Category Archives: Olaszrizling

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Grasevina

First up were eight Croatian Grasevinas. Despite my reservations, I found myself enjoying most of them. We tasted vertical pairs of wines from 2012 and 2013. Particularly enjoyed the wines from:

Belje-Grasevina-VRH-0-218x654Vina Belje – the 2013 was fragrant, lemony with nice minerality and playful acids, the 2012 was a creamy, mature wine to keep, with notes of bitterness, tropical fruits and vanilla

PREMIUM-GRAVinarija Antunovic – 2013 was a light fruity, flowery tipple with hints of white peach and a slight bitterness at the end, 2010 was a full-bodied, off-dry, late harvest wine, an aromatic concoction of yellow flowers and tropical fruit with a rich creamy nose.

Quite impressed so far.

 

Olaszrizling October

oroctWell, we have a Furmint February, so why not an Olaszrizling October? Maybe next year there will also be Juhfark January.

I have to admit, I’ve always found it rather hard to get enthused about Olaszrizling, which is in fact the most widely planted white grape variety in Hungary. I generally associate it with being one of the constituents of fröccs in the summer, although admittedly I tend to the rosé or a more aromatic grape, such as Irsai Olivér or Cserszegi fűszeres, or even a nice Siller. In addition, it tends to be olaszrizlingthe plonk of choice at most underground borozó or kocsma, the kind of place you see people staggering into and out of in the morning, having imbibed some cheap gut rot, perhaps for as little as HUF 80 for 1dl (that’s 100ml to you and me). That aside, I generally think of it as a rather neutral-tasting variety. Crisp and fruity at best, horrible at worst; rarely my grape of choice.

So, as it was Olaszrizling October in Budapest and indeed the rest of the country, I decided to give Olaszrizling a second chance. First port of call, Nagy Olaszrizling Kostoló and three masterclasses: Grasevina (Croatian name for Olaszrizling), then and now, Olaszrizling around the Balaton and Csopak Codex.