Category Archives: People

Badacsony in the New York

Every year, the Badacsony wine region shows its best in the extravagantly ornate, historic New York Palace Hotel in Budapest. In previous years, it had been held the elaborately decorated New York Café, but from last year, it has taken place upstairs in the more functional Roma Hall.

While I miss the unique experience of tasting the wines from one of my favourite Hungarian wine regions among the pomp and gilt of the café, it was a pleasure to have more space for the exhibitors and the throng of visitors. Thus, you could move around more freely and taste, avoiding the heat and crush of the smaller venue.

Record number of visitors

And it was a good thing it did take place in this large venue as a record number of visitors, more than 600, turned out this year to enjoy the flavours of the wine region. 37 wineries and 13 other businesses related to tourism showed their wares. So, as well as tasting the unique mineral white wines, you could also try some local cheeses, salami and bakery products, such as cabbage strudel, and pick up some information to help you plan your next visit to the iconic region.Istvandy

The Badacsony hills

This year the exhibitors were organised by ‘hill’, so visitors were orientated even more by the micro-location of the winery and its wines, although naturally some producers do have wines on more than one hill. Badacsony is not only defined by the characteristics of the region as a whole, but also by its individual hills, truncated volcanic buttes and cones, such as Szent György-hegy, Csóbanc, Szigliget, Orsi-hegy, Abráhám-hegy and Badacsony itself.

If you wanted to learn more about the differences between the hills, you could do so in one masterclass whereas in the other, you could learn about food and wine pairing.

Borbely

Visitors could also vote on their favourite winery, wine and other exhibitor. Tamás Borbély scooped up the best winery award, his Karós Olaszrizling 2016 was voted the best wine and the Lábdi market the favourite among other exhibitors.

Regional wine shows like this are a great way to get a an overall feeling for what a wine region is all about, its key varieties and producers. I particularly liked the way it was organised by hill this year, so that if you had the inclination, you could take a look at what differentiates the hills from each other.

The wines

Olaszrizling, which I can usually take or leave, seems to produce lovely weighty wines with zippy acidity in Badacsony, and I also scored Tamás Borbély’s Karós Olaszrizling very highly, along with his Bács-hegy Olaszrizling 2015. Folly Arborétem also had a beautiful 2017 on offer as did 2HA Szőlőbirtok. Szászi’s Szent György-hegyi Olaszrizling 2017 was also wonderfully juicy, ripe and full-bodied.

Another variety out in force was Badacsony’s flagship wine in waiting, Kéknyelű, with attractive versions shown by Szászi, Laposa, Istvándy, Németh Pince, Folly Arborétum and again Borbély, whose wines certainly scored highly with me overall.

Modern cross Rózsakő is also producing attractive wines in the region. Watch out for Németh Pince and Bagolykő Pince’s Rózsakő. The latter’s Olaszrizling-Rózsakő blend Ketten was also a lovely zippy wine with plenty of bright fruit.

I also enjoyed a couple of Zöldveltelinis from Villa Tolnay and Büttner Borbirtok as well as a lovely Pinot Blanc, rare in Hungary from Fischer Borászat.

Villa Tolnay

Rajnai Rizling, or Riesling, is also producing increasingly attractive, zippy wines here. Maybe there is something in Philipp Oser of Villa Tolnay’s remarks that the northern shores of the Balaton could produced great Riesling – they just have to try harder!  The king here is Villa Sandahl, showing five different excellent Rieslings, but I also tried beautifully balanced zesty wines from Gilvesy, Istvándy (cut with a touch of Sárga Muskotály), Baló Ambrus and Folly Arborétum.

Reds were thin on the ground, given that Badacsony is primarily white wine country, and many had run out by the time I got onto the reds, but Szeremley had a lovely crunchy, still very youthful, 2017 Pinot Noir and Fischer Borászat a bright, fresh 2017 Zweigelt, which I enjoyed.

Now looking forward to my next visit to Badacsony itself!

badacsony hill

*Photos, except the last, courtesy of the organisers.

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It’s spring and Eger is calling

eger_tavasz_2_foto Busák Attila

Events in March

Eger is abuzz with cultural and gastronomic events. It also has a rich heritage which can be seen in its architecture and is, of course, the centre of one of Hungary’s most renowned wine regions. A wealth of gastronomic and music events as well as various festivals await visitors this spring.

Members of the Eger Wine Workshop are also hosting a number of interesting events: wine tastings, cellar visits, wine dinners and even markets.

14 March – Tóth Ferenc Winery – Wine and chocolate tasting

This evening will appeal to the chocolate lovers among us: eight different types of chocolate will be paired with eight different wines in the interest of finding the ideal synergy. What might tickle your fancy: the 2015 Kadarka matched with São Tomé dark chocolate, black sesame seed and lyophilised raspberries or the 2011 Cabernet Franc matched with Mexican dark chocolate, smoked salt and caramelised almonds?

The evening will be hosted by Katalin Tóth, manager of the Tóth Ferenc Winery, Viktória Szeleczky Takács, founder and creative artist of Fabric Csokoládé and Adél Bernáth-Ulcz, an expert at CsokiLaBor.

15 March – Launch of Egri Csillag

Egri Csillag became an overnight success a few years ago and turned into one of Eger’s favourite brands. This white blend can either be a light, fruity everyday wine or a substantial, oak-aged wine. The Hungarian National Holiday marks the day each year when visitors can taste the new Egri Csillag vintage from almost twenty wineries, participate in the traditional castle knights procession, enjoy concerts and continue celebrating into the night.

eger_tavasz_3_foto Busák Attila

20 March – Gál Tibor Fúzió – Fúzió Wednesday | Béla Vincze’s world

This evening event at Gál Tibor’s Fúzió explores the world and career of Béla Vincze, not just through his own wines but also through other things which come from different wineries but are connected to his stories. So guests can taste wines from other Hungarian and foreign producers. The event will be hosted by Veronika Gál.

21 March – Wine&Tech meetup Eger

How does the viticulturist-oenologist profession relate to modern technological inventions? What’s available and what should you consider for small or large wineries? The panel of guests will explain how different equipment is used in local vineyards and cellars. SmartVineyard will introduce their Vineguard device and startup Vinometer will introduce their wine-tasting app for smart phones. Young Eger winemakers will analyse the current Wine&Tech scene during a roundtable discussion.

23 March – Gál Tibor Fúzió – Slow Market

Slow Market is the modern day equivalent of a traditional fair. It gives visitors the chance to meet producers, artists and winemakers, chat with them and browse, taste and buy products, all in the spirit of Slow Living, i.e. calmly and at their own pace. This is a free monthly event offering natural, fresh, special delicacies, original folk and contemporary art and, of course, an exhilarating spring atmosphere

30-31 March – Hungarikum Picnic in Szépasszony Valley

Eger Bikavér has been declared a “hungarikum”, and Szépasszony Valley is the favourite meeting point for wine lovers visiting Eger. As in previous years, Eger has once again invited all the “hungarikums” to join in a common festival, so that they can showcase the best culinary products that Hungary has to offer in one place – Hungary’s largest and perhaps best-known historical row of cellars. As well as food and wine, there will also be concerts, folk art and entertainment for the kids.

For more information, please visit the Egri Bor Most Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/egribormost/

* based on a press release from Wineglass Communication, photos by Attila Busák

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 Winemakers’ Winemaker

In 2007, Pál Rokúsfalvy organised the Borászok Borásza – the Winemakers’ Winemaker – for the first time. He set up the award as he felt there should be an award where the winemakers themselves, the people who are actually behind the wines, have a say in who is Winemaker of the Year. Much progress has been made in the Hungarian winemaking world since the change of regime in 1989 and Hungarian winemakers are increasingly turning out wines that can compete with the best in the world. What better way to celebrate this than a competition which reflects their attitudes.

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The Carpathian Basin’s fifty best winemakers

Each year, winemakers nominate the Carpathian Basin’s top winemakers themselves. These fifty winemakers meet for a tasting circle, they then vote to decide on a shortlist of five, and finally another round of votes leads to the overall winner. This year, the tasting circle was also followed by an open tasting where selected guests and a limited number of the general public could taste the wines of the fifty nominees and the previous ten winners. An exclusive tasting indeed, held at the Larus Restaurant in Buda. This gave me the chance to find out a bit more about this award and, of course, to taste some of the wines of the top winemakers of the region, as selected by the winemakers themselves.

The Winemakers’ Friend

The Vinum Praemium Foundation was set up in 2009 to manage the organisation of the competition and since 2012, they have not only selected the top winemaker, but also a so-called Winemakers’ friend, which last year was awarded to British Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby MW. This prize goes to someone who has made particular contributions to the promotion and development of Hungarian wine. Previous winners of the award are Dr András Csizmadia, Helga Gál, László Alkonyi, Dr Gabriella Mészáros and Mária Borbás.

The 2019 contenders

The fifty winemakers in the running for the award this year are:

János Árvay (Árvay Pincészet), Károly Áts (Grand Tokaj), István Balassa (Balassa Bor). Géza Balla (Balla Géza Pincészet), Sarolta Bárdos (Tokaj Nobilis Szőlőbirtok), Károly Barta (Barta Pince), Jószef Bock (Bock Pincészet), Judit Bodó (Bott Pince), János Bolki (Bolyki Pincészet és Szőlőbirtok), Frigyes Bott (Bott Frigyes Borászat), Marcell Bukolyi (Bukolyi Marcell Wine Farm), Tamás Dúzsi (Dűzsi Tamás és Családja Pincészete), János Eszterbauer (Eszterbauer Borászat), Mihály Figula (Figula Wines), Tibor Gál Jr (Gál Tibor Pincészet), Attila Gere (Gere Attila Pincészete), Zoltán Heimann (Heimann Családi Birtok), Attila Homonna (Homonna Pincészet), József “Raspi” Horváth (Raspi Étterem és Borászat), István Szabó Ipacs (Vylyan Szőlőbirtok és Pincészet), Gábor Karner (Karner Gábor Kezműves Borászat), Gábor Kiss (Kiss Gábor Szőlőbirtok és Pincészete). Dániel Konyári (Konyári Pincészet), Tamás Kocács (St Donát Birtok), Bence Laposa (Laposa Pincészet), Géza Légli (Kislaki Bormanufaktúra), Zsolt Liptai (Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pincészet), Bálint Losonci (Losconci Pince), Enikő Luka (Luka Pincészet), Csaba Malatinszky (Malatinszky Kúria), Maurer Oszkár (Maurer Pincészet), Sándor Mérész (Etyeki Kúria), Lászlő Mészáros (Disznókő), Péter Molnár (Patricius Borház), László Nagy (Villa Tolnay), Gyula Pálffy (Pálffy Pince), Gábor Rakaczki (Sauska), Endre Szászi (Szászi Pince), Tamás Szecskő (Szeczkő Pince), István Szepsy Jr (Szent Tamás Pincészet), László Szilágyi (Gizella Pince), Ferenc Takler (Takler Pince), Zoltán Tarnóczi (Orsolya Pince), Vilmos Thummerer (Thummerer Pince), Ede Tiffán (Tiffán Ede és Zsolt Pincészete), György Várszegi (Kreinbacher Birtok), Ferenc Vesztergombi (Vesztergombi Pince), Péter Vida (Vida Családi Borbirtok) Franz Weninger (Weninger Pincészet) and Márta Wille-Baumkauff (Pendits Pincészet).

More than half of Hungary’s wine regions were represented, with winemakers from Tokaj, Villány, Eger, Szekszárd, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Sopron, Mátra, Badacsony, Pannonhalma, Balatonfelvidék, Somló, Balatonboglár and Etyek-Buda as well as winemakers from just across the borders from Szerémseg (Syrmia) in Serbia, Garam Mente (Hron) in Slovakia and Ménes (Minis) Romania.

So, if you’re less familiar with Hungarian wines or want to discover some new winemakers, if you pick wines from any of these wineries, you should rarely be disappointed.

Naturally, we shouldn’t forget its ten previous winners either: János Konyári, István Jásdi, András Bacsó, Dr László Bussay, Stephanie Berecz, József Szentesi, Imre Györgkovács, Ottó Légli, István Szepsy Sr, Dr György Lőrincz (St Andrea Szőlőbirtok és Pincészet) and Zoltán Demeter.

We wait with bated breath for the announcement of the shortlisted five winemakers, the overall winner and, of course, the Winemakers’ Friend 2019.

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

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.

Junibor welcomes new member to its fold

At the beginning of December, the Association of Young Wine Makers, Junibor welcomed ababiczki-laszlo new member to its ranks. László Babicz was selected at the AGM, the first member from the Mátra wine region, the largest of Hungary’s historic wine regions. László inherited his vines from his grandparents and has been involved with winemaking since his school days. He was able to take this to a professional level with the support of his parents and grandparents.

Tamás Hernyák, president of the association, points out that ‘Junibor is a community, so they try to select new members who will take part in joint programmes and activities and help to build the community’.

His wines will soon find themselves on the shelves of DiVino, the chain of winebars with which Junibor works in close cooperation, taking part in its everyday life, for example with evening events where they welcome guests and offer them the opportunity to taste barrel samples and wines which are only available at the cellar door.