Vida Winery putting Loess in the spotlight

The Vida Winery in Szekszárd has launched a new red blend named after the wine region’s principal soil type, loess, which they feel has a great influence on the wine style.

Peter Vida Jr presented the wine in Budapest last week, explaining how loess was an important soil in many prominent wine regions around the world, such as Central Otago in New Zealand, various regions along the Rhine in Germany and the Danube in Austria, and of course, here in Hungary, in Szekszárd.

The Vidas have always strived to produce elegant, approachable wines, and Peter points out that loess always produces round tannins and acidity, lovely fruit and floral aromas, and, above all elegance. Their goal is to show this to the world. To show what Szekszárd is all about – authentic expressions of its diverse valleys and its loess soils.

The release of this new red blend follows on from their successful image revamp of last year, which Peter remarks actually led to a 20% increase in sales. With the image change came new labels which no longer emphasised Vida as a producer, but rather the origin of the wines, Szekszárd and its individual valleys. So, the choice of name, ’lösz’ is simply a continuation of this desire to highlight their wines’ terroir, rather than their hand in the winemaking.

Lösz, like their other premium wines, is aimed at restaurants and wine merchants, and they hope it will fill the gap between the Szekszárd trio of Kadarka, Kékfrankos and Bikavér and their flagship La Vida, and encourage people to trade up slightly to this classy new blend.

The 2017 Lösz is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Kékfrankos, Merlot, Syrah and Carmenere, originating from their Barany-völgy, Hidaspetre and Virág-hegy vineyards. It’s smooth and elegant on the palate with fine, ripe tannins and intense flavours of plum, cherry and spice as well as a long finish. As the aim here is to best showcase the loess soils, the blend will change each year depending on what is best felt to highlight its characteristics.

Tails of a volcano, or two

No, it’s not a typo, it’s deliberate. It’s about two volcanoes, distant in time and space. One is well-known around the world, while few are aware of the existence of the other. One is ancient and now sleeps like the dead, the other is alive and could kick into action at any time. One lies by the sea, above a sprawling city, while the other rises out of the Kisalföld plain in Hungary, just like the hat God left behind. They each have their own stories to tell and indeed their own tails. But let’s begin with the less discovered.

Witness mountain

One of the regions in Hungary that lies closest to my heart is also one of its smallest. The black basalt volcanic butte protruding from the flatlands surrounding it is home to a myriad of small winemakers as well as a couple of large ones. Covered with verdant vines, press houses and wineries, it is a world unto itself. Narrow roads, often sunk between walls of black volcanic rock, just like a surreal, maybe underworld version of sunken English country lanes, where there is only room for one car at a time, wind up the sides of the black hill. This world is Somló. Where the rest of the world seems far away and the hill seems to stand watch over the plain around it, just like the Hungarian name for this type of volcanic butte, ’witness mountain’. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still up here on the hill, certainly there is no running water up on its sides, so those living here collect rainwater to meet their needs, or fetch water from one of the local springs. It certainly makes you think about how you expend resources while you are up here.

Unless you are really into wine, then you are probably blissfully unaware of Somló’s existence. Although, blissfully is perhaps not quite the right word, I would say that I am blissfully aware of its existence, as are a growing number of wine lovers, especially those, like me, who are in love with volcanic wines. Somló’s uniqueness, both as a place and in terms of the wines that its soils yield, has earned it a cult-like following, and a growing number of young, experimental winemakers are setting up shop on its slopes. Somló is starting to earn back its reputation of yore, when its wines were transported far and wide and even rivalled those of Hungary’s shining star Tokaj!

Come again?

But what of this tail? This tail is Juhfark, the hill’s iconic indigenous variety, and fast becoming its flagship. Be careful how you say it out loud though, as it will raise a few eyebrows amongst English speakers. Juhfark translates as ’sheep’s tail’, or more accurately ’ewe’s tail’, thus named thanks to the shape of its tightly packed, long curved bunches of small berries which are said to resemble a sheep’s tail. The variety is synonymous with Somló nowadays, although it was more widely planted prior to phylloxera. Its relatively neutral character is perfect to showcase Somló’s basalt, mineral-rich, volcanic terroir, on which it thrives. When young, its frankly bracing acidity can overpower everything in the wine, especially in a poor year, coming across as rather sharp, herbal and austere. While in the right hands, and especially with a year or two in cask as well as a few years of bottle age, it can boast fragrant stone fruits, a creamy texture, full body, wonderful spicy complexity, honey and almond, as well as the hallmark saline, smoky minerality of Somló itself. It seems that after a while, regardless of the variety, every wine simply becomes a Somló wine.

Looking for a male heir?

Somló’s followers today are enticed by the uniqueness of its wines and the otherworldliness of the hill, rather than the supposed medicinal properties of Somló wines, which were believed to cure a whole host of ills. Not only that, drinking Somlói was allegedly the way to guarantee a male heir, so was a favourite tipple of the Habsburgs and even British Queen Victoria – the so-called nászéjszakák bora, or wedding night wine, a white field blend, was revered far and wide for this property. Although drinking Juhfark may no longer be a way to guarantee your new-born will be dressed in blue, if you like your wines volcanic and individual, then you should really dip your toes into the world of Somló and its Juhfark.

But what of the other volcano and its tail?

The fox’s tail of Campania

The other volcano is better known for its scenic location on the Bay of Naples and its burial of Pompeii in 79 AD. Although Somló Hill is long extinct and is no longer surrounded by the Pannonian Sea, Vesuvius is still very much alive. Although asleep at the moment, nobody knows for sure when this volcano might reawaken.

Vesuvius is located in Campania, a hotbed of volcanic activity, just like the lands to the north of Lake Balaton once were. Campania also boasts its own tail – this time the ’fox’s tail’, or Coda di Volpe. Again, named for its opulent bunch, curved at the end, which resembles a fox’s bushy tail.  Like Juhfark, it is a relatively neutral variety whose wines reflect the terroir where it is grown. As Juhfark is an archetypical Hungarian variety, Coda di Volpe is a true native Italian grape, which was apparently known and appreciated as far back as Ancient Rome, when it was known as Cauda Vulpium and thought by some to have produced the famous Falerno. Or was this a totally different variety, as the earliest mentions with the name Coda di Volpe go back to 1592? Italy is well known for its myriad of indigenous grapes which go by many names, or bear the same name as many others, or are confused with many others. So, who knows…

It is little found outside Campania, where it primarily grows in the provinces of Benevento, Avellino, Napoli and Caserta, but most abundant in the first two. However, let’s remain with our volcano analogy and return to Vesuvius where it can be found in the Lacryma Christi and Vesuvio Bianco DOC blends. Here, people may also claim that their Caprettone is Coda di Volpe, as this now seems to be the trendier of the two, and anyhow, the two varieties have long been confused, but then, this is Italy. On mineral-rich, lava soils, its wines are austere, salty and high in acidity, although on non-mineral soils, the wines can be rich, creamy, complex and tropical. So, some parallels to Juhfark here? Coda di Volpe generally has low acidity, so benefits from the higher acidity imparted by volcanic soils, which the screechingly high acidic Juhfark does not necessarily need.

Of course, being Italy there is also an even less well known variety called Coda di Pecora, or sheep’s tail, which was long felt to be identical to better known and more abundant Coda di Volpe – in this case, the cluster looks like the tail of a sheep. This grows in the vineyards of northern Campania, in Caserta. And of course, this too was for a long time believed to be one and the same as Coda di Volpe

But let’s stop our brief journey to southern Italy now, hoping we can return there in more detail once normality resumes, and go back to Somló for a short taster of three Juhfarks.

Csetvei Nagy Somlói Juhfark 2018 (11%)

The youngest of the three. A light-bodied wine still showing its youth with fresh zesty lemon and mineral notes with a saline finish. Would benefit from another few years in bottle to put on weight and develop additional complexity.

Csordás Fodor Nagy-Somlói Selection Juhfark 2017 (12%)

Rich and generous on the palate with ripe tropical fruit, peach, mango, grapefruit and a touch of butter. Smooth and textured with zippy grapefruit acidity and a mineral, smoky finish.

Tornai Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017 (15%)

One of the larger players in Somló, this is one of their single-vineyard Juhfarks. Boasting a hefty 15% alcohol, it’s packed full of peach, ripe yellow apple, honey, almond and marzipan. A serious, complex wine with a long salty finish.

And if you’d like to sample more Juhfark and can make it into Hungary in October, you should set your sail for Somló and the Juhfark celebration in mid-October. You can read about my visit to the 2017 celebration here.

The wines were supplied courtesy of the Somló Wine Shop, who boast a great selection of volcanic wines.

Reaching for the stars in Pécs

Fostering new and old traditions

The Pécs wine district in the south of Hungary is probably not the first region you think of when you think of innovation in quality wine. However, it should be. Down in Pécs, high on Miklós-hegy is the picturesque, if somewhat rundown, old building of the University of Pécs Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, surrounded by vines in all directions. It was my second visit to the institute – thankfully, this time on a warm sunny day as opposed to the last time when we had been forced to shelter in the doorway due to the icy wind. The occasion was to celebrate the launch of their Nadir 63 pezsgő (traditional method sparkling wine).

Now, you’d assume that sparkling wine was something of a novelty in the Pécs area as you rarely come across it, but that is not actually the case, as Pécs was historically one of the centres of sparkling wine production in Hungary, after Pozsony (now Slovakian capital Bratislava). László Héver, the institute’s chief winemaker, is looking to revive this almost forgotten tradition with this sparkling wine made from Zenit.

This is what is in fact the novelty. Zenit is a 1954 crossing of Ezerjó and Bouvier, the goal of which was to create an early-ripening quality variety that was suitable for mass production. The goal was successfully achieved and Zenit is used to produce light fruity whites, sweet late harvest wines and now a sparkling wine.

Its name, Nadir 63, comes from counterposing the concepts of Zenit (the highest point), i.e. the vineyard at the top of the hill, and the lowest point of Nadir, the cellar down at the bottom of the hill. The difference in altitude between the two is 63 metres. Just as you need balance in wine, you also need both the zenith and the nadir in astrology.

The base wine came from the 2017 harvest and spent two years on its lees. The wines were shaken up every six months and then laid back down to rest. Recently disgorged, the 600 bottles, minus a few tasting samples, are now ready for release. The Zenit produced a lovely pure, elegant wine with zesty acidity, lemon, green apple, honey and discrete brioche notes.

This year they have also harvested their two hectares of Zenit for both still and sparkling, but László also tells us that they plan to start looking into the possibility of using it to make pálinka and a grape distillate similar to brandy.

Creation of new and revival of ancient varieties

The institute is not only looking at different ways to vinify Zenit, but since 2000, also has a 20-year programme aiming to create new varieties that should be as high quality as traditional varieties, but more resistant to powdery and downy mildew. They have had eight of these certified so far, such as Andor, Jázmin and Pinot Regina (a back crossing of Pinot Noir).

They are also one of the champions of ancient Hungarian varieties such as Csókaszőlő and Járdovány, both of which are delicious and deserve to be resurrected. Incidentally, Vylyan in Villány and Bussay in Zala both also cultivate and produce wine from Csókaszőlő, while Villány’s Attila Gere produces a Fekete Járdovány.

The research institute also boasts the second largest grape gene bank in Europe (after Montpellier) and the sixth in the world, which includes over 1600 varieties, including table grapes and crossing materials.

We take a wander up through the vineyards despite the heat, passing a vine grown from a cutting taken from an ancient 450-year-old vine in Pécs, the Rosa Menna di Vacca table grape variety, brought to Hungary by the Turks. We taste a dry Olaszrizling produced as wine for mass for the Pauline order, followed by an aromatic Jázmin, a crossing of Bianca x Petra with more than 15 years of research behind it.

After lunch, we visit the Nadir, their cellars at the bottom of the hill, above which they have a collection of 102 Carpathian Basin varieties as well as Armenian, Georgian and Japanese varieties.

Centuries-old cellars and flex cubes

The ecclesiatic estate and its cellars ended up in the hands of the state in 1949, before coming under the remit of the University of Pécs in 2008, and the wines are still made in the 300-year old cellars. Most of the wines are made in micro batches, and stored in the two experimental branches of their cellars. There are a range of porous plastic containers, known as flex cubes, 400 individual demijohns as well as some more usual oak barrels, many of which simply bear a code. Naturally, there are also some ancient large casks, which are no longer in use, and some more standard-looking stainless steel tanks of varying sizes.

Near the old casks, László points out that, although of course they now produce micro batches of experimental wine, in Communist times, all white grapes from Hungary’s three R&D centres went to Budafok and became Kövidinka, while all red was turned into Kadarka. Whether he was joking or being serious, I’m not quite sure!

Near the old casks, László points out that, although of course they now produce micro batches of experimental wine, in Communist times, all white grapes from Hungary’s three R&D centres went to Budafok and became Kövidinka, while all red was turned into Kadarka. Whether he was joking or being serious, I’m not quite sure!

However, we emerged back into the sunshine to taste a couple more of their excellent wines, including the light and fruity red Csókaszőlő, a variety I’d like to see more of in the future.

Tokaj Furmint but not as you know it

Just for a change, I’m not going to be talking about wine, rather something soft. That is, a soft drink made by a family business in one of the villages in the Tokaj region – Bodrogkeresztúr.

Some months ago a friend of mine gave me some Shrubbie to try. She brought around six cans for me to sample. I was a bit dubious as she described it as a soft drink based on Tokaj Furmint wine vinegar among other things. Now, I like sour things, I like bitter things, but I wasn’t too convinced about this idea, so they sat there in the fridge for a while before I tried one.Shrubbie0004.jpg

Well, a previous partner of mine had at one time turned his hand to brewing Kombucha himself, which I have to admit, wasn’t always very pleasant, although I did like the commercial variant – it was sour and vinegary and not something I enjoyed too much. I was rather expecting Shrubbie to be a bit like this. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I had the quince and lavender variation to try – two flavours I really like. It was, of course, slightly sour, but in an enjoyable way, not a gut-wrenching acidic fashion.

So what is Shrubbie anyway? The name implies it’s made from a hedge or something similar. Not too appealing at first contemplation. Well, actually, it’s a gently carbonated soft drink based on wine vinegar made from Tokaj Furmint, along with filtered water, apple cider vinegar aged on a bed of fruit and herbs (hence the name) and apple concentrate. If you like artisanal cider, you may well like this, and of course, for the health conscious, it’s got no alcohol and far less sugar, thus far fewer calories than your average soft drink. I must admit, I rather like it. I’m not really one for soft drinks as I usually find them too sweet and artificial, but this was really quite refreshing and certainly not overly sweet.

Shrubbie0009

It’s totally natural and, of course, makes numerous health claims on the website, which I am always wary of, including helping to regulate blood pressure and fighting against oxidation and stress. Although the fact that it contains cider vinegar, which is always touted as being healthy, is certainly true, and it does of course contain antioxidants.  Supposedly it’s also good for a hangover, which is probably true, given its ingredients. But I haven’t tried out that special beneficial property yet. Although I’ll be turning 50 quite soon, so may need a can or two the day after. However, whatever its alleged benefits, it’s certainly refreshing and pretty quaffable in the summer.

Since then, they’ve also launched some new flavours, which I got my hands on a few weeks ago – sour cherry and mint, the slightly wacky hemp and ginger, and raspberry and rosehip. Although it’s no longer summer and I don’t crave something cold and refreshing like this, I’ve been enjoying trying them after swimming, when in need of rehydrating with some non-alcoholic refreshment. Let’s see how many I need on the day after I make my half century!

 

If you fancy trying it out, you can order it directly from their website www.shrubbie.hu, where they also list stockists in Hungary. You may be in need of some after the holidays! Enjoy!

*photos courtesy of Shrubbie.

The round trip wine from a subtropical paradise

The island of Madeira is a feast for the senses, as are its wines. The rich volcanic soils of this subtropical archipelago, lying closer to the coast of Africa than to the Portuguese capital Lisbon, yield some of the most fascinating and long-lived wines in the world. Generally, oxidised wines that have endured excessive heat are considered to be faulty; however, this is not the case on Madeira. The traditional fortified Madeira wine, once famed throughout the world and even used to toast the United States’ independence from Britain, are deliberately oxidised and exposed to heat to speed the process of madeirisation.

A historical wine

You might wonder how it would enter any winemaker’s head to do this. Well, the story goes back some centuries. Discovered in 1419, Madeira and its archipelago soon became a strategic stopping place for ships to take on food and water, and later wine. The first vines were introduced to the island by prince Henry the Navigator in 1450 in the guise of Malvasia Candida, and Malmsey wine soon became an important export, along with sugar cane, rum and cereals. It was initially a fully fermented table wine, but the practice of fortification was later introduced by the British, similar to Port, to help preserve the wine on long voyages. Wines reached very high temperatures as they were transported in the holds of ships, passing through the tropics several times on their way to India, and sometimes back to Europe, earning them the name Vinho do Roda – round trip wine – in the 18th century. Many believed that the quality and complexity of these wines was improved by this accelerated ageing. This process was then reproduced on Madeira itself by heating wines using estufagem technology – large heated vats. This is still used today, albeit in a somewhat more sophisticated form.

Uniquely diverse

However, it’s not only the madeirisation process that makes the Madeira wines special, and practically indestructible! It’s also the dramatic, mountainous landscape with its laboriously constructed tiny terraces – poios or socalcos – hugging the steep hillsides, where over 2,000 growers farm just 443 hectares of vinis vitifera vines and over 2,200 km of lavadas, or irrigation channels, crisscrossing the island and bringing water from the north to the south. It’s the seven different microclimates on this small island that provide the varied terroir for the permitted varieties, from Malvasia basking in the sun close to sea level to Sercial, known as the dog strangler thanks to its piercing acidity, high up in the wind and clouds. It’s the azure sea surrounding the island, lending the wines their characteristic salinity, and the rich, acidic volcanic soils pumping up their acidity. It’s the bewildering range of styles and categories. Finally, it’s simply their astounding complexity and enduring freshness.

Like other fortified wine, Madeira may currently be out of fashion, but it is certainly worth the attention of any serious wine lover. So, let’s pause for a moment and rewind to the styles of wines on offer.

Styles and categories

Madeira wines may be fortified to 17-22% ABV, but are generally around 19%, and must always be aged for a minimum of three years; then they can be sold with no indication of age or variety. This and the five-year blends are generally the cash cow wines. Then there are blends of 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. They may also be sold as vintage, i.e. stating the year of harvest on the label – Colheita or Frasqueira. Colheitas must spend a minimum of 5 years in cask, while Frasqueira or Garrafeira must spend at least 20 years in cask and the wine must come 100% from that vintage and one variety. They must also be aged using the canteiro process. This is a gentler, slower ageing process, whereby the wines are matured under the rafters in cask for a minimum of two years as opposed to the three months using estufagem technology.

Permitted grape varieties

And now to the grape varieties. The most widely planted and productive variety is Tinta Negra, which is generally used to produce the blended wines. It occupies 239 hectares and is used to produce all styles of Madeira wine from dry to sweet, effectively mimicking the traits of the more noble varieties, depending on where it is planted on the island. Tinta Negra was always considered the poor relative of the other varieties and its name has only been allowed on the labels since 2015!

The variety itself is important with the other cultivars, with the aim being to retain varietal character – although they will lose this after a mere 50 years of ageing! They are used to produce both wines with indication of age and those with indication of year of harvest.

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Sercial, vinified to extra dry or dry, boasts lovely freshness, dried fruit, herbal notes, amazing acidity and plenty of salinity. Next down the hillside comes medium dry Verdelho, which is often drunk as an aperitif. Also characterised by fresh acidity, it’s generally more balanced and deeper than Sercial and offers darker dried fruit, salt, vanilla and caramel notes. Boal is perhaps the most quintessential of all Madeira and the style to try if you know nothing about Madeira – it’s long and sweet with plenty of spice, dried fruit and resin, but its acidity means that it still finishes amazingly fresh. Finally, the sweetest of all is Malvasia, or Malmsey, with warming notes of oak, chestnut honey, walnut and Madeira’s distinctive saline acidity. The wines range in colour, depending on variety and age, from pale lemon through pale amber, gold, medium brown, dark brown, and finally brown with hints of green.

There are also tiny amounts of Terrantez, falling somewhere between Verdelho and Boal in style, and the amusingly named Bastardo variety.

Madeira shippers

Nowadays, there are eight companies producing Madeira wine, including one – Madeira Vintners – run only by women.

Visiting Blandy’s traditional lodge and its informative museum and exhibition is easy as it’s right in the centre of Madeira’s orderly capital, Funchal. The Blandy family is one of Madeira’s most significant historical shippers. You should also call into Pereira d’Olivieras, whose tasting room is located in central Funchal, housed in a building dating from 1619, with walls lined with vintage Madeiras labelled with characteristic white stencilling, some of which date back to the 19th century. Luiz Oliviera informs us that at one time they had only bottled wines once they had matured for a hundred years. They have huge stocks of rare old wines, but they will only ever supply a certain number of these, as their policy is to maintain sufficient old wines for the future too.

Henriques & Henriques is located in the former small fishing village of Câmara do Lobos. Charming Humberto Henriques takes us on a comprehensive tour of their facilities, and we learn about one way that Madeira shippers improve their cashflow – by selling barrels that have held Madeira for five years onto Irish whisky makers like Jameson and Bushmills, who then use them to mature their Madeira finish whisky. It also works the other way around, with Madeira being stored in barrels that have previously been used for Cognac, for example, to add complexity. He also explains how they bought 15,000 bourbon barrels from Kentucky, but they were still so heavily charred that they had to invent a makeshift device, using a vacuum cleaner and some brushes, to clean their insides.

Vinhos Barbeito boasts the most recently built winery on the island and its first and only mechanical lagare, which mimics the gentle pressing achieved by treading the grapes by foot. Their wines are pure and precise and there was a queue of people waiting to purchase when we left. Well worth a visit.

Table wine is also produced on the island, often from Verdelho, but an enterprising young lady, Diana Silva is making still wines from the much maligned Tinta Negra variety. Everyone thinks she is crazy and has told her they won’t age well. However, she has pressed ahead and produces a blanc de noir, a rosé and a red, which are all delightfully drinkable and food friendly. She’s also the first producer to bottle wines in magnum.

Madeira is not only about wine

However, the island is not only about wine, there are banana plantations everywhere at low altitude, even on the smallest of terraces, as well as mangos, papayas and sugar cane, the island’s white gold, which may also be turned into rum. The white rum is often used for the local cocktail poncho, which some say was used by 16th century Portuguese navigators to prevent scurvy – lemons were preserved in a mixture of rum and sugar cane to be consumed on long voyages. Nowadays, it’s a concoction of white rum, fresh orange and lemon juice, sugar and honey. It’s also said to be a cure for sore throats and colds.

Thanks to the island’s year-round mild weather and stunning scenery that changes dramatically from one part of the island to the next, wine production has now been overtaken by tourism, unfortunately putting land prices out of the reach of many growers but enabling us to enjoy this island paradise.

Funchal makes a lovely base; you can visit the colourful Mercado dos Lavradores, stroll around the picturesque town and along the street of painted doors, or take the cable car up to the botanical gardens. Cristiano Ronaldo was born here, so football fans can even take in the museum founded in his honour.

The entire island offers superb views across steep hills, lush valleys and windswept coastal cliffs. Make sure you don’t miss the Piscinas Naturais in Porto Moniz, a series of rock pools jutting into the ocean where you can swim in sea water, and the Fajã dos Padres, a natural wonderland at the bottom of a steep cliff boasting a restaurant and accommodation, accessible only by cable car. You can even hike along the levadas up in the hills and enjoy the breath-taking landscape while remembering the hard work the original settlers put in to make this inhospitable island of steep hills and forests habitable and to be able to cultivate the vines to produce the amazing Madeira wine we can still enjoy today.

This article was first published in Hungarian in the October edition of Vince magazine.

Tornai’s Grófi Hárslevelű wows IWC judges

Four times International Wine Challenge trophy winner

Winning an IWC trophy is no mean feat, but to do it four times is nigh on impossible. Yet the Tornai Pinceszét from one of Hungary’s smallest wine region’s, the emblematic Somló, has managed just that. Of the 15,000 or so wines entered, there is only generally a handful in each category which are awarded gold and the trophy winner is selected from among these, so kudos to Tornai and Somló!

Somló wines are renowned in Hungary for their unique, mineral character and in the past their reputation was known all across Europe and it seems that the region is stepping up to take its rightful place again.

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Tamás Tornai presented the trophy-winning wine, the winery’s Top Selection Grófi Hárslevelű 2017 at the Kóstolóm Borbár in Buda along with its other gold-winning wine Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017, which was pipped at the post by its sibling in winning the Hungarian white wine trophy. He pointed out that it was not just an honour for the winery, but also helped to bring the region of Somló and its indigenous varieties into the spotlight too.

If you want to get your hands on the wine though, you’ll have to subscribe via the winery. They only produced 3000 bottles and are laying half of those down to see how they age, with the rest only being available via subscription.

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The Tornai Pincészet is one of the key wineries in Somló. Founded in 1946, they now have around 65 hectares in some of Somló’s best vineyard areas. So, are consistently producing top-notch wines and helping to raise Somló’s image around the world. They’ve not only scooped up numerous golds at IWC but also at Decanter World Wine Awards as well as many other competitions.

We also had the chance to taste a flight of their award-winning wines on this occasion, including some older vintages, including their Grófi Juhfark 2013, IWC trophy winner in 2016, which showed just how well Somló wines age.

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Friss Zenit 2018  (MUN-DUS gold, MTA wine)
Fresh, aromatic and fruity with balanced acidity, Lovely peach and zesty lemon fruit.

 Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017 (IWC gold – 2019)
Textured wine with lovely honeyed peach and quince fruit and mineral notes. Opens on the palate, revealing layers of flavour before a lingering salty, mandarin finish.

Top Selection Grófi Hárslevelű 2017 (IWC gold and trophy – 2019)
Complex, structured wine with zingy lemony acidity and notes of sweet spice, yellow flowers, honey and a touch of tannin, underpinned by salty minerality. Long savoury finish.

Top Selection Apátsági Furmint 2015 (IWC gold – 2016)
Perhaps a little closed at the moment, but attractive zesty acidity, with honeyed flavours of dried fruit, peach and almond marzipan and a long salty finish.

 Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2013 (IWC gold and trophy (2016)
Lovely combination of honey and saltiness with zesty grapefruit acidity. Rich and textured with notes of fragrant quince, marzipan, herbs and dried apricot.

Top Selection Aranyhegy Juhfark 2011 (Prestige Reserve gold, Wine of Budapest, Bayer gold – 2013)
Beautifully textured wine with lovely bottle aged notes of honey, nuts and caramel. Savoury and long.

Aranykönny 2015
Made from shrivelled grapes with no botrytis. Lusciously honeyed with plenty of dreid fruit, spice and yellow flowers.

*photos courtesy of Kóstolóm Borbár

Etyeki Kúria

 Always with an eye to the future

Etyek is just a brief drive from Budapest and as the wine region closest to the capital, has long been considered the capital’s vineyard. It’s a great place to venture out from Budapest to relax and taste some wine and Etyeki Kúria’s attractive, modern winery is the perfect place to do this.

ek-30© BujnovszkyTamas

They have been working their Etyek vineyards for more than 20 years now, where their main varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, they now also have vineyards in Balf, in the Sopron region, where they produce Kékfrankos and Merlot. This brings their total vineyard area to 54 hectares.

I have already visited the Kúria and toured the vineyards as well as participated in their annual Pinot Noir vertical tasting two years ago, when Pinot Noir aficionados had the chance to taste one of Hungary’s top Pinots going back to 2003 and compare various barrel samples.

Kúria Pavilon

Always looking to the future, as was clear on my previous visit, Etyeki Kúria have now expanded their facilities with a new event space – the Kúria Pavilon, located just below the Kúria and some of its vineyards. This can be used for functions both large and small, ideally on a warm summer’s day, which we, unfortunately were not treated to that day. This meant that the space’s new motto ‘Chill with us! Taste with us!’ took on a whole new meaning that rainy day in May. The Pavilon is spacious and tastefully designed with lovely views over the vineyards. Perfect for something romantic, like a wedding reception. Or something less romantic, like corporate team building.

The Kúria can therefore now offer four spaces for events. Besides the Pavilon, there is the Vinotéka for smaller tastings, the spacious Üvegterem (Conservatory) with an attractive terrace for sunny days and the old, atmospheric cellar where you can even learn how to blend your own wine, bottle and cork it and add the capsule yourself. Once you’ve designed your own label and stuck it on, you can take the bottle home as a nice memory or a gift. Chocolate lovers can make their own chocolate bonbons with Gingalló Csokoládéműhely. Naturally, you can also do some traditional wine tasting or learn about food and wine pairing.

Photos of the space and the event by Gergő Ombodi

Project wines

The Kúria have also just launched the latest in their line of ’project wines’.  Chief winemaker Sándor Mérész, now celebrating ten years at the winery, has been crafting a series of limited edition ’Méresz Sándor Projekt’ wines. The initial Grüner Veltliner was followed by a Zenit and a Pinot Gris orange wine. Now it’s the turn of Sauvignon Blanc, harvested from several different vineyards, all with limestone soils but with differing exposures. It’s wild fermented and a small percentage is aged in new French oak. It has all the hallmarks of a great Sauvignon Blanc – green pepper, cut grass, gooseberry and herbs and a good dose of tropical fruit, yet a lovely, creamy mouthfeel too.

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ChardonnÉJ

Etyeki Kúria showcase their other Burgundian variety in June during ChardonnÉJ. The playfully named evening, Éj is Hungarian for night, takes place every year on the Saturday closest to midsummer’s eve. Fans of the world’s favourite (or perhaps most controversial) variety can enjoy a whole evening tasting Chardonnay wines from Burgundy, the New World and Champagne as well as more local versions from the Carpathian Basin and enjoying the, hopefully, sunny weather on the terrace.

This year, it takes place on 22 June and will also feature a masterclass from WineSofa’s Dániel Ercsey and a Random Trip concert. You can find more details about the event here.

Let’s hope for better weather this Saturday so that we can enjoy the terrace and all the Kúria’s space!

Kadarka, the wine of freedom?

Dániel Kézdy, the powerhouse behind Furmint February and many other initiatives connected to Tokaj’s flagship variety is now turning his attention to another traditional Hungarian grape. This time he has set his sights on the oft-maligned Kadarka.

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On 15 March, the Hungarian national holiday celebrating the 1948 revolution, Dániel launched his new project in the Kálvária Pince in Budakalász, dubbing the variety ’the wine of freedom’. However, quips were soon made saying that Kadarka was perhaps just the opposite for winemakers as the variety is notoriously difficult to work with, thin-skinned and susceptible to just about any vineyard hazard, probably only produces decent wine three or four times every decade and requires the continual attention in the vineyard. But, that aside…

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Creating new traditions with Kadarka

Dániel believes the wine does not get enough attention, which I certainly agree with. In the right hands, and in the right vintage, Kadarka produces some beautifully elegant, light red wines. But, why the wine of freedom? Dániel thinks that the variety could be connected to this national holiday celebrating the Hungarians bid for freedom from the Austrians: spring is on its way, hopefully, although it was rather chilly this year, and Easter is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to promote and drink a lighter red wine.

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He gets lots of foreign visitors to the cellar, many of whom, especially the Scandinavians, considered Kadarka something really special and interesting. They particularly liked the light, elegant fruity versions. He feels that this is something that we should pursue. He’d like to create some new traditions with Kadarka on 15 March, to organise events around the variety, perhaps with open cellars and workshops.

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We started the tradition this year with a press tasting. Two winemakers from Szekszárd and Hájos-Baja, both strongholds of the variety, presented three wines each and then we tasted an additional flight of ten Kadarkas blind.

Sziegl Családi Pince

Balázs Sziegl, presented three of his wines and told us something of his background and philosophy.

His is a classic family winery based in the Hájos-Pincefalu – a village full of traditional old cellars – although he also has plots in three other villages. Kadarka is very close to his heart, he says, as their first place was in Kadarka utca and he also wrote his university thesis on Kadarka. This area was traditionally a Kadarka production area in the past, before the post-war planned economy put paid to it. In the sixties, pretty much everything ended up in state hands, which nearly led to the death of Kadarka. Previously around two-thirds of Hungary’s black wine grapes were actually Kadarka; it’s now less than 1%. Fussy thin-skinned Kadarka naturally didn’t react well to efforts to train it high and try to make it produce high yields.

Kadarka from Hájos

The area’s soils are loess and clay, with lots of limestone and sand on the surface. Kadarka was generally planted on thin sandy soils with around 80% quartz content, which reflects the sunlight, helping the grapes to ripen fully.

They have Kadarka on two plots – the Herreberg dűlő, which was planted in 2010, and the Kolostor-domb. This an intriguing hillock with cellars built around it, dug into the loess. On the top, the Sziegls found some old vines that were presumably so difficult to get to and work that they were left alone and not grubbed up during the years of communism. They were in pretty bad shape, but they managed to save two vines that are around 70-80 years old. They’re not really entirely sure of their age, but a neighbour of theirs who’s around 80 said they were already there when he arrived in the village.

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Balázs and his wife Petra, who he met in Villány, have been involved in wine since 2012. Their hearts took them back to Hájos in 2015 and they are now both working full time in their winery. They work with minimal intervention, open vat fermentation, seven to eight months in oak and just a touch of sulphur before bottling. They are also in the process of converting to organic cultivation.

People who put too much emphasis on Kadarka must be mad!

Balázs had always wanted to work with Kadarka, but his wife was against it as the variety demands so much work – you always have to be there to tend to it. However, he seems to have won her over, or perhaps worn her down, as they are planting some more Kadarka next week – Pécsi clones as well as one of their own – and are slowly increasing the number of Kadarka vines. He had attended a Kadarka round table a few years ago, where Péter Vida Snr from Szekszárd had stated that if more than 10% of your vines were Kadarka, then you must be mad! The Sziegls now have more than that and their six to seven years’ experience so far has proved the ratio of when you can produce good Kadarka – they have managed it only three or four times so far.

Producers from Szekszárd and two from Hájos (himself and Csaba Koch) had participated in the round table as well as Géza Balla from across the border in Romania, Frigyes Bott from Slovakia and Ernst Sagmeister from Serbia. It seems that they all had totally different philosophies and couldn’t really say what the common picture should be for Kadarka, i.e. what they were striving for with the variety. The only thing they could agree on is that it should be light, spicy and elegant.

Péter Vida

Péter Vida Jnr now takes over the reins from Balázs, telling us that Kadarka is an important vine for them too, like for many in Szekszárd. They truly believe in it, which is why it is one of the wine region’s main wines, along with Kékfrankos and Bikavér. They even have some old vines from 1920, which only yield about two to three bunches per vine, which they use for their Bonsai Kadarka.  The roots go down about ten metres and of course, they find a different range of minerals at that level. The Pécs University Research Institute selected vine material from this vineyard for their gene pool. There will be three or four new clones from these vines.

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While most people have Kadarka P9 clones as that was probably what was available, they have none. Their clones are different, generally with looser bunches. Balázs had told us earlier that one problem with P9 clones was that they have both big berries and bunches, so the grapes are tightly pressed together and may easily burst.

Although Kadarka is important to them, they still feel it’s really risky to have more than 10% Kadarka, so of their 23 hectares, only two are Kadaraka. Some also say a touch of botrytis is good for the wine, but they disagree and think purity is the most important. They also always pick early so there is no chance of the grapes drying out. This was helpful in 2015 too when the weather was extremely changeable and there was a big storm on 18 September and only those who had harvested beforehand had any Kadarka that year. They had picked the day before – it was as if his dad had felt something!

Ageing and vineyard selection

Péter feels that Kadarka has more to offer than many people believe. They are sending cases to the UK, where it is also listed in Michelin-starred restaurants. Also, as concerns Kadarka’s ageing ability, he has more faith than most. Although most think that you should drink it within two or three years, he recently tried one from 2003 that was still in good shape and he particularly likes their 2008 at the moment too.

There are also vineyard-selected Kadarkas in the pipeline from Szekszárd’s various meso and microclimates. They have also planted Kadarka in Barnya-völgy and Virághegy.

They have regular varietal tastings in Szekszárd and recently, he says, there was one were there were over 40! He gave up and went home to his family halfway. Those who remained said they were a rather mixed big and that only around 20 were any good. Some say that deeper, richer ones always score better in competitions, so we see plenty of unnaturally dark, tannic Kadarakas, but they are not interested in this. They prefer to produce fresh, light Kadarka, that is like Kadarka. They also prefer it unoaked, as did a British MW, Liz Gabay who had visited and tasted both oaked and unoaked versions. Kadarka should be light in colour, so if it’s dark, it’s most likely got something added to it (you are legally allowed to add 15% of something else without declaring it on the label).

Although the older generation are prejudiced about Kadarka due to the past, similarly to the Brits with German wine thanks to horrors like Blue Nun and Black Tower, the younger generation are not so negatively influenced and Kadarka is fast becoming quite trendy with them. Let’s hope more people pick up on its lovely quaffable, light character.

Blind tasting of ten Kadarkas

Our blind tasting of wines from various regions very much bore out what we had previously been discussing. That there is no clear style – some are more (too) oaky, some clearly have had something added to them to add colour and structure, some older Kadarkas still had nice freshness, although some were also rather past their peak, and the lighter, fruitier versions generally went down better.

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So, is Kadarka worth bothering with despite its fickleness? Most definitely! I’m looking forward to Dániel’s further initiatives and our next ’Wine of Freedom’ masterclass next year.

Badacsony in the New York

Every year, the Badacsony wine region shows its best in the extravagantly ornate, historic New York Palace Hotel in Budapest. In previous years, it had been held the elaborately decorated New York Café, but from last year, it has taken place upstairs in the more functional Roma Hall.

While I miss the unique experience of tasting the wines from one of my favourite Hungarian wine regions among the pomp and gilt of the café, it was a pleasure to have more space for the exhibitors and the throng of visitors. Thus, you could move around more freely and taste, avoiding the heat and crush of the smaller venue.

Record number of visitors

And it was a good thing it did take place in this large venue as a record number of visitors, more than 600, turned out this year to enjoy the flavours of the wine region. 37 wineries and 13 other businesses related to tourism showed their wares. So, as well as tasting the unique mineral white wines, you could also try some local cheeses, salami and bakery products, such as cabbage strudel, and pick up some information to help you plan your next visit to the iconic region.Istvandy

The Badacsony hills

This year the exhibitors were organised by ‘hill’, so visitors were orientated even more by the micro-location of the winery and its wines, although naturally some producers do have wines on more than one hill. Badacsony is not only defined by the characteristics of the region as a whole, but also by its individual hills, truncated volcanic buttes and cones, such as Szent György-hegy, Csóbanc, Szigliget, Orsi-hegy, Abráhám-hegy and Badacsony itself.

If you wanted to learn more about the differences between the hills, you could do so in one masterclass whereas in the other, you could learn about food and wine pairing.

Borbely

Visitors could also vote on their favourite winery, wine and other exhibitor. Tamás Borbély scooped up the best winery award, his Karós Olaszrizling 2016 was voted the best wine and the Lábdi market the favourite among other exhibitors.

Regional wine shows like this are a great way to get a an overall feeling for what a wine region is all about, its key varieties and producers. I particularly liked the way it was organised by hill this year, so that if you had the inclination, you could take a look at what differentiates the hills from each other.

The wines

Olaszrizling, which I can usually take or leave, seems to produce lovely weighty wines with zippy acidity in Badacsony, and I also scored Tamás Borbély’s Karós Olaszrizling very highly, along with his Bács-hegy Olaszrizling 2015. Folly Arborétem also had a beautiful 2017 on offer as did 2HA Szőlőbirtok. Szászi’s Szent György-hegyi Olaszrizling 2017 was also wonderfully juicy, ripe and full-bodied.

Another variety out in force was Badacsony’s flagship wine in waiting, Kéknyelű, with attractive versions shown by Szászi, Laposa, Istvándy, Németh Pince, Folly Arborétum and again Borbély, whose wines certainly scored highly with me overall.

Modern cross Rózsakő is also producing attractive wines in the region. Watch out for Németh Pince and Bagolykő Pince’s Rózsakő. The latter’s Olaszrizling-Rózsakő blend Ketten was also a lovely zippy wine with plenty of bright fruit.

I also enjoyed a couple of Zöldveltelinis from Villa Tolnay and Büttner Borbirtok as well as a lovely Pinot Blanc, rare in Hungary from Fischer Borászat.

Villa Tolnay

Rajnai Rizling, or Riesling, is also producing increasingly attractive, zippy wines here. Maybe there is something in Philipp Oser of Villa Tolnay’s remarks that the northern shores of the Balaton could produced great Riesling – they just have to try harder!  The king here is Villa Sandahl, showing five different excellent Rieslings, but I also tried beautifully balanced zesty wines from Gilvesy, Istvándy (cut with a touch of Sárga Muskotály), Baló Ambrus and Folly Arborétum.

Reds were thin on the ground, given that Badacsony is primarily white wine country, and many had run out by the time I got onto the reds, but Szeremley had a lovely crunchy, still very youthful, 2017 Pinot Noir and Fischer Borászat a bright, fresh 2017 Zweigelt, which I enjoyed.

Now looking forward to my next visit to Badacsony itself!

badacsony hill

*Photos, except the last, courtesy of the organisers.

It’s spring and Eger is calling

eger_tavasz_2_foto Busák Attila

Events in March

Eger is abuzz with cultural and gastronomic events. It also has a rich heritage which can be seen in its architecture and is, of course, the centre of one of Hungary’s most renowned wine regions. A wealth of gastronomic and music events as well as various festivals await visitors this spring.

Members of the Eger Wine Workshop are also hosting a number of interesting events: wine tastings, cellar visits, wine dinners and even markets.

14 March – Tóth Ferenc Winery – Wine and chocolate tasting

This evening will appeal to the chocolate lovers among us: eight different types of chocolate will be paired with eight different wines in the interest of finding the ideal synergy. What might tickle your fancy: the 2015 Kadarka matched with São Tomé dark chocolate, black sesame seed and lyophilised raspberries or the 2011 Cabernet Franc matched with Mexican dark chocolate, smoked salt and caramelised almonds?

The evening will be hosted by Katalin Tóth, manager of the Tóth Ferenc Winery, Viktória Szeleczky Takács, founder and creative artist of Fabric Csokoládé and Adél Bernáth-Ulcz, an expert at CsokiLaBor.

15 March – Launch of Egri Csillag

Egri Csillag became an overnight success a few years ago and turned into one of Eger’s favourite brands. This white blend can either be a light, fruity everyday wine or a substantial, oak-aged wine. The Hungarian National Holiday marks the day each year when visitors can taste the new Egri Csillag vintage from almost twenty wineries, participate in the traditional castle knights procession, enjoy concerts and continue celebrating into the night.

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20 March – Gál Tibor Fúzió – Fúzió Wednesday | Béla Vincze’s world

This evening event at Gál Tibor’s Fúzió explores the world and career of Béla Vincze, not just through his own wines but also through other things which come from different wineries but are connected to his stories. So guests can taste wines from other Hungarian and foreign producers. The event will be hosted by Veronika Gál.

21 March – Wine&Tech meetup Eger

How does the viticulturist-oenologist profession relate to modern technological inventions? What’s available and what should you consider for small or large wineries? The panel of guests will explain how different equipment is used in local vineyards and cellars. SmartVineyard will introduce their Vineguard device and startup Vinometer will introduce their wine-tasting app for smart phones. Young Eger winemakers will analyse the current Wine&Tech scene during a roundtable discussion.

23 March – Gál Tibor Fúzió – Slow Market

Slow Market is the modern day equivalent of a traditional fair. It gives visitors the chance to meet producers, artists and winemakers, chat with them and browse, taste and buy products, all in the spirit of Slow Living, i.e. calmly and at their own pace. This is a free monthly event offering natural, fresh, special delicacies, original folk and contemporary art and, of course, an exhilarating spring atmosphere

30-31 March – Hungarikum Picnic in Szépasszony Valley

Eger Bikavér has been declared a “hungarikum”, and Szépasszony Valley is the favourite meeting point for wine lovers visiting Eger. As in previous years, Eger has once again invited all the “hungarikums” to join in a common festival, so that they can showcase the best culinary products that Hungary has to offer in one place – Hungary’s largest and perhaps best-known historical row of cellars. As well as food and wine, there will also be concerts, folk art and entertainment for the kids.

For more information, please visit the Egri Bor Most Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/egribormost/

* based on a press release from Wineglass Communication, photos by Attila Busák

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