Category Archives: Grape Varieties

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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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.

DSC_3743

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.

A new name for the Riesling pretender?

Olaszrizling is Hungary’s most widely planted white variety. Its name often leads to confusion as it can be translated as Italian Riesling. However, the variety is not Italian nor is it related to Riesling as far as we know. Indeed sometimes Hungarians simply refer to it as Rizling, which admittedly I find rather confusing. Riesling is known here as Rajni (Rhine) Riesling.olaszrizling_1

Three Balaton winemakers’ associations have decided to try to put an end to this confusion, especially as regards export markets. The Balatoni Kör (Balaton Circle), Rizling Generation and Csopaki Kódex are part of an initiative seeking a new name in Hungary for the variety. Although interestingly, the Italians call it Riesling Italico, it is known as Welschriesling in German-speaking countries (it’s grown widely in Austria) and Graševina in Croatia, by which it is referenced in ‘Wine Grapes’. As Hungarians generally consider this a Hungarian variety, many felt somewhat snubbed when Graševina was the name selected for use in this mighty reference tome.

Of course, you can’t just change the name as you wish, any new name has to be approved by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) headquartered in Switzerland.

So, what names are on the table?

Oris – This name reflects its current name of Olaszrizling, i.e. a merging of the two words.

Nemes – This name aims to identify the variety as a noble variety, not a mass wine, which many consider it to be, given that it is often sold as bulk wine for very low prices. In northern Europe, it also has the reputation of being rather poor quality due to large quantities of Yugoslavian Laski Rizling exported under communism. Although the variety is capable of producing attractive, concentrated wines if the yields are controlled. The word nemes means noble in Hungarian.

Mandola – This name probably refers to the almond note which is one of the typical flavour and aroma characteristics of Olaszrizling.

So the race is on for a new Hungarian name for the variety. But what about the name Welschriesling, which also contains the word Riesling? English speakers will often refer to the variety by this name too and then it gives the impression it is from Wales, i.e. Welsh Riesling. However, Welsch doesn’t actually mean Welsh in German, it means Latin, Southern European or foreign. Welsh is actually Walisisch in German. But now perhaps I’m being over picky.

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

 

Purcsin

So, has anyone heard of Purcsin? Otherwise known as fekete purcsin, gerzset, kék purcsin, királyédes, kisfekete, kökényszőlő, partinka, pelyhes, porcsin, purcsény, römer blauer, schlekentraube, purchinok, purczinok, tokaj barleana, tokaj di barlessano…

I hadn’t either until very recently.

Antal Kovács of Pincearon alerted guests at one of his tastings that a small quantity of Purcsin had been made by Zsolt Sándor and he would be making bottles available, but only to his mailing list…. Curious, I resolved to subscribe for a bottle. However, I was subsequently on holiday and missed the mail.  Thwarted yet again in trying an interesting wine from Zsolt!

However, Antal fortunately then planned a tasting of three winemakers, one of which was Zsolt Sándor. There would be four wines from the winemaker from the Bükk: a Cserszegi fűszeres (the next vintage of the wine I previously missed trying!), two Zweigelts and, yes, the Purcsin! I signed up immediately…

2015-11-11 20.02.40What is Purcsin? As you can see, it is a grape of many names… For legal reasons, he couldn’t put Purcsin on the label at the moment, so he put all its other names!

It is a local variety that was prevalent in Tokaji, the Mátra and Oradea before phylloxera struck. It was mentioned for the first time in the context of the Tokaji-Hegyalja region. Apparently, you can also make aszú from it too, which is probably why it ended up in Tokaji, as a result of its susceptibility to botrytis.

It has pretty much died out now, but for a couple of rows at the Oremus winery in Tokaji, from which this curiosum was made.

Purcsin has not been commercially available for more than a hundred years, so it was a kind of honour to have the chance to try it. Only 53 litres were produced, although Zsolt has now planted three hectares in the Bükk from which he plans to produce Purcsin in the future. He also plans to plant Balafánt, another local variety.

The wine was macerated for 25 days on its skins and produced a fruity yet complex wine with bags of plum, blueberry, raspberry, cherry and blackberry. It has a lovely floral note reminiscent of parma violets, underlaid by a leafy, tobacco element and a cool minty note. Soft tannins and lively acidity complete the picture.

I am looking forward to trying the wine from his own vines in the future!

 

 

 

 

Somló

somlo picSomló is Hungary’s smallest wine region, comprising 599 hectares. It is situated in the North-west of Hungary in Veszprém county. The wine region is on the slopes three extinct volcanoes, which gives the wines a unique smokey nose and palate. Wines from the Somló region are white and typically made from Hárslevelű, Furmint, Juhfark, Olaszrizling, Traminer and Chardonnay.

In the past, the region consisted of large vineyards owned by the nobility or religious institutions, such as monasteries, whereas now it is dominated by small plots, many of which belong to hobby winemakers.

The climate is moderate, with a mild winter and an early spring. Summer temperatures rarely reach above 25 degrees Celsius and the autumns are warm sunny, thus providing ideal ripening conditions for the grapes. The basalt of the hills retain the heat and act as storage heaters on chilly days.

In the past, the wines of Somló were said to have rivalled those of Tokaj. Indeed it is said that many Habsburg kings and emperors enjoyed the wines of Somló.

As a result of the basalt, loess and sandy soils, the moderate windy climate and traditional, oxidative wine-making, the wines tend to have a unique acidic, mineral taste and usually age well.

Furmint Február

Going to a major wine-tasting event with still relatively blocked sinuses is not really conducive to sniffing and t2015-02-05 15.43.20asting ability. However, it is Furmint Február and this also means the annual Nagy Furmint Február Kóstoló held at the scenic Vajdahunyadvár in Városliget, so I gave it my best shot.

Seventy-nine producers from around Hungary and across the border were offering up their wines for our delectation. With five hours to taste, not much chance of trying them all, but I managed to taste a fair few – from around thirty producers, mostly from Tokaj or Somló, but also one or two from elsewhere, such as Eger. Dulled senses prevented me from being overly analytical, but still got a good impression of the quality and range of wines on offer.

I didn’t really taste any of the sweet and aszús, concentrating mainly on the dry and off-dry offerings.

Some highlights:

A 2013 blend from Bott Frigyes, Super Granum, which included not only Furmint but also Hárslevelű and Juhfark. The Juhfark had been macerated on its skins for four days giving it notes reminiscent of szamorodni or orange wine. Delicious.

A fruity, crisp mineral Kikelet 2013 Váti Furmint.

A rich, fruity, honeyed off-dry 2009 Csontos Furmint from Bott Pince bursting with ripe stone fruit.

The interestingly named 2013 Furmintage from Portius – a mouthful of minerally peach, quince and tinned pear.

The concentrated and complex Demetervin Király Furmint 2013, produced exclusively from grapes harvested from the Király dülő’s upper slopes.

If you missed out on the ‘Grand Tasting’ and want to get stuck into some Furmint, there are still plenty of other Furmint-related events happening in February – http://www.furmintfebruar.hu/hu/programok/ (only in Hungarian – the English does not appear to work).