Facelift for Villa Tolnay

The last year has seen a flurry of new labels for the wines of many of Hungary’s prominent wineries, often along with a tightening up of their ranges.

Villa Tolnay has joined this trend too, launching its new labels a couple of weeks ago at the Kóstolom Wine Bar in Buda.

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Swiss owner and chief winemaker, Philipp Oser, and co-owner and estate manager Laszló Nagy presented the new labels and showed a few of their revamped range of wines. Of course, they also filled us in on some of the other developments at the winery, as they’ve not only been working on the presentation of the wine itself, but also on the winery itself. They’ve built a large cellar including bottling line, 700m2, most of which is underground, so in line with their environmentally conscious way of thinking. They work organically, although are not yet certified, which Philipp points out is not the main thing anyway – it’s all about making the wines better. All their wines are spontaneously fermented, and they no longer use cultivated yeast or sulphur, no bentonite for clarification, only settling and gravity. The only time any sulphur comes in contact with the wines is during racking.

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Along with this winery renewal, they have decided to change their whole new corporate identity. Their new labels are bold, yet elegant and simple, focussing on the terroir and place, rather than the variety. Their three-star wines (more about this later) focus on the location of the winery and the vines – Csobánc, or the older version Csobáncz, which they’ve chosen to emphasise on their labels in large, bold print. The word Badacsony, the official wine region, is nowhere to be seen and the name of the variety and the single vineyard name are only featured underneath in much smaller letters. They’ve also opted to use soft wax instead of aluminium or plastic capsules in the interest of sustainability – red or white. It’s a nice extension from the label as it reflects the fact their work is based on craftsmanship; it’s elegant and doesn’t splinter when cut.

Philipp has been here in Csobánc for the last 14 years now and decided it was time to change a few thing. One of the most important things for him was to keep things simple and to show simplicity, which is just what the labels do.

The product line will now feature three levels, which he calls their one-star, two-star and three-star wines. One-star wines will be fresh wines which focus on the variety, e.g. the yet-to-be-released Sauvignon Blanc and perhaps a Zöldveltelini, two-star wines are blends such as Tenger and Névtelen, whereas three-star wines are the top wines, usually single vineyard and single variety, although there may also be blends, depending on the vintage. They will not hesitate to downgrade wines though, if the vintage is poor. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are their most important reds, with Riesling, Olaszrizling, Zöldveltelini and Chardonnay their key whites. There are no plans for a pure Furmint, which, although important, is needed for their Hidden Treasures wine – Balaton – a blend of Furmint and Riesling produced for Burgenland Roland Velich. Interestingly, the new labels bear more than just a passing resemblance to the labels for this series.

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Panororama Olaszrizling 2016

The Panorama vineyard is a one-hectare plateau in the middle of Csobánc with 35-year-old vines, which they keep saying they’ll grub up and replace as this old plantation, abandoned for at least a decade previously, always involves a lot of work and produces tiny berries with thick skins. However, each year they taste the wines and decide to wait another year. Philipp calls the wine Csobánc’s ambassador.

The wine shows great typicity of the volcanic terroir. Intense, yet austere and lean with beautiful lemon and almond notes and a salty, long finish.

Philipp’s favourite wine regions are Pfalz and Burgundy, so the aim is to create a style with less alcohol than the modern norm, so around 12-13%, that is lively, vibrant and light, but at the same time dense, something akin to the finesse of Burgundy, he hopes.

Panorama Zöldveltelini 2017

This wine also reflects the basalt terroir nicely with lively acidity, fresh green fruit and honey pepped up with spicy, floral and mineral notes. Lovely concentration, elegance and an attractive, long, salty finish.

Tenger 2017

A new brand for them – tenger means ’sea’ in Hungarian and reflects the fact that the Balaton is known as the Hungarian Sea and that this whole area was once also covered by the Pannonian Sea.

A blend of 50% Chardonnay with Zöldveltelini, Riesling and Olaszrizling making up the remainder. Philipp calls the wine Hungary’s answer to Chablis or Pouilly Fuissé. He uses a little oak to add some nuttiness to the blend.

The wine offers flavours of ripe autumn fruits and vanilla with zesty acidity and just a touch of grip It’s rich, creamy and complex, yet fresh and vibrant with a long saline finish. Pure Csobánc.

Panorama Chardonnay 2017

Lovely finesse, nicely integrated oak, a mouth-filling wine with crisp acidity, mineral notes and a long elegant finish.

Philipp’s philosophy is to make the best that he can, so they also source their vines from regions which produce some of the top wines from those varieties, so the Pinot Noir comes from Gevry Chambertin, the Chardonnay from Meursault, the Cabernet Franc from the Loire and the Riesling from Pfalz. Philipp has high hopes for Riesling from the northern shore of the Balaton. He just thinks they all need to try harder!

Unfiltered Cabernet Franc 2017

A crunchy red and black fruit salad of cherry, blueberry, raspberry and cranberry. Definitely more in the Loire than the Villány style. Vibrant, crisp and fresh with fine-grained tannins. Lovely to drink now but will be even better in a couple of years.

Star of the tasting for me. Philipp said the goal with this wine is that anyone who opens a bottle of his Cabernet Franc will want to finish it off themselves!

The five-year-old vines are planted on one hectare at the foot of the hill where the soil is soft, limestone sediment from the Pannonian Sea as well as the results of volcanic erosion, which helps keep the wines lean with lovely freshness, so that they will be drinking well after five or six years. Another of Philipp’s wishes is to be able to release wines a little later, which the spacious new winery will enable them to do.

’New Pannonian wine tradition’

With this slogan, Philipp hopes to build new traditions in the region, perhaps returning to the use of the hegy or ’hill’ in labelling, like with Csobánc, just as in the past. For him, origin is everything. The talk here inevitably turns to branding around the Balaton. A contentious issue currently. Brand-building in the wider region is difficult for various reasons. Csopak and Olaszrizling are already their own brand, Balatonfüred is nearer to the motorway and hence easier to reach, whereas heading to Badacsony requires more time and effort. Perhaps varieties should be more closely linked to each hegy even – e.g. Olaszrizling with Szent György-hegy or Kéknyelű with Badacsony. Food for thought….

Philipp is also aiming to start another Pannonian wine tradition – Winemakers @The Villa. The first edition of the event will take place on 5-6 April this year. It will consist of a mini winemakers’ get-together to connect western European producers with Pannonian ones, with debates on biodynamic or organic production and networking opportunities. They’ll begin with six or seven winemakers including several foreign guests from the Pfalz and Wachau, along with Tamás Kis from Somló, Zoli Heimann from Szekszárd and, of course, themselves. Over time, they’d like to grow it and turn it into an annual fair giving visitors the opportunity to taste international wines at the Balaton. However, it will be a small affair, at least this year, with a maximum of 40 guests.

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