Category Archives: Grape Varieties

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.

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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.

Women winemakers out in force on International Women’s Day

The weaker sex? Certainly not!

Tomorrow, 8 March, is International Women’s Day, and in celebration of all women, 32 Hungarian women winemakers from 12 wine regions will present 104 wines to visitors of the Gyengébb? Nem! Cherchez la Femme wine show at the Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge.

This is the second time that the event has been organised by Edit Szabó of Borsmenta. The idea grew out of her book Gyengébb? Nem! Roughly translated, this means ’The weaker sex? No!’ It relates the stories of 26 women winemakers in Hungary and how they cope in a traditionally male-dominated industry, hence the title.

The winemakers will bring along some of their brand new novelties for curious wine lovers. For example, Katalin Toth will present their 2018 Kadarka Siller, Andrea Gere their 2017 Fekete Járdovány and Syrah, Júlia Dóra Molnár from Csendes Dűlő their 2017 premium Kéknyelű and Éva Gálné Dignisz will show their hot-off-the-press fizz. There’ll also be a couple of pet nats to try from the Szőlő Pincészet and the Heimann Családi Pincészet.

A gentleman, however, will look after the food! Alain Losbar, the Sofitel’s head chef will osztrigaensure nobody goes hungry and will delight your taste buds with fresh oysters, ham, cheeses and other French delicacies.

If you’re inspired to travel to the enchanting wine regions the ladies come from, or even beyond, three more ladies, from Wine A’more travel, are on hand to help you fulfil your inspirations with their offer of wine trips and tastings.

All in a good cause

Another reason to come along is the fact that the ladies have waived their fees for the event and thus half a million forints (around €1,600) has already been raised for charity. This total is sure to grow as visitors can also add their contributions in the collection boxes at the event. The monies collected will go to the Anyaoltalmazó Foundation, which helps 75-80 women and children in distress all around the country every year.

Chocolate and cheese-pairing masterclasses

Those who are interested in learning more about what wines to pair with various cheeses and chocolate can also attend two masterclasses. Tickets are available for these at 3,000 forints.

So, if you’ve nothing planned for tomorrow evening, head to the Sofitel to celebrate Women’s Day with a remarkably talented group of women!

When: 8 March 16:00-21:30

Where: Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge

Tickets: 7,000 HUF until midnight tonight, then 8,500 HUF on the door.

Advance tickets available online at: https://tixa.hu/CherchezLaFemme_avagygyengebb_nem?fbclid=IwAR1TaPt8VS6YXDgOuK48plDC0vgIIIKwB5Im406Hg_wDWZq8B9y5ObhEKQc

The price includes wines, nibbles on the winemakers’ tables and water.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2362393133989988/

Participating winemakers:

ANGELIKA ÁRVAY (Árvay Családi Pincészet), ZSUZSANNA BABARCZI (Babarczi Szőlőbirtok és Pince), KATA BADICS (Homoky Pincészet), EDIT BAI (Dereszla Pincészet), NÓRA BARACSKAI (Etyeki Kúria Borgazdaság), SAROLTA BÁRDOS (Tokaj Nobilis), STÉPHANIE BERECZ (Kikelet Pince), BOGLÁRKA BÖJT (Bortársaság), DOROTTYA BUSSAY (Bussay Pincészet), KRISZTINA CSETVEI (Csetvei Pince), MÓNIKA DEBRECZENI (Vylyan Pincészet), BERNADETT DUNAI (Dubicz Pincészet) TÍMEA ÉLESS (Szóló Pincészet), ÉVA GÁLNÉ DIGNISZ (Gál Szőlőbirtok és Pincészet), ANDREA GERE (Gere Attila Pincészete), SUSANN HANAUER, (Wassmann Pince), ÁGNES HEIMANN (Heimann Családi Birtok), ZITA KOVÁCS (Kovács és Lánya Borászat), ZSÓFI LAPOSA (Laposa Birtok), LILLA LATORCZAI-RÁCZ, ENIKŐ LUKA (Luka Pince), ANITA MAGYAR (Hangavári Pincészet), GABRIELLA MÉSZÁROS  (Préselő Pincészet), JÚLIA DÓRA MOLNÁR (Csendes Dűlő Szőlőbirtok), BEÁTA NYÚLNÉ PÜHRA (Nyakas Pincészet), FRUZSINA OSVÁTH (Sauska Borászat), ERIKA RÁCZ (Sanzon Tokaj), JELENA SZAVERCSENKO, (Kern Bor- és Pezsgőház), KATALIN TÓTH (Tóth Ferenc Pincészet), VIVIEN UJVÁRI (Ujvári + Barta Pince), MÁRTA WILLE-BAUMKAUFF (Tokaj Pendits), KATA ZSIRAI (Zsirai Pincészet)

Photos courtesy of Borsmenta, Ferenc Dancsecs and Gábor Vető

 

Surprising Cabernet Francs from the northern shore of the Balaton

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The Borsmenta press club recently put 13 wines made from Villány’s favourite grape, Cabernet Franc, to the test, with some surprising results. Five were from its southern stronghold; however, the rest were selected from regions as varied as Szekszárd, Tolna, Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak and Badacsony. The line up included a range of styles, ranging from bright, light and fruity to more oaky and dense. We even tasted an intriguing white Franc.

The results were reassuring, yet also surprising, with Villány taking top place and joint second. However, the northern shore of the Balaton also turned up some real gems, scooping up joint second, fourth and fifth places. What’s more, number five is a real best buy, at just 3,000 HUF from Bortársaság!

_DRO71891. Kiss Gábor Pincészete Code 2016 (Villány)

A rich, mouth-filling, structured wine with ripe tannins and plenty of bright acidity. A chalky note, a touch of green bell pepper and some tertiary character creeping in add complexity. Nicely integrated oak and a salty, mineral thread running through it keep it fresh right till the end of its long finish.

_DRO71872. Bakonyi Péter Pincészete Bakonyi Siklos 2017 (Villány)

An attractive cornucopia of raspberry and blue berries with a touch of green capsicum and violets. Crisp acidity and slightly grippy tannins but lovely varietal character. An appealing cool mineral streak balances the ripe fruit and the wines ends with a long, elegant finish.

_DRO71842. Villa Tolnay Pincészet Csobáncz Cabernet Franc 2016 (Badacsony)

Beautiful ripe red and black fruit with redcurrants and cherry jam, maybe even a Mon Cheri chocolate or two. Lively, fresh acidity and fine ripe tannins give the wine a lovely framework, and it’s all freshened up by a cool, lean zip of minerals.

_DRO71814. Jásdi Pince Ranolder Vörös 2015 (Balatonfüred-Csopak)

A complex wine with fresh, ripe red fruit, including rosehip, cherry and crunchy plum. It’s showing some maturity with notes of tea and tobacco but also with a fresh zip of mineral, lime and green capsicum. Ripe on the palate with judicious oaking and smooth tannins. Balanced and long.

_DRO71835. Liszkay Pincészet Giuia 2016 (Balatonfelvidék)

A spicy blend of rosehip, redcurrants and sour cherries in cognac with a cool menthol note adding a breath of freshness and some complexity. There’s a pleasant green note and the tannins have a touch of grip. Bright crisp acidity and a long fresh finish.

Photos by Gábor Vető

Raising the profile of food and wine in Székesfehérvár

2019-01-12 12.34.53Sitting in the Hatpöttyös restaurant in Székesfehérvár, Viktória Fáncsi of the Pántlika winery laments the state of gastronomic culture in the city. This city of 100,000 inhabitants about forty-five minutes drive from Budapest once played a greater role in Hungarian life. During the Middle Ages, it was capital of Hungary and the first Hungarian kings were crowned and buried here. It boasts the ruins of one of the largest basilicas in Medievel Europe. However, nowadays it’s only the ninth largest city in the country and, perhaps due to its relative proximity to the capital, there’s a dearth of quality gastronomy and wine.

’There are over sixty restaurants’, says Viktória, ’but they mostly have the same wines, from Bortársaság. Nobody offers anything local. Anyway, many of the restaurants come and go relatively quickly.’ In terms of wine, there’s a Borhaló and one wine merchant, but nothing more. She’s been involved with trying to raise the food and wine profile of the city for the last ten years and has now organised the Nagy Fehérvári Bormustra (a walk around wine tasting event) for the fourth time. She tells us that on one of the previous editions, one lady called her up and asked her how far they would have to walk and what kind of shoes she should wear – a good indicator of how inexperienced the locals are regarding this type of event, which is practically a weekly occurrence in the capital.

We’re having lunch at the Hatpöttyös restaurant, a bright spot on the city’s 2019-01-12 12.40.03gastronomic horizon. Not only is the restaurant somewhere where you can always find a vegetarian option on the menu, it is the second restaurant in the country to be staffed mostly by disabled employees. It’s a serious undertaking – the restaurant serves up to 170 meals a day, including deliveries – and already has plenty of regulars who subscribe to its daily menu. This always includes a vegetarian option and something more traditional; they’re trying to bring back some old-fashioned dishes as well as do more trendy things.  Although only open at lunchtime (11-4, Monday to Saturday), the restaurant also does outside catering and organises wine dinners. They’ve laid on the food for today’s Bormustra too. Véra Nagy, the owner, tells us that all the servers working here are self-taught, none have done an apprenticeship. The chef, Imre Halasz, not self-taught, serves us up an example of what the restaurant is capable of – a salmon tartar tart with rocket, sweet potato soup with bacon chips, chicken breast roulade with herbs and goat cheese, served with pureed parsnip and roasted baby veg, and finally a chocolate brownie and mousse with fruits of the forest. Not bad for somewhere whose main profile is their lunch menu! Although they do have a chef’s dish or two each week.

We taste some local wines with and between courses. Véra apologises for the chunky wine glasses, saying that they don’t serve much alcohol during the week and they only really need them for big groups of pensioners at the weekend – and they don’t really seem to mind. Local wines, in this case, are wines from around Fehérvár (a short form of the longer Székesfehérvár), Etyek-Buda and Mór. Viki points out that there are increasingly good wines to be found around nearby Lake Velence.

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Weighed down by our delicious yet generous lunch, we head off to the Bormustra, 2019-01-12 17.18.39being held just a five-minute walk away. This year, there were a total of 25 wineries taking part – the usual suspects like Géza Balla, Koch, Holdvölgy and Etyeki Kúria – including 11 more local ones. Despite Fehérvár’s apparent lack of wine culture, Viktória told us she had no problem selling the 350 tickets and has enticed along four local restauranteurs for the trade and press tasting to try and get them to include some local wines on their wine lists.

As usual at these events, time was too short to taste as much you’d like. However, we managed to taste wines from Mór, Lake Velence and Pannonhalma.

Small family winery, Friday, from Mór showed a range of Ezerjó wines, including a sparkling and a rather oaky version, and two Chardonnays. They had used less oak on the 2017 than the 2016, so it was more balanced. They called themselves Friday, as it’s the best day of the week, said Gergely Németh, the owner.

Staying with Mór, Geszler winery showed their Mámor Ezerjó 2017, aged in untoasted oak. The idea being to bring back the old style – balanced, fresh and crisp, with well integrated oak and lovely acidity. We also tasted their Zenit 2017 (Ezerjó x Tramini), beautifully aromatic with a touch of residual sugar. Their aromatic Irsai Olivér 2017 and Vertes Kincs (Chardonnay-Zenit blend) were also very attractive wines.

Sáfrán winery, also in the Mór wine region, had a Csabagyöngy 2018 – which I’d never tasted before as a varietal wine. They say that they can pick this very early so it’s a good bridge between two vintages. It was floral, bright, aromatic with plenty of zesty lemon and a touch of white pepper. Perfect fröccs material.

Moving just to the north of Lake Velence to Pázmánd, Nagy Gábor és társa, whose vines are next to those of József Szentesi, showed us a lovely Zenit 2018 with plenty of tropical fruit, a beautifully restrained Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and a Kékfrankos 2018 tank sample, still fermenting a little, but shaping up nicely. We had tried his lovely Riesling 2015 with lunch, which was already developing attractive petrol notes.

Apró Kertek have 1.8ha in 8 or 9 small parcels, hence the name ’tiny gardens’. They had an intriguing blend of Csókaszőlő, Kékfrankos, Kadarka and Neró. The grapes came 25-30-year-old bush vines from three different vineyard parcels hence the name 3 Kert 2017. A juicy, bright very quaffable fruity wine with plenty of acidity, silky tannins and flavours of plum, cherry, spice and floral notes.

The Csóbor winery from Agárd on Lake Velence showed two very attractive traditional method sparklers, vinified by Szentesi, a Brut Natur from Riesling and Chardonnay which was fresh and crisp with an attractive mousse and a Brut from Zőldveltelini and Riesling with plenty of zesty green fruit.

We finished up in slightly further afield Pannonhalma with beautiful lively, mineral Riesling 2016 and bright, plummy Merlot 2015 from the Cseri winery and a very drinkable fruity Kékfrankos 2017 with plenty of crunchy cherry and cranberry from Babarczi winery.

So, blinded as we may be by the bright lights of more prestigious Hungarian wine regions, it’s worth seeking out wines from smaller wine regions that often fly under our radar, such as Mór, the Lake Velence part of Buda-Etyek and the more northerly region of Pannonhalma.

2019-01-12 14.34.28Oh, and if you happen to find yourself in Székesfehérvár during the day, do pop in and enjoy Imre’s cooking and the welcoming service at Hatpöttyös restaurant. You won’t be disappointed and certainly won’t leave hungry!

*Trip to Székesfehérvár organised by Borsmenta.

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

La Parilla

Once upon a time, in my former life as an English teacher, I used to teach at a bank on the corner of Szabadság tér in Budapest. Opposite the main entrance was a very sorry-looking building – blackened walls, held up by equally blackened wooden scaffolding.

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Szabadság tér is one of my favourite squares in Budapest, a large, open expanse, surrounded by magnificent buildings, thankfully now mostly in a good state of repair. KI_B6849-HDREven this derelict black building has been brought back to life and is now occupied by the luxury IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel, which opened in October 2016. An independent restaurant, La Parilla, now operates on the ground floor. It has an elegant red, black and beige interior designed by a Spanish designer and from April you’ll also be able to enjoy its terrace with a great view of my favourite square.

The food on offer is mostly Mediterranean style, but they also have great steak or DSC_3479mangalica and Hungarian food, as well as an impressive dessert menu.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to taste a selection of the wines from their 100-strong wine list, featuring both Hungarian and international wines and to sample the cuisine of chefs Peter Szabó and Balázs Papp.

Wines tasted:

AnDSC_3499na de Codorniu Rosé Brut / Spain, Penedés

Anna de Codorniu Rosé Brut is the rosé version of Codorniu’s most iconic sparkling wine.

Elegant and subtle, made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. A fresh wine with cherry and strawberry notes and a fine mousse.

Gizella Barát Hárslevelű 2015DSC_3776

A vineyard selection from the Barát vineyard in Tokaj.

A rich, broad yet lively wine with intensive varietal flavours of tropical fruits, mango, lemon and lime.  It’s spicy with plenty of mineral notes and a long finish.

Bodegas Faustino, Rioja, Spain, Faustino VII white 2015

Pure Viura, aka Macabeo, better known for use in Cava.

Crisp and spicy with apple, peach and delicate, floral notes. Tangy on the palate with rich fruit and a fresh finish.

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Bott Frigyes, Rajnai Rizling 2015

A special wine using only eight tiny clusters per vine, selected in three tries, whole bunch pressing followed by spontaneous fermentation in barrel. Owing to the perfect vintage and biodynamic cultivation, it required only light filtering and no fining.

A wonderful wine, initially a little reserved, it opens up nicely to reveal a rich, floral, herbal and apricot nose with plenty of minerality.  Crisp and elegant. A wine to be savoured.

Masi, Veneto, Italy, Masi Masianco 2015

A winery better known for its Amarone, a dry red wine made from the red varieties used to create Valpolicella. This white is also made from partially dried Pinot Grigio and Trebbiano grapes.

Restrained but opens to show attractive tropical fruit aromas. Palate is a little chalky and strangely earthy but fills out on the mid-palate allowing the fruit to blend with a touch of honey. Finishes dry with a citrus twist.

DSC_3781Vida Öreg Tőkék Kadarkája 2015

Kadarka is the oldest grape variety in the historic wine region of Szekszárd and these vines date back to 1996-7. Kadarka is a thin-skinned variety, thus sensitive to the weather, so this is not made every year.

Light and elegant with a wonderful spicy nose. Soft but characteristic flavour of red fruits on the palate should be a real crowd-pleaser.

Heimann Barbár 2013

This wine, made by one of the most prominent winemakers in Szekszárd is named after a DSC_3759composition by Béla Bártok, the famous Hungarian composer. It’s made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tannat and Kékfrankos.

A dense nose followed by a vibrant palate of sour cherry, fruits of the forest, blackcurrant and dark chocolate coated prune. A youthful wine that’s both taut and flavoursome, but with still slightly grippy tannins.

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004

Produced from Rioja’s typical grapes of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo.

Intense, bright cherry red colour. Aromatic and complex, with notes of tobacco, cedar and leather against a background of ripe fruit, jam and spices. On the palate, powerful yet velvety, with flavours of rich red fruit, liquorice and minerals with smooth, ripe tannins with some spice and vanilla on the medium finish.

Peter Lehmann, Barossa, Australia, Futures Shiraz 2012

This is the winery’s top wine. Is named in honour of how Peter financed his winery – when he wanted to start making wine, he didn’t have sufficient capital, so, he asked people to pay in advance for his wines. Enough people seem to have trusted him and he’s still going strong today!

The wine is matured in French oak to integrate the intense, spicy fruit flavours, resulting in an approachable and supple wine. Deep red-black colour with a nose loaded with spicy plum and chocolate notes. The palate is firm and rich with a long finish, a legacy of the low yielding vineyards of the north-west Barossa.

HDSC_3779oldvölgy Exaltation 2012

Awarding winning dessert wine made from 100% Sárgamuskotály from the Nyúlaszó vineyard in Tokaj.

Luscious wine with floral aromas and notes of peach, honey, rose and lychee.

With our wines, we were served a selection of dishes including a blue cheese tart, olive jelly, breaded pork with homemade ajvar, and toast with chickpea and octopus cream.  Avocado and chocolate mouse and a mango tart kept those with a sweet tooth happy.

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La Parilla is open from 7 am for breakfast, there is a weekly lunch menu and you can dine until midnight. I was impressed by both the food and the wines on offer. Although, admittedly, the Hungarian wines we tried won the day for me. So, if you are in the vicinity of Szabadság tér, it comes recommended, especially once the terrace opens and you can look out on the square.