottle and learn more about it.

Eric Danch is one of those great wine storytellers in my book. When I was working at Bay Grape, I always knew that there’d be something delicious to try with an awesome story to go with it whenever he’d stop by to share the wines he was repping. I’ve heard him talk on panels and poured next to him during wine events at the store, and always walk away feeling like I’ve learned something new and pumped about it. It’s easy to tell that he’s very passionate about the wines he imports and that enthusiasm is infectious. 

He’s co-founder of Danch & Granger Selections, an import company that largely focuses on wines from Central and Eastern Europe. He and his business partner Catherine Granger started their company in 2019 as the “independent offspring of Blue Danube Wine Company, a pioneering importer of wines” from these regions. Basically, when Blue Danube's owner retired, Eric and Catherine created the new company which continues to rep many of the same wine, along with new additions.

I’ve mentioned in the past that wines from these regions and grapes have become increasingly grabbing my attention in the last few years. I find a lot of really food-friendly, interesting, and affordable selections from these areas, so I reach for them on a regular basis. Blue Danube, and now Danch & Granger are responsible for importing quite a few of the wines that have opened up my eye to these regions. They’re one of those importers I look for on the back of a label, and in fact, I mentioned them as one to keep an eye out for in An Ode to Godforsaken Grapes. You’ll find quite a few of their wines pictured throughout that post as well, and two others are featured in this post.

(Aside: This post takes its name from one of Danch & Granger’s promotional T-shirts - as a fan of both the wines and Stranger Things, I got a huge kick out of seeing them.) 

This month the members of the Wine Pairing Weekend Blogging Group (#WinePW) are exploring  “Under the Radar European Wine Regions.” I can’t think of a better advocate for these regions, so I reached out to Eric and asked him to join me for a virtual Q & A. I’m also sharing a pairing for one of the many delicious wines they import at the end of this post, but first, here’s our conversation. 

Your company Danch & Granger Selections imports fascinating wines from many regions of Eastern and Central Europe (as well as a few New World wines) that might not be well known to many U.S. drinkers, often from grapes that are probably completely new to many people here. How did you come to fall in love with these wines and what inspires you to want to share them?

When I was a kid I would harass my parents by poorly retelling the punch lines from Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and so on. If I had heard something amazing that they hadn’t it needed to be corrected. When I first started visiting these places, meeting the families, eating the food, and drinking the wines I felt the same urge. These are largely untold stories in the wine world and I feel lucky to be able to attempt to share them. Exploration and context make everything taste better. Hopefully, my recitation has improved over the years. 

Hah! As a former theater kid who also loved SNL, I can totally relate to this. But more importantly, I fully agree that there are so many amazing wine stories out there that need to be shared, and there's so much to be explored beyond the handful of grapes and places everyone knows. Choosing wines to bring in must be both exciting and stressful. What are you looking for in the wines that you import? What motivates you to want to add a wine to the portfolio? 

It’s a bit like speed dating at first. It’s not purely transactional because they have wines I like.  I’m looking for long-term relationships. While there is a certain amount of vetting that’s done before a visit (farming and cellar practices etc…), it’s really a matter of is this someone I’m excited to see and grow with as a company.  Having been fortunate enough to travel to many of these regions for nearly a decade, I also follow the recommendations of those I’ve already established this trust with. Winemakers who are confident in what they do aren’t afraid of the competition and actually want to be a part of a larger community of like-minded people.  When all of this culminates with the wines being delicious it’s only a matter of if we can afford it or not.

I think a lot of people get a little intimidated by grapes and regions they don’t know. Do you have any recommendations on where to begin for wine drinkers who might want to expand their drinking horizons a bit but feel a bit cautious? What are some grapes or regions you might recommend as starting-off points?

While I empathize with the feeling of intimidation, part of what makes the wine world worth investing time, energy, and money into is never getting to the bottom of it. I’m humbled on the regular for regions I’m supposedly an expert in. Wines can also be an excuse to armchair travel someplace new, cook something outside your comfort zone, and listen to some music all centered on where the wine comes from. Mixing up food and wine routines is something we can more easily do especially when travel is difficult, expensive, or there’s some sort of global pandemic going on. 

 All that being said, there are some major native grapes that can be a nice jumping-off point.  Many of these grapes cross borders under different names and of course, this is far from an exhaustive list:  Malvazija Istriana, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Refošk, and Pošip from Croatia. Vranac and Žilavka from Bosnia & Herzegovina. Furmint, Hárslevelű, Olaszrizling, Juhfark, Kadarka, and Kékfrankos from Hungary. Vitovska, Rebula, Pinela and Teran from Slovenia. Kövidinka, Tamjanika, Mézes Fehér from Serbia. And finally, Fetească Regală, Fetească Albă, Mustoasa de Măderat, and Grünspitz from Romania. Most wine shops worth their salt would be thrilled if you came in, gave them a price point, a country or a grape, and had them put something together for you.


We have definitely been using wine and food as a way to armchair travel this past year. I love the idea of looking up the music of the region as well, or maybe art or movies, for a fully immersive experience. I’m going to have to work that in. And I completely agree with your recommendation as to how to approach a wine store. I always loved when people came in with that kind of approach. 

Now, what recommendations do you have for those of us who already like to drink adventurously? What’s exciting to you right now? 

We recently started working with a winery in Transylvania called Edgar Brutler.  It’s the first time in a while where I had to look everything up. The history, culture, language, and even some of the grapes (Grünpitz!) were 100% new to me. Tasting them for the first time was akin to those first few classes of learning a new language. You’re trying to make sense of something uniquely foreign while it inspires you to travel to wherever this is happening. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get that much on the first shipment so it’s a bit hard to find. Thankfully there’s a lot more in the works coming this fall.


I will absolutely be on the lookout for that!

Speaking of travel though, you always have amazing stories about your wines and the places they come from. What are some wine travel destinations you’d recommend that might not be on people’s radar? Are there any spots that you particularly loved or surprised you?

A few quickly come to mind. Definitely go to the Pelješac Peninsula in Croatia, gorge yourself on squid ink risotto and oysters while drinking a tannic high acid red like Plavac Mali. The coastline, local olive oil, local salt, and red wine seafood combo is special.  You could then head up to Istria (northern Croatia) and bathe yourself in olive oil and truffles for a screaming deal when compared to anywhere else I’m aware of.

One of my favorite winter things in central Europe, although most notably in Hungary per my experiences is szalonna sütés. This is basically sticking a large chunk of scored pig fat onto the end of a stick (s’mores style) over an open fire. You then place pieces of bread around the fire, drip the fat until the bread is saturated, then top with onion, peppers and sprinkle with paprika.  Heaven.

Lake Balaton in Hungary is another place where you can encounter homemade/homegrown everything alongside beautiful scenery.  One of our producers likes to use a Tárcsa (a large shallow Wok like thing with legs over an open fire) and cook all manner of meat, fish, wild game, and foul with ample amounts of fat, fresh herbs, and served alongside bright volcanic whites wines like Kéknyelű.

Halászlé (Fisherman’s soup) is something you can find along the Danube and Tisza rivers in Hungary.  While there is much debate on which river and corresponding style is superior, it’s basically river fish, onion, water, and a comic amount of fresh Paprika. Bring ample amounts of Kadarka (light aromatic red), go for a swim or kayak, and let the paprika take over. 

There’s a style of cooking in Croatia called Peka. Take a protein like lamb or octopus, surround it with potatoes, peppers, covered in herbs, and then bathe it in olive oil and salt.  The Peka is a large cast-iron dome that you place over this mound of food, then cover and surround it with hot coals. It cooks, smokes, and steams everything together. If you don’t like it you have a character flaw.

These all sound amazing! I’m suddenly feeling very hungry and thirsty. We were starting to plan a trip to some of these countries when the world shut down. I’m hoping we'll still have the chance to go in the After Times and I'm happy to have the recs.

All of this talk about food is a perfect segue to discuss pairings. What suggestions would you give to people for how to approach a bottle from a region or grape they’ve never had before and best enjoy it at their table?

A little research can go a long way. There is something to ‘what grows together goes together.’  This doesn’t necessarily mean replicating an exact “traditional” dish, but perhaps highlighting an ingredient that sticks out and going from there. I also like looking at other cuisines along the same latitude/climate, and then seeing what makes the best seasonal sense. Overall, most things work and you’ll enjoy yourself no matter what. If you’re lucky you’ll find something that stops the conversation.


I love those moments! Do you have any favorite pairings or surprise combinations you loved for the wines in your book?

The overwhelming red line that runs through most of the wines of Central and Eastern Europe is high acidity, aromatics, and low alcohol. I look for a good fat foundation rounded out by spices and smoke. I’ve found that most cuisines along the spice route go really well across the board.  Turkish and Indian in particular.


Any favorite food and wine memories from your travels?

There are some old-timey nomadic goat shepherds in Tokaj (northeastern Hungary).  We were lucky enough to meet one, help her slaughter a goat, and then drink Furmint and Hárslevelű for hours while it roasted until falling off the bone.


That sounds like such an amazing experience! Talk of goats also has me immediately thinking of goat cheese, and I’d bet that would work well with Furmint as well.

Today, I’m sharing a pairing for the Heimann & Fiai Kadarka Szekszárd 2019 - tell me a little bit about this wine. 

Kadarka is perhaps my favorite red grape in the portfolio and can be found all over Central and Eastern Europe. It’s mostly found in Hungary today, but you can find amazing examples in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria too. The Heimann family has been influential in bringing this grape back from near extinction during the Communist era. 

Zoltán Jr. Heimann of Heimann and Fiai (Heimann and Sons). Picture borrowed from  

Any favorite pairings for this wine in particular?

Duck, beet puree, wild mushrooms, and anything with paprika. It’s a light red with high acidity, zero reduction, floral without being perfumed, and it’s got some spice. Think Gamay with tons of pepper, Lacrima like aromatics, and still some tannic grip. Not glou glou. The Heimann is a great introduction to this grape, but this is a grape that shows incredible fidelity to place and there are massive clonal variations and climates where it’s found a home. It can be ink black, made like an Aszú, sparkling, and super age-worthy for instance.

Tell the people how to find your wines. 

We don’t sell direct, so our wines are only found in retail and restaurants. Feel free to reach out via Instagram/Facebook if looking for something in particular. 

With maybe 1-2 exceptions, there isn’t a dedicated section in a wine shop or on a wine list for these regions. That said, we have decent exposure in most small privately-owned wine shops in the Bay Area. Most are happy to special order and make it happen. Anytime you ask for wines like this it only helps make my case when I come in trying to sell them.


For additional info on this wine, I invite you to check out the details here on Danch & Granger’s website, which always has a treasure trove of information on their wines. 


Heimann & Fiai Szekszárd Kadarka 2019 & Smoky Sheet Pan Chicken

I picked up a bottle of the Heimann & Fiai Szekszárd Kadarka 2019 (purchased for $23) and on the day we opened the bottle I was greeted by aromas of cranberries and bright cherries on the nose, along with black pepper, red licorice, terracotta pot, as well touches of floral notes and dried leaves. All of the notes continued on the palate with a more pronounced hit of black pepper, along with hints of tobacco, and blood orange. The fruit quality on the palate was really crunchy and bright. This was a lighter-bodied red wine, but it definitely has tannic grip, just as Eric described.

I bought the bottle at Minimo in Oakland’s Jack London Square, and I took the opportunity to ask Erin, one of the owners, how she likes to serve the wine. She noted that she likes it with a light chill. Given the wine’s light body, this seemed like a good idea, so I took the recommendation and put the wine in the fridge for thirty minutes before drinking. At this point, it wasn’t super cold, just cool and it drank very nicely that way. Erin also mentioned that in addition to more traditional pairings, she also really enjoys the wine with lighter fare like vegetable-based dishes. I could absolutely see it going with a lot of seafood dishes as well, particularly with meatier fish or shellfish, and seafood dishes that include a lot of tomatoes given they’re sure to work well with all the acidity in the wine.

There’s been a lot of paprika in the conversation today though, and I felt a pull to run with that as a flavor base. Paprika – particularly smoked paprika – is one of my favorite flavors, so it was really a “gee, twist my arm” scenario. I thought about just making chicken paprikash since that is a delicious traditional Hungarian dish that makes good use of paprika. However, given that this wine is fairly light and very fresh, even with its tannic grip, I decided I wanted a pairing that felt a little lighter as well. 

I took flavor inspiration from chicken paprikash, but used it in a sheet pan chicken dish with a mix of brightly colored peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes. The resulting dish is flavorful, very easy to prepare, and leaves you with easy clean-up to boot!  

This was a very easy wine to like and Greg and I both really enjoyed it. It worked easily with the chicken and vegetables. The wine’s bright red fruit notes were as refreshing as one might hope with the food, and the combo particularly brought out the wine’s peppery notes. That said, I think this wine is likely to work well with a wide variety of foods and that chillable quality will make it a good one to reach for as the weather begins to warm up through spring and summer.

sheet pan, one pot, chicken
Servings: 6 to 8
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Smoky Sheet Pan Chicken and Vegetables

Smoky Sheet Pan Chicken and Vegetables

Prep Time: 15 MinCooking Time: 45 Mininactive time: 30 MinTotal Time: 1 H & 30 M


  • 6 to 8 chicken thighs
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, or as needed
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • 3 bell peppers, sliced into strips (choose colors of your choice)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 to 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste


  1. Season the chicken thighs generously with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of the smoked paprika, the lemon zest, and toss with the lemon juice and a generous pour of olive oil. Allow it to marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  3. Spread the sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and onions on a greased sheet pan and toss with salt, pepper, the rest of the smoked paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil. Nestle the chicken thighs with some of the marinade among the vegetables. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then toss the vegetables and rotate the chicken thighs. Roast for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F. If you’d like the skin to be a little more crispy and browned, place under the broiler for a minute or two.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and serve with the vegetables and spoonfuls of the chicken juices.
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This month Andrea of The Quirky Cork is hosting this month's Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) exploration of Under the Radar European Wine Regions. Check out her preview post here and be sure to check out the rest of the group's discoveries as well: 

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  1. I absolutely love what Danch and Granger is doing! I wish more importers would give some attention to these regions but at least Danch and Granger is doing such a great job. Thank you for joining this month Nicole and for sharing the information about what they're doing!

  2. Thanks for this inspiring interview. Wow! I will definitely be contacting them to see if I can get those wines into my hands soon. And your sheetpan chicken looks delicious, too. Can't wait to try that either. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Camilla! And you definitely should hit them up -- delicious wines, lots of good values, and really great people, so all good things!

  3. Hungarian wines are popular this month! Wish I'd thought of it too -- guess that's why it's under the radar! Awesome interview -- I definitely want to keep an eye out for their selections.

  4. Thank you for the introduction to them! I'd heard of Blue Danube and happy to see that the work of importing these wines is continuing.

  5. Thank you for the introduction to them! I'd heard of Blue Danube and happy to see that the work of importing these wines is continuing.


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!