Category Archives: Hárslevelű

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.

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BMW test pilot turned winemaker

2016-06-05-12-00-41Crafting artisan wines on the basalt hill of Somló

If there is one region in Hungary, or indeed the world, that has the potential to hold its own against Tokaj, it has to be Somló, the country’s smallest appellation. A dormant volcano, once spewing out streams of lava under the Pannonian Sea, is now a characteristic basalt butte, topped by the ruins of castle, standing out from the flat plain of the Hungarian Kisalföld. The steep slopes of the Somló Hill are densely planted with tiny vineyards divided by stone terraces and peppered with small press houses. Poppies blow in the gentle breeze.

The wines of Somló are something special, characterised by honeyed fruits, dried herbs and exotic spice; they are heady, complex and dense with smoky salini2016-06-05 15.42.25.jpgty and minerality, sometimes developing a petrol-like intensity with age, akin to Riesling. Once you taste them, their magic will remain with you for ever. Celebrated since the twelfth century, their high acidity stabilised them so they could be successfully exported. They were a Royal favourite with the likes of Maria Theresa, Joseph and Queen Victoria. Famed in the past for their medicinal properties, they were stocked by Hungarian pharmacists and used to promote longevity and treat anaemia, high blood pressure, paralysis and liver complaints. The region unfortunately never totally recovered from the devastation of Phylloxera, later followed by collectivisation. However, it certainly has the potential to make world-class wines and regain its former reputation.

The wines gain their special character in part from the ancient basalt, volcanic soils with some sea sediment. The climate is moderately warm with just enough sunshine to ripen the grapes, the vines are caressed by winds, and the topsoil is quite thin on the top of the hill, allowing the sun to heat up the basalt bedrock, thus keeping the roots warm during the cool nights and helping to preserve a high level of acidity in the grapes. It is now mostly planted to white varieties typical in Hungary, such as Olaszrizling, Furmint, Hárslevelű. However, the region has another varietal card to play. Juhfark is the win2016-06-05-13-33-07e region’s most characteristic variety. Only grown here, it is named ‘Sheep’s Tail’ thanks to the long curvy form of the grape clusters. It was believed that if you drank Juhfark, you would be blessed with a son, so it became the favoured wine of the Hapsburgs in order to ensure their succession.

Legendary winemakers Béla Fekete and Imre Györgykovács have been crafting distinctive wines in the region for some time now, but there is another personality who has been helping to put Somló back on the map.

Partway up the hill, in the middle of the Ilona vineyard, lives the charismatic István Stephan Spiegelberg. István, as he is known by Hungarians, Stephan by Germans, was born in Berlin to a German father and a Hungarian mother. Laughing about these two names of his, he says, ‘If I’m here, then I’m German, if I’m there, then I’m Hungarian. I’m always a foreigner!’ He studied electrical engineering, but realised it wasn’t for him, so headed to Budapest where he worked as a technician for a folk-dance theatre starring Márta Sebestyen, owner of the haunting voice in the music of ‘The English Patient’. Returning to Germany, he end2016-06-05-15-39-02ed up in Munich where he worked for BMW in the research lab and later as a test pilot. They were looking for someone who didn’t like to drive, he quipped, otherwise they would most likely brake too quickly. Funnily enough, Munich is where I first met István, at a Hungarian folk dancing event, long before he rose to fame as a winemaker.

So, how does a BMW test pilot end up making wine on a volcanic butte with so little money currently that he says he can’t afford to whitewash the cellar and buy new furniture. As is typical in Hungary, István was despatched every year to spend the summer with his granny, and said granny just so happened to live at the foot of the Somló Hill, although she didn’t actually have any vines. István fell in love with this magical place and in 1993 bought a cellar constructed in 1823 with no running water or electricity as a weekend house. He became a winemaker by accident. Like many in Hungary, he began just making wine for himself. However, he had too much for himself and decided to bottle some, which soon proved popular. He started taking his ‘hobby’ seriously in 2004 and moved to Somló completely in 2007. Since 2010, he has been a superstar, he smiles, when he won Winemaker of the Year, followed by a trail of other awards. István is not only a legendary figure on the hill and in Hungar2016-06-05-15-44-55y, but also internationally, his wines have reached the US via Blue Danube and he was also named in the 2014 Top 100 List of Wines&Spirits Magazine. Yet, he didn’t study winemaking at any point, he’s self-taught, although he did get some guidance from the iconic Béla Fekete, who lives nearby. His winemaking, however, is all his own style. His wines are like him, unconventional yet elegant, stylish and multi-layered. He has always worked on experimental stuff, believing there are simply a few rules that help if you want to make good wine.

He does most of the work himself on his two hectares, although only one is currently planted. This is where he is most likely to be found, sporting his signature straw hat. He is moving towards organic viticulture and biodynamics, although he says that he wants to be somewhere in the middle, between industrial and totally biodynamic, as he believes that this does not reflect the terroir either, and Somló has a very distinct terroir indeed due to its soils, yielding wines with a distinct stony, salty character and often piercingly high acidity. István believes that wines made here lose their varietal character afte2016-06-05-15-52-13r time, increasingly reflecting the Somló terroir as they age. His wines are different from other Somló wines; they need time. He picks later than his neighbours and when we visited in early June, last year’s vintage was still fermenting. His cool barrel fermentations using native yeast can take up to one year to complete; he is a believer in slow winemaking. He still hasn’t sulphured the wines and maybe won’t even need to do so as he changed to biodynamics this year, he mentioned. They also go through malolactic fermentation, which is rare on the hill, so his wines are generally less acidic than others. Sometimes they also spend two years on their lees in barrel. He matures the wines in his cool ventilated cellar, to the strains of Gregorian chants as he believes they appreciate this. He still presses everything by hand, has very few pipes and racks manually if possible, a firm believer in minimal intervention. He uses a mixture of old and new 500-litre barrels, Austrian style but made in Hungary, buying a few new ones every year.

He greets us with his 2012 Furmint, his ‘morning wine’, he calls it, as it only has 11.5% alcohol. An attractive, structured wine with a clear salty, mineral character complementing the apple fruit. He doesn’t make it every year, as he has the least2016-06-05-15-54-40 of this variety. If he doesn’t have enough for at least one barrel, then it’ll go into a blend. His Furmint is on southwest-facing slopes along with his Juhfark and Olaszrizling; he rents another hectare on the northern side of the hill, where he has Chardonnay and Hárslevelű, which he turns into a blend.

His Olaszrizling, he says, is generally liked by Germans and Scandinavians. The minerality of the hill tempers the lower acidity of the grape, and the ubiquitous Hungarian variety gains uniqueness when planted on Somló, becoming more structured and delicate with an oily texture and a savoury, herbaceous character.  The Chardonnay is clearly a Somló wine, with the terroir and its mineral saltiness overriding the varietal. The Hárslevelű is a rich, full-bodied nectar of honey and peach with salty, stony undertones, and the Juhfark, the region’s flagship variety and the key variety for István, is rich and full-bodied yet elegant, with honey and perfumed quince complemented by salinity. The showstopper, however, was István’s 2011 Naszéjszakakák, ‘Wedding Night’, its name honouring Juhfark’s lege2016-06-05-13-36-08ndary attribute which may well be needed on the night in question, a beautifully balanced blend of Juhfark, Hárslevelű and Furmint with spice, honey, rich, ripe fruit and serious stony salinity.

István has two houses, idyllically surrounded by vines and fruit trees. He lives in one and rents the other to tourists. He also has two cellars, one filled with barrels and demijohns of fermenting wines where the wines age gracefully with their musical accompaniment; lit by candlelight playing on the sculptures which decorate its old walls, visiting it was quite an experience, as was the roasted suckling pig served in the other cellar, where he hosts larger groups for tastings, also illuminated by numerous candles gracing the wrought iron chandelier. It’s certainly worth a detour up the hill to meet István and sample his wines.

Aszú, a drop of golden nectar for the festive season

2016-06-02-18-54-34Advent, and Christmas, will soon be upon us and the question is what sweet tipple you should imbibe along with your mince pies or festive biscuits. Although not usually one to drink much sweet wine, I have learned to appreciate the delights that aged port, tawny or ruby, have to offer. Of course, in the UK, you would be tempted to go with a port, or maybe madeira, a drop of Sauternes or an unctuous sweet sherry; however, I currently reside in Hungary and there is something just as delicious and precious on offer, indeed many would claim far more precious. Tokaji Aszú, dubbed the Wine of Kings and the King of Wines.

What makes Aszú so special? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is perhaps one of the mostbotrytised-grapes labour-intensive wines in the world and it’s made from rotten grapes to boot. I can see the uninitiated beginning to pull a face right now. However, this isn’t just any kind of rot, it’s ‘noble rot’, a special type of rot called ‘botrytis cinerea’, which attacks the grapes, thinning the skins, sucking out the moisture and concentrating the sugars and flavours in the grape whilst not breaking the skins. The grapes, hence their must and the ensuing wine, also gain additional flavours from this botrytisation process. Aszú is also generally made principally with the Furmint variety, which is known for its high acidity, thus allowing a wonderful balance between all that unctuous sweetness and some fresh, zippy acidity.

The Tokaj region, where Aszú is produced, lies in the northeastern part of Hungary, sandwiched between and around the rivers Bodrog and Tisza, which give rise to morning mists in the autumn. Why is this important? Well, in order to develop, botrytis needs warm, damp conditions, and the microclimate in this area is just perfect for this. The morning mists are burned off by warm sunshine – just right for botrytis to develop and spread their fine fungal threads over the bunches of grapes.

_zmp0343-misolataTokaji Aszú has been made for centuries in the region. The story goes that the region was under attack by the Turks and the grapes were therefore left out on the vines long past the normal time as nobody set foot in the vineyards to do any work at this time. After the danger had passed, the large quantity of ‘rotten’ grapes were then used to make a late harvest sweet wine, the descendent of which we now know as Aszú. Legend has it that this wine was produced by the Calvinist preacher László Maté Szepsi, forebear of the prominent Szepsy family still residing and making wines in the region.

Firstly, the botrytised grapes, outwardly reminiscent of raisins, are picked individually from each bunch at harvest time. Women work through the vineyard in several tries, selecting and picking only these ‘rotten’ grapes; this is an extremely labour-intensive and costly process. Then, the grapes are placed in vats, where they are stored before perhaps being trodden into the consistency of a paste known as ‘aszú dough’ or simply processed. During this time, any extremely concentrated and sticky must that drips out of these perforated vats under the weight of the berries themselves will be bottled as ‘escenzia’, an even sweeter, and somewhat expensive treat, generally enjoyed by the spoon rather than by the glass!

This aszú dough or berries are then macerated in must, frementing must or wine from the same vintage_zmp0362 before being pressed and the resulting extremely sweet must transferred to oak barrels or vats where it will ferment slowly in a cool environment, perhaps for as long as several years; it will spend at least 18 months in Gönczi barrels before it is released for us to delight in.  You can find a visual representation of this process on WineSofa – Aszú-making infoposter.

So, what does this delicious, unctuous wine taste like?

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of the Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013, which I believe may be the one awarded gold and an incredible 97 points in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, so I’d like to share my experience of that here with you.

Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013

grand_tokaj_tokaji_aszu_2013(Alcohol content 9.5%, Sugar content 170.8 g/l)

The wine was made with 100% procured aszú berries. It was an excellent vintage so the berries were high quality and completely infested with botrytis. The aszú berries were mainly Furmint and Hárlevelű as well as smaller amounts of Zéta, Kabar, Kövérszőlő and Muscat grapes. The base wine was 100% Furmint and the aszú berries were added to the fermenting base wine after steeping for 24 hours. After pressing, fermentation took place in vats. The wine was then aged in new 500-litre barrels for a minimum of 18 months in the Szegi Cellar.

Tasting note

Attractive golden colour. Aromas of exotic lemon, acacia blossom, spice, ripe apricot, white peach and a herbal note. A balanced elegant wine with lively acidity, flavours of citrus, grapefruit, candied lemon, dried pineapple, honey, sunlight, almond, stone fruits and hay with a long, slightly salty finish. A concentrated, tangy wine with a long future ahead of it.

This was only one wine, and a relatively young one at that. If you are interesting in finding out more about the characteristics of Aszú, then check out this Aszú flavour wheel or get your daily dose of Aszú throughout Advent by following #KoccintsAszuval on Facebook, although you will probably need some Hungarian to do the latter!

 

 

 

Kikelet – A vineyard name with no ‘funny’ Hungarian letters!

I’ve been to a couple of interesting tastings this week or so. The first of which was a flight of wines from the Tokaj Kikelet pince run by Stéphanie and Zsolt Berecz in Tarcal since 2002.

tarcalIt was a particularly interesting tasting for several reasons:

  • The winemaker
  • The ‘entertainment’

The winemaker

The winemaker, Stéphanie, a graduate from Bordeaux University, came to work in Tokaj for three months in 1994, met her husband Zsolt and stayed put. They later bought a vineyard in Tarcal and tried to come up with a suitable name. Stéphanie explained that she had wanted to choose a word that contained none of those ‘weird’ Hungarian letters like gy, ny, ly, ű, ü, ö, ő, so that non-Hungarian speakers might actually have a clue about how to pronounce it. They settled on Kikelet, which has only ‘normal’ letters in it.

Stéphanie gave us a lot of interesting background about the vineyard, the soils and the vintages.

We tasted Furmints and Hárslevelűs from a couple of ‘dülő’s (individual vineyards and containing some of those lovely Hungarian letters) – Váti, Lónyai, the estate (birtok) and various vintages.

As much of the soil around Tarcal is a variety of volcanic soils, all of the wines displayed a high degree of minerality.

The flight:

Váti Hárslevelű 2011 – mineral, salty, crisp, lemon and honey

Birtok Furmint 2011 – mineral, lemon, almond and quince, with bitter notes

Birtok Furmint 2012 – bitter on nose, honey, smoky minerality, almond and quince. Still young, will benefit from another six months in bottle

Lónyai Hárslevelű 2012 – A premium wine, so entitled to be bottled in kikeletthe new style Tokaj bottles (the same shape as the aszú bottles, but 0.75l). Delicious rich mineral/smoky notes with honey, quince and almond. My favourite of the dry wines!

Váti Furmint 2012 – Salty, quince, honey and almond with spicy notes

Késői szüret 2009 – (Late harvest) Luscious sweet wine – mandarine, almond, mineral with some petrol notes (70% Hárslevelű, 30% Furmint)

Máslás 2004 – Golden honeyed notes, mineral, quince, some botrytis, kikelet maslasmandarine and toast. Also displaying some tertiary characteristics. 100g residual sugar.

And a final surprise, as Zsolt could not join us due to the harvest, he had sent along a bottle of Törköly pálinka. Yum.

The ‘Entertainment’

Some entertainment, quite inadvertently, was provided by someone who we could only assume was a regular to the wine bar when open for normal business.

He kept trying to gain access to the bar, while the owner tried to shoo him away. He finally succeeded in getting through the door and János decided to give him a pint (presumably to try and finally get rid of him). While he was waiting for the pint to be poured, he looked around at us winetasters and settled on me.’You’re swirling that glass like a pro,’ he slurred. The lady next to me pointed out, ‘perhaps she is an expert’.

The rather drunk regular was then escorted out with a pint. Within about two minutes, he stumbled back in with an empty glass. Everyone looked at him in estonishment. He got that down him quickly. He was engineering to get another, but János was not having it this time. Out he went.

He was fended off several more times, to the amusement of all, as he returned several times to peer hopefully in through the door. ‘That’s right,’ remarked someone at my table jokingly, ‘let’s not let in any of the regulars!’

He gained access once more with the promise of some Lécsó for János, so got another pint. János went out with him and he proceeded to demonstrate some large lamp he had brought with him, or so it seemed, switching it on and off as they hovered outside.

‘I’m surprised he can even stand up,’ remarked a fellow taster at one point. Whatever, he certainly provided a little light entertainment during the ‘serious’ business of wine tasting :-).