Category Archives: Kadarka

Kadarka, the wine of freedom?

Dániel Kézdy, the powerhouse behind Furmint February and many other initiatives connected to Tokaj’s flagship variety is now turning his attention to another traditional Hungarian grape. This time he has set his sights on the oft-maligned Kadarka.

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On 15 March, the Hungarian national holiday celebrating the 1948 revolution, Dániel launched his new project in the Kálvária Pince in Budakalász, dubbing the variety ’the wine of freedom’. However, quips were soon made saying that Kadarka was perhaps just the opposite for winemakers as the variety is notoriously difficult to work with, thin-skinned and susceptible to just about any vineyard hazard, probably only produces decent wine three or four times every decade and requires the continual attention in the vineyard. But, that aside…

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Creating new traditions with Kadarka

Dániel believes the wine does not get enough attention, which I certainly agree with. In the right hands, and in the right vintage, Kadarka produces some beautifully elegant, light red wines. But, why the wine of freedom? Dániel thinks that the variety could be connected to this national holiday celebrating the Hungarians bid for freedom from the Austrians: spring is on its way, hopefully, although it was rather chilly this year, and Easter is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to promote and drink a lighter red wine.

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He gets lots of foreign visitors to the cellar, many of whom, especially the Scandinavians, considered Kadarka something really special and interesting. They particularly liked the light, elegant fruity versions. He feels that this is something that we should pursue. He’d like to create some new traditions with Kadarka on 15 March, to organise events around the variety, perhaps with open cellars and workshops.

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We started the tradition this year with a press tasting. Two winemakers from Szekszárd and Hájos-Baja, both strongholds of the variety, presented three wines each and then we tasted an additional flight of ten Kadarkas blind.

Sziegl Családi Pince

Balázs Sziegl, presented three of his wines and told us something of his background and philosophy.

His is a classic family winery based in the Hájos-Pincefalu – a village full of traditional old cellars – although he also has plots in three other villages. Kadarka is very close to his heart, he says, as their first place was in Kadarka utca and he also wrote his university thesis on Kadarka. This area was traditionally a Kadarka production area in the past, before the post-war planned economy put paid to it. In the sixties, pretty much everything ended up in state hands, which nearly led to the death of Kadarka. Previously around two-thirds of Hungary’s black wine grapes were actually Kadarka; it’s now less than 1%. Fussy thin-skinned Kadarka naturally didn’t react well to efforts to train it high and try to make it produce high yields.

Kadarka from Hájos

The area’s soils are loess and clay, with lots of limestone and sand on the surface. Kadarka was generally planted on thin sandy soils with around 80% quartz content, which reflects the sunlight, helping the grapes to ripen fully.

They have Kadarka on two plots – the Herreberg dűlő, which was planted in 2010, and the Kolostor-domb. This an intriguing hillock with cellars built around it, dug into the loess. On the top, the Sziegls found some old vines that were presumably so difficult to get to and work that they were left alone and not grubbed up during the years of communism. They were in pretty bad shape, but they managed to save two vines that are around 70-80 years old. They’re not really entirely sure of their age, but a neighbour of theirs who’s around 80 said they were already there when he arrived in the village.

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Balázs and his wife Petra, who he met in Villány, have been involved in wine since 2012. Their hearts took them back to Hájos in 2015 and they are now both working full time in their winery. They work with minimal intervention, open vat fermentation, seven to eight months in oak and just a touch of sulphur before bottling. They are also in the process of converting to organic cultivation.

People who put too much emphasis on Kadarka must be mad!

Balázs had always wanted to work with Kadarka, but his wife was against it as the variety demands so much work – you always have to be there to tend to it. However, he seems to have won her over, or perhaps worn her down, as they are planting some more Kadarka next week – Pécsi clones as well as one of their own – and are slowly increasing the number of Kadarka vines. He had attended a Kadarka round table a few years ago, where Péter Vida Snr from Szekszárd had stated that if more than 10% of your vines were Kadarka, then you must be mad! The Sziegls now have more than that and their six to seven years’ experience so far has proved the ratio of when you can produce good Kadarka – they have managed it only three or four times so far.

Producers from Szekszárd and two from Hájos (himself and Csaba Koch) had participated in the round table as well as Géza Balla from across the border in Romania, Frigyes Bott from Slovakia and Ernst Sagmeister from Serbia. It seems that they all had totally different philosophies and couldn’t really say what the common picture should be for Kadarka, i.e. what they were striving for with the variety. The only thing they could agree on is that it should be light, spicy and elegant.

Péter Vida

Péter Vida Jnr now takes over the reins from Balázs, telling us that Kadarka is an important vine for them too, like for many in Szekszárd. They truly believe in it, which is why it is one of the wine region’s main wines, along with Kékfrankos and Bikavér. They even have some old vines from 1920, which only yield about two to three bunches per vine, which they use for their Bonsai Kadarka.  The roots go down about ten metres and of course, they find a different range of minerals at that level. The Pécs University Research Institute selected vine material from this vineyard for their gene pool. There will be three or four new clones from these vines.

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While most people have Kadarka P9 clones as that was probably what was available, they have none. Their clones are different, generally with looser bunches. Balázs had told us earlier that one problem with P9 clones was that they have both big berries and bunches, so the grapes are tightly pressed together and may easily burst.

Although Kadarka is important to them, they still feel it’s really risky to have more than 10% Kadarka, so of their 23 hectares, only two are Kadaraka. Some also say a touch of botrytis is good for the wine, but they disagree and think purity is the most important. They also always pick early so there is no chance of the grapes drying out. This was helpful in 2015 too when the weather was extremely changeable and there was a big storm on 18 September and only those who had harvested beforehand had any Kadarka that year. They had picked the day before – it was as if his dad had felt something!

Ageing and vineyard selection

Péter feels that Kadarka has more to offer than many people believe. They are sending cases to the UK, where it is also listed in Michelin-starred restaurants. Also, as concerns Kadarka’s ageing ability, he has more faith than most. Although most think that you should drink it within two or three years, he recently tried one from 2003 that was still in good shape and he particularly likes their 2008 at the moment too.

There are also vineyard-selected Kadarkas in the pipeline from Szekszárd’s various meso and microclimates. They have also planted Kadarka in Barnya-völgy and Virághegy.

They have regular varietal tastings in Szekszárd and recently, he says, there was one were there were over 40! He gave up and went home to his family halfway. Those who remained said they were a rather mixed big and that only around 20 were any good. Some say that deeper, richer ones always score better in competitions, so we see plenty of unnaturally dark, tannic Kadarakas, but they are not interested in this. They prefer to produce fresh, light Kadarka, that is like Kadarka. They also prefer it unoaked, as did a British MW, Liz Gabay who had visited and tasted both oaked and unoaked versions. Kadarka should be light in colour, so if it’s dark, it’s most likely got something added to it (you are legally allowed to add 15% of something else without declaring it on the label).

Although the older generation are prejudiced about Kadarka due to the past, similarly to the Brits with German wine thanks to horrors like Blue Nun and Black Tower, the younger generation are not so negatively influenced and Kadarka is fast becoming quite trendy with them. Let’s hope more people pick up on its lovely quaffable, light character.

Blind tasting of ten Kadarkas

Our blind tasting of wines from various regions very much bore out what we had previously been discussing. That there is no clear style – some are more (too) oaky, some clearly have had something added to them to add colour and structure, some older Kadarkas still had nice freshness, although some were also rather past their peak, and the lighter, fruitier versions generally went down better.

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So, is Kadarka worth bothering with despite its fickleness? Most definitely! I’m looking forward to Dániel’s further initiatives and our next ’Wine of Freedom’ masterclass next year.

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Bikavér – a work in progress

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Every year, the winemakers of Szekszárd and Eger present their Bikavérs in a joint tasting in Budapest. This year saw its sixth edition with winemakers from both regions presenting their current and, in some cases older, vintages of this regional speciality. The two regions are working together to promote this most Hungarian brand and the Bikavér Párbaj is a good opportunity to taste wines from the two regions side by side.

What is Bikavér anyway?

Now, if you’re not from Hungary, your first question might be ’What is Bikavér anyway?’ And how can it be the regional speciality of two distinct wine regions which are not even located next to each other?

Both regions lay claim to the term Bikavér for their full-bodied, fiery red blends based on Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch). Naturally, they argue, hopefully good naturedly nowadays, about who used the name first.

What’s in a name?

Eger have an appealing tale about how their wine got its name based on a story in which defenders of its citadel drank up the citadel’s red wine stores when they feared they were about to be overrun by the Turks. Legend has it that the soldiers were so emboldened by the wine, i.e. drunk, that they fought with surprising aggression and saw off the Turks, who reported that the Hungarians had been mixing bull’s blood with their wine to give them courage. Bikavér is the Hungarian for bull’s blood – the name that the wine was marketed with in English-speaking countries in the past.

Szeskszárd’s story is a little less romantic, simply that János Garai, an eminent Hungarian poet praised the colour of Szekszárd’s red wine in one of his verses, likening it to bull’s blood.

So, both regions still use the name for their red blends. It’s a blend based on Kékfrankos (minimum 40% in Szekszárd, and between 30 and 60% in Eger). Szekszárd also requires minimum 5% Kadarka. The rest of the blend in both regions is then made up of a combination of other permitted black varieties. This tends to be a bit more rational and restricted in Szekszárd, the smaller of the two regions, and is generally Bordeaux varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Heimann winery also add a dash of Sagrantino to theirs! Eger, however, has a huge range of permitted varieties and hence Bikavér here could contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Blauburger, Turan, Syrah and Menoir, to name but a few.

A kaleidoscope of styles

As you can imagine, this does not lead to a particularly uniform image of the style, especially when you then add in the various quality levels defined in each region. Eger has three – klassikus, superior and grand superior – whereas Szekszárd has two – standard and reserve. Let’s not even mention the sea of substandard, bottom-shelf wine pumped out by many large producers, still churning out the same poor quality wine that got Bull’s Blood a bad name in past decades.

In search of a style

Prominent wine journalists, educators and other experts meet each year prior to the tasting in a panel chaired by Gabriella Mészaros to discuss an aspect relating to Bikavér or one of the wine regions. In the past, we’ve considered how well modern Bikavérs are ageing, styles of Kadarka and rosé. This year, we looked at eight wines from the 2016 vintage (a cool year with lots of rain, but a consistent summer without any severe heatwaves), four from each wine region, to see how much progress is being made with consistency in terms of quality and style.

One of the main issues of our session was brand-building and the fact that to build a brand, you need both reliable quality and consistency. The situation regarding consistency is improving with winemakers tasting together more often. This is naturally easier in Szekszárd where there are fewer winemakers, fewer hectares and fewer varieties, making finding a direction somewhat easier than in Eger. Eger also has a bigger issue with quality as it is home to large producers, some relics of the Communist era, who are responsible for churning out the cheap, poor-quality plonk referred to above. This also creates a problem for the brand as it stretches from bottom-shelf quality up to prestitious, well-crafted wines commanding high prices. Could the lower quality wines be somehow rebranded, e.g. to Óvörös, if some kind of purity and reliability could be guaranteed, posits Gabriella.

Changes for the better

The style of the wines is clearly changing from the tannic, oak bombs of the past, to fruitier, more elegant styles. This is helped by the fact that consumers are also becoming more discerning and their tastes are changing. While there are of course some who still seek the tannin rush, and a number of winemakers who cater to this, more people are looking for fruit-forward wines with some finesse. Progress has clearly been made in this area.

Terroir wine?

Another question which arose was whether Bikavér should be linked to terroir. Of course, there is already clearly a difference in style between the two regions. Egri Bikavérs are generally creamier, more tannic and more structured, despite lying further north. Szekszárdi Bikavérs are typically softer, more textured and leaner thanks to its loess soils and warm. dry summers. Beyond this, vineyard-selected wines come into play too, with three of the wines tasted coming from specified vineyards.

The wines

Our first pair of standard Bikavérs demonstrated the fact that the wines are becoming less oaky and more fruit forward, with a greater focus on good acidity. However, they were very different indeed, with Tibor Gál’s TITI clearly showing its Pinot Noir component. The Takler Bikavér was far more elegant and less heavy-handed with oak than in the past.

The second pair from Szent Gaál and Nimrod Kovács (Rhapsody) were demonstrably more oaky. The lesson here being how the quality of the oak and its integration can come to dominate the wine if there is insufficient fruit behind it or the oak is of poor quality. The fruit in the Szent Gaál wine was unfortunately masked by the grippy tannins of the oak, whereas the fruit concentration of the Rhapsody was able to stand up to the clearly high-quality oak.

The third pair clearly showed how important terroir is for Bikavér with the Péter Vida’s Szekszárdi Bikavér demonstrating the soft, lean elegance of Szekszárd and St Andrea’s Hangács vineyard-selection (Egri Bikavér Superior) showing what Eger, and in particular the Hangács vineyard, is capable in terms of concentration and creaminess.

The final pair was a good illustration of what top Bikavérs aspire to. The Sebestyén Csilla and Csaba Ivan Völgy Szekszárdi Bikavér went head to head with the St Andrea Merengő Egri Bikavér Grand Superior. The Sebestyén Bikavér was felt to come close to representing a Bikavér benchmark – with ripe, spicy fruit, elegance, vibrancy, balance, complexity and great length. The Merengő, on the other hand, was a clear representation that Eger wines generally take longer to be approachable than those from Szekszárd. It also demonstrated the difference between the Hangács and Merengő vineyards, in that the Merengő wines tend to need more time before their optimal drinking window.

The tasting bore out much of what we had discussed at the beginning – that the wines are generally improving in quality and something resembling a style is now beginning to emerge, especially in Szekszárd, that showcases this Kékfrankos-based blend. The wines are becoming more elegant and better-quality oak is being used more intelligently. However, Bikavér is still far away from having a clear enough style and consistent quality (which I saw later in the grand tasting in particular) for it to be considered a brand in its own right, especially internationally.

Bikavér is still very much a work in progress, but progress is being made.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Bikavér’s past, present and future, you can read about it in my WineSofa article from two years ago, based on the 2016 discussions.

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

 

The magical world of Vida’s Szekszárd

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The new labels for Péter Vida’s wines were launched in Budapest this week. Collaborating with a top Spanish graphic designer, Xavier Bas, the labels signify a new phase in the life of this Szekszárd winery.

Since winning Winemaker of the Year in 2011, Péter Vida and family have been working vida5hard in the vineyard and winery, replanting vines and revamping technology with the goal of producing top quality wines that reflect the Szekszárd’s terroir. Péter admits that the first years leading up to this were not always easy; however, they are now poised for a change of image and a tightening up of their range.

vida1A year ago, they decided to change their image as it was frustrating that their labels didn’t show what they wanted to say about their wines. They sought someone closely aligned to themselves and their ideas and found internationally acclaimed Spanish designer Xavier Bas. They sent him some of their wines to try. He was won over and soon came to visit them in Szekszárd.

Xavier said that he discovered three things there:

  • The labels didn’t show anything about Péter Vida, winemaker and family and their love for wine and its creation. It’s very difficult to communicate anything, he feels, if the winery is not unique and real.
  • The labels didn’t reflect the concrete, specific character of Szekszárd and its roots and landscape. They didn’t show the spirit, work, villages, grapes and forest.
  • They had a complex and diverse range of wines.

At the same time, they also realised with so many wines, their message about Szekszárd and the winery was being diluted, so they decided to pare the number down to just seven, broken down into three categories, which should all, of course, be connected to Szekszárd.

The first category, aimed at the supermarket shelves, should be popular, light and quaffable and comprises a rosé and two reds – Tünderrózsa (’fairy rose’), a light, fruity yet elegant rosé from Pinot Noir, Kékfrankos and Kadarka, Tündértanc (’fairy dance’), an elegant Kékfrankos-based blend, supplemented by smooth Merlot and Ölelés Merlot (’embrace’), a vibrant, elegant Merlot, an important grape for the winery.

The labels for this range feature fairies and conjure up the magical world of Szekszárd with fairies dancing in its forest and valleys. They are enchanting and eye-catching, perfect for attracting the attention of the casual consumer and connecting with them. Péter says that when you drink Tündertanc and close your eyes, you can see fairies dancing.

The second category are the Szekszárd wines, that is those wines considered the true reflection of the region and permitted to use the specially designed Szekszárd bottle – Kadarka, Kékfrankos and Bikavér. The labels here are different but demonstrate commonality and relate to the Szekszárd landscape.

The old-vine Kadarka (from vines planted in 1920) is characterised by an image that is a mixture of a vine and a bonsai tree. This was inspired by their Japanese distributor once visiting the gnarly, centenarian bush-trained vines and seeing their similarity to the bonsai – both requiring care and daily work. Petér says that the image ’aims to convey the sense that the wisdom of the plant is bigger than that of humans, even if it is diminutive in size.’

vida10The Hidaspetre Kékfrankos label features the woods above the deep loess which Xavier saw on his visit to the vineyard along with a deer that Péter pointed out inhabit the woods too. The design reflects the wine’s origins and connection to life.

The Bikavér label shows the wine’s relationship to its valleys and vineyards. Xavier used an old photograph as the basis for his design.

He also changed the logo so that it expresses Péter and the town of Szekszárd – this is now the tree of life. The vine represents the main element of wisdom and the passage of time, so is a kind of tree of life.

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This is used on their flagship wine La Vida (Merlot backbone, with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% of Szekszárd character from old-vine Kadarka). The use of the tree of life is also a great play on words, as the family name ’Vida’ also means ’life’ in Spanish.

What is also refreshing is to see that the labels put the winery’s name into the background and emphasise the wines themselves together with Szekszárd. Péter Vida Jr stresses that their aim is to promote Szekszárd and its wines, rather than just the winery.

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I’ve always loved Vida’s wines. Now I love their labels too!

*All photos courtesy of Wineglass Communication

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.

Sebestyén summer drinking

P1020327On a visit to Sebestyén Csaba’s winery in Szekszárd earlier in the year, I was fortunate eP1020325nough to be presented with some wines to be tasted at my leisure, their tasting room being under reconstruction at that moment in time.

As the weather at the moment does not really lend itself to tasting (and enjoying!) full-bodied reds, which comprised half the goodie box, I decided to taste two wines more appropriate for summer drinking, the 2014 Cserszegi Fűszeres and the 2013 Kadarka.

First up, thP1020527Cserszegi Fűszeres. A refreshing, light summer wine, with crisp acidity. Spicy and rich with a burst of exotic fruits. Perfect as an aperitif in this hot weather.

The Kadarka, a cultivar very typical to Szekszárd, was a beautiful bright ruby colour, with spicy aromas P1020526of cherry and raspberry, with a touch of herb and some earthy notes. Smooth round tannins and fresh acidity make this a perfect light summer red. Delicious.

Cheers Csaba!

Quo Vadis Kadarka?

Since the fall of Communism twenty-five years ago, Hungary has been trying to rebuild its wine industry once again and restore the image of quality wine which many of the regions in the country had once been known for. During the cold war period, Hungary was pushed to churn out gallons of low-quality wine to serve other countries in the Eastern Bloc. Most of its vineyards were turned into cooperatives and quantity was the main goal, not quality.

Since then many winemakers have been making efforts, and succeeding, in doing just the opposite, producing innovative, quality wines and increasingly focussing on indigenous varieties such as Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Irsai Olivér and the unpronounceable Cserszegi Füszeres.

However, unlike countries like France, Italy and Spain, where most renowned wine regions are known for producing either wine in a certain style, full-bodied reds from Bordeaux, or from certain grape varieties, e.g. Pinot Noir in Burgundy, the majority of people look blank when asked about Hungary. If you are very lucky, they may come up with Tokaji, most probably meaning aszú, but are unlikely to know what grape variety it is made from. They may indeed proffer Bull’s Blood if they remember the days of the full-bodied, yet at that time rather rustic, red wine from Eger which could be found on the UK supermarket shelves in the 80s and 90s. Indeed, even within Hungary itself, the identities of many of the wine regions are not particularly clear to the majority of people, perhaps not even to the winemakers themselves, who are often producing a vast range of wines from an array of grape varieties.

Some regions are now trying to create a more homogenous image for themselves. For example, Csopak has created a Codex, focussing on Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Villány with Cabernet Franc and, of course, Tokaj with its sweet wines, in particular aszú, and now increasingly flavoursome and full-bodied dry whites from Furmint and Hárslevelű in particular.

Another such region that is making a concerted effort to build a consistent and positive image of itself is Szekszárd. This is a wine region located in the south of Hungary, generally known for its full-bodied reds. Typical wines produced in Szekskárd are very often based on Carpathian Basin varieties, such as Kékfrankos and Kadarka, either varietals or as a blend, e.g. Bikavér (Hungarian for Bull’s Blood) like in Eger. Moves are being made to focus on these particular wines. A new slogan has been chosen by the winemakers – Szekszárd – Kulcs a szívedhez, i.e. key to your heart, and a tasting of mostly these wines took place recently at the prestigious Corinthia Hotel in Budapest.

Questions, however, still arise. Even if they focus on these varietals and kinds of blends, what should they actually be like? What style wines should be produced? What should a bikavér consistent of? What should a Kadarka be like? Has anyone outside this region actually heard of it? Should it try to ape Pinot Noir? To which it is similar in some ways, being a thin-skinned and sensitive variety producing pale, light wine.

P1020375These questions are obviously being considered by the wine region and winemakers themselves. Research is being done. Clones are being collected. Regular tastings are held, both by the winemakers themselves and for the general public around the country, such as the event two weeks ago.

In connection to these large public tastings, a select gathering of wine writers, academics and other professionals under the expert tutelage of Gabriella Mészaros gathers prior to the large events in order to taste according to a certain theme and to consider such questions in the light of the wines tasted. Whether Bikavér can age well was considered earlier in the year and this time we were looking at various styles and ages of Kadarka.P1020376

Various themes have been connected to Kadarka for the last few years:

  1. The variety itself and its character. Which direction should Kadarka wines go in? Many wines are now produced in a more structured, spicier direction, with more intensity, colour and tannin, perhaps due to the new world influence, as that is often what competition juries are looking for.
  2. Kadarka as a grape. What is Kadarka actually? Thirty concrete clones have been collected. In addition, there are various cultivars known as Kadarka, but which are not actually Kadarka.
  3. How to attract ‘regular red wine drinkers’ to this lighter style of wine

There is currently 700-800 ha of Kadarka planted in Hungary, with an increase of 10% in the last years, most of which is in Szekszárd. Eger is the second region in Hungary where Kadarka is on the increase; Nagy Eged, with its limestone soils, makes some nice, elegant wines. Szekszárd itself produces generally reliable, good, average quality, although there are some outstanding examples, too.

The main problem appears to be connected to its type. It’s a bit like Pinot Noir, similar in that it’s not like normal reds – thin skins and low tannin – so it is difficult to categorise, although generally does not produce wines of such high quality as  Pinot Noir. There is a clear need to create an identity for it. The ‘picture’ has started to crystallise a little over recent years – a pale, light wine with crisp acidity, spicy, but without overcooked fruits. It should perhaps be considered on a national level how to do this, not simply on a regional basis, which seems to be the case at the moment (not only for Kadarka in particular); how to create the image of an outstanding Kadarka.

P10203742014 was an unfortunate year for Kadarka due to the poor weather conditions and extreme rainfall, particularly coming at harvest time, making it difficult to harvest healthy grapes, thus a lot or rosé was made instead of red, two of which we tasted to begin with. The first from Mészáros Borház was an attractive pale pink with a clean fruity nose, crisp and refreshingly dry, with bags of elegant red fruit, particularly cherries and strawberries. The second, from a well-known producer, was clearly out of condition, lacking in fruit and with a rather cidery touch to it. We planned to give it a second chance at the end, but unfortunately ran out of time.

The reds were a mixed bag to say the least, with a fair few again having some kind of fault. One or two were not even in a condition in which it was possible to taste them.

Some were light, easy drinking reds, like Kadarka is generally perceived to be. For instance, the entry level “Sógor” Kadarka P10203772013 from Eszterbauer Pince. A pale ruby wine with clean, spicy red fruit, some herbal notes and touch of cinnamon on the finish. An elegant, balanced light wine – a good example of a Kadarka.

Others were attempting to be more full-bodied and structured, with greater and lesser degrees of success. Given that Kadarka is usually rather low in tannins, many of them were overly tannic, perhaps due to poor use of oak, or poor quality barrels, particularly in one or two of the older wines – we tasted back to 2000. Some excellent samples came from Heimann Családi Birtok. The 2011 had a pale purple colour with a pronounced perfumed, even floral nose, full of fruit – sour cherry, spice, pepper and rosehip on the P1020378palate. The 2007 was pale garnet with a slightly oxidised character that lovers of fortified wines such as a Tawny Port would be sure to appreciate. Nutty, caramel, prunes, figs, tobacco all filled the nose and mouth. Not much fruit remaining, but very complex and rich. An older treat. Bodri Pincészet’s 2009 was also a treat. A pale garnet wine, with cherry, tobacco, baked spiced fruit, plums, sour cherry punch, cigar and toast all assailed the senses. A long finish but rather high alcohol. Vida Családi Birtok’s Öreg tőkék Kadarkája 2003 was a good example that Kadarka does indeed have the potential to age, and elegantly too. Cherry jam, tobacco, spicy pepper and some herbal notes were intertwined with purple flowers and anise. A complex, intense wine that would be best enjoyed with food.

So what could be concluded from this? The wines were a real mixed bag – some light and fruity, some overly tannic and full-P1020379bodied, some elegant and balanced. Some had aged well, some less so. Clearly there is no concrete identity for Szekszárdi, or Hungarian, Kadarka as yet. There is certainly a lot of work to be done. Should Kadarka be what it truly is, or should it try to conform to the red wine drinker’s image of what a red wine should be? It will be interesting to follow what advances are made in this direction in both Szekszárd and on a national level.

We finished up with a Kadarka Törkölypálinka – egészségedre!