Kéknyelű 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 rows 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 and 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