Category Archives: Balaton

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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Prestige Reserve Club Awards

Prestige Reserve Club is an organisation devoted to supporting Hungarian wine and promoting its image. It not only confers awards to premium wines which represent outstanding quality on a semi-annual basis, but also supports other endeavours in the Hungarian wine world, such as wine events, restaurants, wine hotels, marketing initiatives and winemakers, giving awards in these areas. However, if there is a year where there is no deserving candidate for the award, then it will not be awarded.

prestige3The award for wine marketing for 2016, which was first won by Kreinbacher for its introduction of sparkling wine, was scooped up this year by Balatoni Kör (Balaton Circle) and accepted by Bence Laposa. The Balatoni Kör was a small group of businesses which grew into a regional project with community products, a regional brand with its own design, labels and unique, homogenous image. Initially conceived by Bence Laposa, Gábor Kardos and Tamás Kovacs, Balaton Bor now consists of a complete quality classification for wines made from Olaszrizling from around the lake. The long-term plan is to offer an alternative to the state quality system. 21 wineries qualified to make Balaton Bor this year. Indeed, it is already seen as a brand, guaranteeing the quality of basic wine. The example was given of a consumer simply asking for a glass of Olaszrizling as Balaton Bor in a restaurant without even mentioning the winery or variety, thus already showing respect for the brand.

The Wine Event award was picked up by Borjour Magnum. Borjour, a youthful prestige-5organisation, brainchild of Sebestyen Nagy, Gábor Toth and Sara Megyeri, which just grew and grew. The event, held each February, now attracts around 2000 visitors. Size matters here, as they also organise smaller events throughout they year entitled mini, classic and extra. They have been operating now for ten years to positive feedback from consumers and wineries, but to date had won no awards, so were delighted to have their success recognised by this award, say Gábor Toth, who picked up the prize.

prestige-7Bock Hermitage in Villány won the Wine Hotel award. This hotel, winery and restaurant offers its guests affordable, good quality rooms and meals in a pleasant, intimate atmosphere. The hotel is also active with events, e.g. the Villány Franc conference held in November.

The Wine Restaurant award was won by the St Andrea Wine and Gourmet Bar in Budapest. This is an award for a restaurant which concentrates not only on the food, but also on what wines are on offer, whether the staff are knowledgeable about wine and combines this with fine dining. St Andrea Wine and Gourmet Bar is personal and thoughtful dining experience prestige6offering ‘Hungarian flavours open to the world’. It is, of course, connected to the Eger St Andrea Winery.

The Hedonist award went to Péter Fritt of Best of Budapest. Presumably related to how much me has had to consume, in both food and wine, to assess restaurants over the last 22 years. His award was a glass so big that it has capacity for three bottles of wine!

prestige2The Winery award went to Tokaj’s Disznókő. This is a clear and objective assessment of the quality of the winery and its wine; it is foreign-owned, so in this case, there can be no subjective association with a ‘figurehead personality’. Many winemakers have worked here, so there is no tight association with one particular winemaker; indeed teamwork is extremely important at Disznókő. There were many who believed that they would never be successful with such a name – Disznókő means ‘pig stone’ in Hungarian. However, they have been proved wrong, even taking risks such as selling an Aszú which could not be sold as an Aszú as is it didn’t meet the requirements, so confident were they in the quality of their wines. For them, Aszú is king, as this is why Tokaj has been famous for many centuries.

Following the award ceremony, those present were able to sample the wines that had won awards in 2016. Click here for a the lists of those winning Medaillon d’Or and Vinum Bonum awards

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

 

Csopaki Kódex

Hewlett-PackardThe last masterclass of the day was related to Csopak, which is part of the Balatonfüred-Csopak wine district. This part of the wine district consists of the villages of Csopak, Paloznak, Lovas, Alsóörs and Felsőörs.

In the past, the main grape varieties to be found around the Balaton were Szigeti (a.k.a. Furmint) and Kadarka. Sixty percent of plantings were black varieties, whereas nowadays white varieties dominate, although there is no one grape variety closely associated with any of the wine districts or indeed the Balaton wine region itself.csopk_piramis_honlap_trükk

Csopak is trying to change this; in fact, it has long been associated with Olaszrizling and in an attempt to create a clear identity for itself, in 2012 it created something called the Csopaki Kódex (Csopak Codex) and the first year when it was applied to the wines was 2013. This is a kind of ‘quality pyramid’ for wines produced in any vineyards of the five villages which make up Csopak. The wine must be dry Olaszrizling and it must meet certain criteria in order to be able to display the Csopaki Kódex label.

The Kódex is a three-level pyramid. The lowest level is Csopak Körzet, which is generic wine from Csopak, so a kind of ‘Csopak villages’ – wine can come from any of the five villages. The next level up is VND Csopak ‘premier cru’ – here the wine has to come from 26 ‘premier cru’ vineyard areas (dülő). The top level is VNDC Csopak where the wine is then vineyard selected.

In order to qualify for the Kódex, the wines have to meet certain criteria relating to yields, residual sugar, filtering, acidity, aroma profile and alcohol level (12-13%). It should also have been aged at least six months in oak/tank and three in bottle.

kishegy_2013_palack_web-682x1024

The wine should be bottled in Burgundy style bottles, closed with a quality cork and black capsule, and bear the Kódex sticker.

The aroma profile of the wines should feature almond and rhubarb and mineral notes from the soils, which in Csopak are dolomite, marl and red sandstone.

Since 2013, the number of registered growers has risen from eleven to fourteen.

We got to taste wines from the following registered vineyards: Szent Donát Birtok, Petrányi Pince, Guden Birtok, Koralevits Pince, Jásdi Pince and Fekete Pince.

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.

 

Pintes

Another unusual Hungarian grape variety I came across on a recent trip is Pintes. A local, long-forgotten grape producing a uniquely flavoured rustic white wine. This wine, I am reliably informed, is only produced by one vineyard, Vinum Veress Wine Cellar(http://www.vinumveress.hu/vinumveress_en.html), who have 1.5 hectares of vines in Csáford.

P1090337

It was pretty much wiped out by Phylloxera, but was identified again in 1968 near Pécs by Márton Németh, a great Hungarian ampelographist. Its medieval name has been lost and its modern name, Pintes, is derived from its high productivity. The ‘pint’ is a Hungarian unit of measure, and one vine can produce in the region of 1 pint (1.6 litres) of wine.

Pintes has a pleasant apricot, honeyed scent and flavours. Unfiltered, produced using reductive technology, this rich, uniquely flavoured straw-coloured wine can be considered a real Hungaricum, with a production of only a few thousand bottles per year.

pintes