Category Archives: Kadarka

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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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!

An afternoon of ‘foxy’ wine

In this case, a ‘foxy’fuxli wine is not the kind of wine with strong musky, animalistic notes that reminds you of your grandmother’s fur coat or fox muffler, sometimes used to describe certain American grape varieties  such as Concord.

The wines I tried last week were Szekszárd Sillers, otherwise known as ‘Fuxli’. All the wines have a label with some kind of fox illustration, hence the name Fuxli.

You might be asking what on earth a Siller is. This is a summer wine, somewhere between a rosé and a light red. They are produced in the same way as a red, but are racked off their skins much earlier. Mostly after one to four days. They are usually fresh and fruity, with relatively high acidity and often a slightly bitter finish. Perfect for quaffing on their own or as a fröccs.

You can find Siller elsewhere in Hungary, but Fuxli is the name chosen to represent the renaissance of this style of wine, previously drupostank for three centuries, but brought back to life several years ago by a small group of producers in Szekszárd including Heimann and Merfelsz.

They have to be produced from at least 50% grape varieties from the Carpathian Basin, in this case, Kékfrankos and Kadarka, and the rest can be made up from other varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The 2014 Fuxlis will be on the shelves in a week or two and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the ten that were selected as Szekszárdi Fuxli this year. Two, apparently, did not make it past the selection panel.

This year you’ll be able to find Fuxli from the following producers:eszterbauer

  • Prantner
  • Markvart
  • Eszterbauer
  • Sebestyén
  • Mészáros Pál
  • Heimann
  • Takler
  • Posta Borház
  • Göndöcs Lajos
  • Merfelsz

I found this year’s offering to be rather dilute with high acidity, no doubt due to the poor year. However, they were mostly still quite drinkable summer wines. My top three (in no particular order) were:

Merfelsz (70% Kékfrankos, 30% Merlot) Nice and fruity with bags of cherry spice and some floral notes. More concentrated than most on offer. Well rounded and quaffable.

Posta Borház (85% Kékfrankos, 15% Kadarka) Concentrated ripe colour, bags of cherry and spice, with a slightly bitter finish.

Sebestyén (50% Kékfrankos, 50% Merlot) Unusually compared to most of the others, this wine had seen some oak (three months). Rich cherry and red fruits. Less bitter on finish than many of the others.

Hungarian wine word play

A little fun had by some DWCC participants after the conference

bor2Bwine

I recently attended the Digital Wine Communication Conference (DWCC2014) in Montreux.

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It was a fabulous event, attended by over three hundred wine professionals and enthusiasts. It was a great opportunity to meet some fantastic people, drink some delicious wine, look at some wonderful scenery and learn more about how to abandon my rather luddite tendancies regarding certain social media.

Following the event, I learnt that Hungary was among the top ten countries represented; the others being Switzerland, France, UK, USA, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Austria. I was pleased and surprised by this and commented. This sparked a great little thread with some Hungarian wine word play.

– Great. Hungary was in top ten. Who would have thought!

– We had a very strong presence from Tokaj which was brilliant … or maybe it was just people trying to get “free” wifi?

– What a noble-rotten thing to saybotrytised grapes

– It…

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Wonderful wines of St Andrea

St Andrea is a vineyard from the Eger region, which fashions some delicious wines.

Since they were established in 1999, after György Lőrincz, owner and oenologist, won a local wine competition with a wine he had made for his father and named after his wife, Andrea, they have won many awards and medals at both Hungarian and international wine competitions.

I was delighted to have the chance to taste a wide range of the wines, from quite a variety of vintages, I might add. Especially since Dr György Lőrincz himself presented them to us and gave us some background on the establishment of the vineyard and its development since then.

Ironically the wine with which Gyuri won the local Eger competition in 1999 was a Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape variety he no longer grows.

There were thirteen wines on our tasting list, the majority of which were not from this decade, so we were certainly in for a treat!

We started off with two very different whites: one from 2012 and one from 2003. The colour of the latter was just amazing.

Boldogsagós 2012boldogsagos

A crisp, dry wine with some flowery notes and a good backbone of minerality, clearly demonstrating its terroir. Fresh, with a touch of lemony zest on the palate. Delicious.

A vineyard blend from the ‘Boldogságos’ dülő, consisting of olaszrizling, szürkebarát (that’s pinot grigio to you and me), viognier and sauvignon blanc.

A quick trawl around a couple of wine webshops shows it to be retailing at about 3000 HUF.

Napbor 2003

A luscious deep golden colour in the glass. Aromas of marmalade, honey, peach and quince explode on the nose. It could almost be a Tokaj aszú! Doesn’t disappoint on the palate either – toast, honey, marmalade, vanilla also fill your mouth, with good underlying minerality and a slightly bitter note. Perhaps also a little honeysuckle. And a long, long finish. What a treat. And very fresh for an eleven-year-old Egri white.

A blend of chardonnay, olaszrizling and szürkebarát.

Just discovered it won bronze in the Challenge International du Vin, 2004, Bordeaux.

I’m quite sure you can’t buy this anywhere now, though!

Now for a couple magyalosof relatively old Kadarka’s, where we were able to compare two vintages.

Magyalos Kadarka 2007

Medium ruby, more secondary aromas on the nose – tobacco, chocolate, coffee, a hint of pepper and some cherry. A bit sherry like. On the palate, plums, caramel, coffee, cherry. Elegant and long.

Magyalos Kadarka 2005

Very pale in colour, almost amber. Tobacco and toast, caramel, coffee, sour cherry. Taste of aszú grapes. An almost perfume like note. Silky and smooth. Delicious.

Cabernet franc 2002

Currently one of my favourite grapes. Was great to try an older vintage. Medium ruby, a little sediment, but nice legs ;-). Rich chocolate, coffee, tobacco, coal, toast and black fruits on the nose. The palate backed all this up. Long finish. Yum!

Merlot 2003

Unfortunately, one bottle of this was corked and my tasting came from this..

Bikavér 2002

Medium ruby with a bit of sediment. The nose provided a blast of black cherry, chocolate, tobacco and a hint of sherry. The palate also gave a good dose of smoky minerality, leather, cherry liqueur, pepper, spices and coffee. Just like a good ‘bull’s blood’ should be.

Merengő Bikavér 2002standrea_merengo

This one fits into the ‘superior’ category of bikavér, rather than just the ‘classico’ like the previous one.

Deeper in colour with a very ‘dark’ nose. Smoky, slatey minerals again with a dose of chocolate and cherry. Elegant, ripe tannins. Oily texture, dense and full-bodied.

Merengő Bikavér 2006

This wine picked up a stack of awards, deservedly, both in Hungary and internationally.

Deep ruby, luscious dark fruits, chocolate and spice both on the nose and the palate. Rounded, well-interated tannins. Smoky and masculine. One to keep.

Merengő Bikavér 2007

Rich terroir wine from the Merengő dülő, full of smoky minerality. Chocolate, black, black fruit and liquorice. Just my kind of wine.

standrea_hangacsHangács Bikavér 2008standrea_aldas_egri_bikaver_2008k

Medium ruby. Again displaying a large whack of granitic minerality. A dense, complex wine bursting with black fruit.

Áldás Bikavér 2011

Amazingly, this wine is the vineyard’s ‘basic’ bikavér. The nose bursts with fresh, ripe black fruits. Chocolate and plum on the palate. A great, everyday, playful wine to quaff with friends.

(HUF 3250 from St Andrea webshop)

Valóban méltó Pinot noir 2009

Another delicious wine. Why break the trend, eh?

Pale ruby, verging on the transparent. Red, peppery fruit – raspberries and cherries. Mineral, smoky notes coming through once again. Surprise, surprise. Terroir, terroir…valoban_melto_2009

Our tasting list was now at an end, but another bottle was produced, a 2011.

(HUF 7590 from St Andrea webshop)

Valóban méltó Pinot noir 2011

Another example of a spicy, peppery, herbal pinot noir. Elegant and long. Wow

And another ….

Hangács Bikavér 2011

Smoky dark fruits. Elegant and balanced. Black cherry and spice. Granite and that terroir thing again.

What can I say. A fabulous tasting, with not a bad wine in sight, except for the unfortunate corked Merlot. Those who got the uncorked version confirmed it was delicious.

Many thanks to Gyuri and Gabriella Meszaros from Borkollegium for a fabulous evening with some delicious wines. Have now booked up quite a few of my Tuesdays for similar!