Category Archives: Badacsony

Think pink!

No, I’m not going to be talking about rosé, trendy though it might be. Wine grapes are either red or white, right? Well, in fact, there are plenty of varieties whose grapes are pink-skinned, except you wouldn’t know, as many of these are used to create white wines.

Szűrkebarát
Think Pinot Grigio aka Pinot Gris aka Grauburgunder, or, as it’s known here in Hungary, Szűrkebarát, after the Cistercian monks who planted the variety in Badacsony near Lake Balaton in the twelfth century. Szűrkebarát means ‘grey monk’.

Pinot GrisGiven the oceans of thin, almost transparent Pinot Grigio that emerge from northern Italy and are quaffed around the world, you’d never guess that it’s berries are actually pink. Even the more opulent style of Pinot Gris produced in Alsace doesn’t give you any indication that the grapes have pink skins. Incidentally, the variety used to be called Tokay in Alsace until it was forced to refrain from using this name on the insistence of the Hungarians who objected to its use, as this engendered confusion with its naturally sweet wines from Tokaj, whose name Alsatians likely appropriated in the past to benefit from the former’s fame.

Pinot Gris is in fact a colour mutation of Pinot Noir, so a kind of red grape in a pink grape’s clothing. Its grapes range from pinky-purple to almost Pinot Noir colour in hotter sites, which perhaps explains the colour of one of the wines we tasted. A fellow taster exclaimed, “How long did they macerate it? Two years!”

Perhaps the more traditional Friulian and Venetian ramato style of Pinot Grigio, whereby the Pinot Grigio is macerated on its skins, producing a coppery coloured wine, nowadays referred to as amber or orange wine, would give us more of a hint of the berries’ clothing.

Taking a look at four very different Hungarian versions:

Centurio Szürkebarát 2017 (Mátra)
Ludányi szürkebarátIts pale onion skin colour, delicate herbal notes and spice point to some skin maceration. Attractive nose of mandarin, spice peach and orange. Full-bodied and layered on the palate with a buttery, creamy texture, Plenty of ripe fruit, spice, salinity, touch of toasty oak and a slightly warming, relatively long finish. A lovely wine. 84 (84)

Nádas Borműhely Vagy mi? 2016 (Etyek Buda)
Nádas Vagy miA Pinot Gris that’s the colour of Pinot Noir! Initially I found it very tannic and a little bitter with plenty of beautiful spicy cherry, rust and blood orange on the nose. Perhaps a little lacking acidity, but attractive fruit, beetroot and a touch of mushroom on the long finish. The points here reflect my initial taste, but on coming back to it at the end of the tasting, it had opened and the tannins no longer felt so bitter, so I would push it up a little. Intriguing wine. 80 (81)

Villa Tolnay Pinot Gris 2016 (Badacsony)
IMG_9849A pale lemon wine with plenty of autumn fruit and peach. A little rustic on the palate with slightly sour acidity and some savoury, cooked vegetable notes. A slight sweetness and warming alcohol on the finish. 78 (82)

Laposa PINO 2017 (Badacsony)
Laposa szürkebarátPale lemon with a hint of onion skin. Unappealing aromas of straw, wilted flowers and wet garden with some toasted sesame seeds. A touch of tannin on the palate with some floral and peachy notes. Savoury and spicy but lacking in acidity and too much residual sugar – a typical problem in traditional-style Badacsony Szűrkebarát. 78 (80)

Tramini
Another pink-berried variety that’s more usually found as an opulent golden wine in Alsace as Gewürztraminer and in northern Italy as Traminer Aromatico. Interestingly, it is genetically identical to Savagnin Blanc of Jura fame and Savagnin Rose, of which it is thought to be an aromatic mutation.

TraminiThe variety is known for its deep golden, full-bodied and headily aromatic wines with perfumed aromas of rose petals, lychees and exotic fruit. Alcohol is generally on the high side and acidity can sometimes be low, thus rendering the wines flabby. The name Gewürztraminer, comes from the German word ‘gewürz’, meaning spicy or seasoned, as its distinctive scent is often referred to as spicy.

Tramini under its various names is widely planted in Hungary and across Eastern Europe, where it is generally lighter, and its trademark aroma muted due to high yields. If grown on volcanic rock, e.g. Somló, it retains better acidity.

We put two Hungarian Traminis to the test, both from abbey-related wineries – Apatság meaning abbey in Hungarian.

Somlói Apátsági Pincészet Tramini 2016 (Somló)
SAP TraminiPale gold in colour with plenty of opulent tropical fruit, honey, grapefruit and stoniness on the nose. Rich and ripe on the palate with peach and quince complementing the tropical fruit along with some melon, caramel and orange. Characteristic of the variety, perhaps a little lacking in acidity, but full-bodied, complex, layered and smoky with a long, warming finish. Star of the show. 86 (86)

Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pincészet Tramini 2017 (Pannonhalma)IMG_9851
Aromatic on the nose with fresh tropical fruit, grape flower and plenty of perfume. Clean and fresh on the palate with bags of lemon, yellow rose and peach. Long finish with a touch of bitterness. 84 (83)

Korai Piros Veltelini
Fruhroter VeltlinerDespite the name, this is not the brother of Zöld Veltelini (Grüner Veltliner); it has many relations, but its green namesake is not one of them. A natural crossing of Roter Veltliner and Silvaner, it is the sibling of Neuburg and the half-sibling of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler. As a grandchild of Savagnin, it’s also related to Gewürztraminer, but the relatively neutral wines it produces bear no resemblance to their distant relation’s. Greatest plantings of it are in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), where it is known as Frühroter Veltliner; it’s also grown sparsely across the border in Sopron too, where our wine originates.

Taschner Korai Piros Veltliner (Sopron)
Taschner KPVNose of grapefruit and apple with perfumed, waxy notes as well as slightly oxidised, cider vinegar character. Relatively high acidity makes it fresh and zesty, but rather lacking in fruit. A slight prickle appears on the short finish. The palate is slightly more pleasant than the nose. The wine lives up, or down, to the variety’s reputation for neutral wines meant for early drinking. 78 (78)

Hungarian pink berries, ancient and modern
And now to three varieties that few outside Hungary, and probably within Hungary too, will have heard of, let alone tasted!

Kövidinka
Jancis Robinson’s ‘Wine Grapes’ describes Kövidinka as a ‘common pink-skinned Hungarian variety making commonplace whites’. Allegedly already cultivated in the Middle Ages, it’s widely planted in Central and Eastern Europe, mainly in central and southern Hungary on the Alföld (Great Plain), an area not best known for its quality wine production. It’s a resistant, hardy chap, hence perhaps its popularity in this region known best for bulk and table wine, producing light, fairly neutral wines for early consumption.

Font Pincészet Kövidinka 2017 (Kunság)
Font kövidinkaPale lemon in colour with a waxy, peachy nose of yellow apple and mandarin with some floral notes. Rather simple on the palate with some tropical fruit and an artificial banana and pear drops note. A slightly sweet, short finish, low alcohol and lack of acidity rendered the wine quite flat and unbalanced. 78 (81)

Pintes
Another ancient Hungarian variety, believed to have been extinct following phylloxera, Pintes was rediscovered at the foot of the Mecsek hills near Pécs in 1968. Nobody knew what its original name was, so it was renamed Pintes thanks to its massive, high-yielding bunches (a ‘pint’ is a Hungarian measure equivalent to 1.69 litres). It was then officially recognised and 12 hectares planted around the country. Now only 1.5 hectares remain, accidentally ending up in the hands of the Vinum Veress winery in Csáford, who decided they would do what they could with it, despite the fact that it’s late-ripening, susceptible to disease and its wines are somewhat rustic, and so now have the honour of producing the only Pintes in the world.

Vinum Veress Családi Borpince Pintes 2017 (Zala)
Veress PintesMedium lemon in colour with a citrus and floral nose along with a touch of musty chalk. The restrained palate is dominated by grapefruit, along with its associated bitterness, and some yellow apple. Rather mouthpuckeringly sour and reminiscent of crab apples, the finish leaves you with the impression of a high-alcohol cider. 76 (78)

Generosa
A modern Hungarian crossing obtained in 1951 from Ezerjó and Piros Tramini (Savagnin Rose), tested at the Kecskemét viticultural research centre and finally christened Generosa in 2004, although it has nothing to do with the Portuguese variety of the same name. The variety is now growing in popularity, apparently having met its aim of obtaining a grape easier to enjoy and grow than Ezerjó! Kunság, Hajós Baja and Mór now boast 400 hectares of this variety, producing fresh, easy-drinking wines with peach, pear and citrus flavours.

Frittmann Generosa 2017 (Kunság)
Frittmann generosaA rather one-dimensional wine with aromas of ripe apple and stone fruit and some floral hints. Fresh, zesty acidity with a touch of sweet lemon curd and a hint of minerality. Cloyingly sweet on finish. 82 (81)

All wines were tasted blind by a group of journalists as part of a series of press tastings organised at the Kostolom borbar in Budapest by Edit Szabó of Borsmenta. The first scores are mine, the second (in brackets), the rounded aggregate of all tasters.

Csoportkép 1

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Grape varieties – Kéknyelű

badacsony hillKéknyelű is a relatively rare white variety which grows only in Hungary, principally on the volcanic soils of Badacsony on the northern shore of Lake Balaton and in the Balaton Felvidék, although there are some plantings in Etyek-Buda, Zala and Kunság. Once widely planted, indeed it was once one of the most widely planted Hungarian varieties, much of it was grubbed up in the seventies in favour of more productive and reliable international varieties.  At the end of the twentieth century, there were approximately 40ha remaining in Badacsony, although there have been some new plantings of the variety recently. It is named after its bluish stalks.

It was for a long time assumed to be the same as the Picolit variety found in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, however this was disproved in 2006 as a result of isoenzyme and microsatellite tests.

It is not the easiest of varieties to grow and is cultivated in the ancient style with separate keknyelurows of both male and female grapevines; it needs its male counterpart, Budai Zöld, in order to pollinate as it only has female flowers. Then the wind is relied upon for pollination to ensure proper yields. It is thick-skinned, with small to medium-sized berries and relatively small clusters. It is susceptible to frost, but tolerates drought well, and thanks to its thick skins, doesn’t succumb easily to rot. It is late maturing and is generally harvested early to mid-October. In the past its relatively low yields led to local peasants calling it the ‘Gentleman’s grape’, as this meant it was rather expensive. Despite this, it was popular before phylloxera, although it was then eclipsed after WWII by high-yield varieties.

The variety responds well to both reductive and oxidative wine-making. It can be rustic and simple, but when well made, it is a unique, exciting, aromatic variety.

The wine has a pale lemon colour and can yield a savoury, smoky wine with hints of gunpowder, lemon, stone fruits, white blossom and herbs. It is generally full to medium bodied, with high acidity and high alcohol and demonstrates well the minerality of Badacsony’s characteristic basalt terroir. It is a heady, perfumed andlaposa keknyelu refined wine, which shines with a sense of place. It can be drunk young but thanks to its high acidity, it comes into its own after a few years, developing an attractive honeyed nuttiness with bottle age.

Now, as many wine lovers are look for more interesting, unique wines, it is gaining in popularity again. It pairs well with grilled fish or goats cheese.

Producers to watch out for: Szeremley Birtok, Laposa Pincészet, Borbély Családi Pince, Nyari Pince and Istvándy Családi Pincészet

 

Olaszrizling around the Balaton

Next we moved into Hungary, more specifically to the Balaton, where Olaszrizling has been widely planted since the beginning of the twentieth century in most of the wine districts lying around the lake and forming the Balaton wine region: Badacsony, Balatonboglár, Balaton felvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Nagy Somló and Zala.

orszagos_borvidek_terkep

The Balaton offers a variety of terroirs, including volcanic, basalt and tufa soils, enabling the grape to display different characteristics depending on the region.

We tasted a flight of eight wines from various points around the Balaton:

Jásdi – Csopaki Rizling 2013 (Csopak)
Figula – Olaszrizling 2013 (Csopak)
Káli Kövek – Rezeda Olaszrizling 2013 (Balaton felvidék)
Pálffy – Káli Király Olaszrizling Válogatás 2013 (Balaton felvidék)
Légli – Banyászó Olaszrizling 2012 (Balatonboglár)
Bakó Ambrus – A Rózától Olaszrizling 2012 (Badacsony)
Villa Tolnay – Olaszrizling 2010 (Balaton felvidék)
Györgykovács- Olaszrizling 2011 (Nagy Somló)
Bussay – Olaszrizling 2011 (Zala)

Top three in this case (in no particular order)

Káli Kövek

This ‘garage winery’ is sited on the volcanic Fekete hegy (black hill) in the Káli basin on the north side of the Balaton. Its first vintage was in 2008.

The wine was elegant and rounded with long, salty minerality. It also displayed the typical flavours and aromas of Olaszrizling, namely lemon, almonds and a hint of almond blossom on the nose. Lovely.

Légli

Légli’s vineyards are located on the southern shores of the lake and he was one of the first wineries to produce nice, structured Olaszrizlings. The southern side of the Balaton generally has loess soils with a high limestone content.

A creamy, complex wine with toasty aromas of vanilla and coffee, a burst of almond blossom and luscious white stone fruits. It comes from Ottó Légli’s favourite vineyard, the Banyászó dülő.

Bakó Ambrus

badacsonyThis winery is located in Badacsony, one of my favourite areas for white wine in Hungary. This wine district generally produces very mineral wines due to its volcanic, basalt soils. The wine was very mineral with floral and lemony notes, a complex, creamy wine with a bitter almond character. Gets my vote.

 

Sabar tasting at Secessió Café

Festival season is now over, during which time, I managed to get lounging around reading and faffing down to an art. When not at a festival, that was what I was doing. Now it’s time to get myself in hand again and be disciplined in writing up tastings and posting regularly.

P1090331So let’s rewind back to July when I went to an interesting tasting at the Secessió Café in the fifth district, close to Szabadság tér. I had been wanting to go there for ages, being a big fan of art nouveau buidlings, and this was my chance. Both a café and a museum of art nouP1090329veau, it is ornately decorated in rather an ecclectic way. Although more interested in architecture and decor than furniture, it was great to sit amongst all these treasures for the tasting.

They have regular wine-tastings on Friday nights, but seem to be taking a break for the summer. I’m not exactly sure when they’ll be starting again, but am looking forward to attending one or two more.

P1080296I first came across Sabar borház on a trip down to Badacsony in April. I went on a kind of ‘guerrilla’ wine weekend at the beginning of April, organised by VSOP Balaton-felvidék and Badacsonyi KÖR, of which the Saturday involved tasting 30+ wines from eight vineyards at five different locations (five of said vineyards) and being driven around by two car companies (no name-dropping here) promoting their cars.P1080297

Sabar was the third stop on our whirlwind tour for my group, so we were all fading a bit by then. According to my notes, still quite legible, at that point, but very brief, we tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon rosé 2013 (a lovely pale, bone-dry rosé), Olaszrizling 2013, freshly bottled (fresh and fruity, floral notes), Kéknyelű 2013 (mineral) and the Sauvignon Blanc 2013 P1080302(classic, vegetal notes). Given the brevity of my notes and my not entirely fresh palate at that point, I was glad to have chance to taste some of their wines once again in slightly more restrained surroundings.P1090330

Nádasi András, Sabar marketing, took us through the wines we were tasting. First, though, we learnt that the name comes from the hill on which the vineyard stands, that is the Sabar hegy.

Our first wine was a dry Muscat Ottonel 2013. A light, fruity wine meant for early drinking. Forward primary fruit flavours and aromas of white flowers. Ideal as an aperitif. The vines for this can be found on the Hercegföld dülő, next to Csobanc hegy.

P1090333We then moved onto a Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Classic Sauvignon Blanc on both the palate and nose – elderflowers, cut grass and nettles. Very elegant. Lovely tipple with fish.

Szürkebarat 2013 (Pinot Gris to non-Hungarian speakers) was next up. Much richer on the nose than the previous wines, it delivered up grapefruit and yellow flowers, with some vanilla, toast and nutty notes.

The final white was an Olaszrizling 2013. Yellow-green in colour, full-bodied, zesty lemon and herb notes burst on the palate, backed up by strong minerality. Well-balanced with good acidity.

On to the rosé, a Cabernet Sauvignon rosé 2013. Very pale salmon, almost onion skin in colour. An elegant wine full of strawberries, with some minerality in the background. Really enjoyed this. Still have a bottle lying in my wine-rack, awaiting my pleasure…P1090338

And the only red… Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, and indeed the only photo of a bottle of wine (taken at home later). Bordeaux style wine bursting with blackcurrants and blackberries, peppery, smokey and spiP1090334cy, with some green pepper. I enjoyed it, but it could probably benefit from another couple of years in the bottle. Also enjoyed the chocolate cake served with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice-cream that accompanied it.

I had been planning to have a light snack with my imminently arriving visitor when we finished. However, most of the wines were served with something to nibble, so no room for any food after. A very good value evening with great wines and tasty snacks.