Category Archives: Tastings

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.

Junibor members present their new wines

On 16 November, Junibor members presented their new wines to guests at the DiVino Gozsdu wine bar in Budapest.

mtszl_ff-9215Junibor, the Hungarian Association of Young Winemakers, was formed in 2008 to bring together young winemakers and create a community helping to provide professional development for the next generation of winemakers. Junibor members have to be talented young winemakers aged under 35 when they are chosen and can only remain in the association until they are 40. They are very often the offspring of another generation of prominent winemakers. They currently have around 30 members from 11 wine regions in Hungary.

mtszl_ff-9310.JPGIts history has been intertwined with the DiVino chain of winebars, the first one opening facing St Stephen’s Basilica in 2011, with the aim of offering only Hungarian wines, including the best wines of the Junibor members. The chain has grown over the last five years, with new locations opening in Győr and the Gozsdu Udvár in Budapest, which offers 120 wines by the glass, and was where the tasting was held.

mtszl_ff-9133Zsolt Gere from Villány showed an attractive youthful Muscat Ottonel using bought-in grapes and his Marton Napi Újbor, a Portugieser. The Portugieser was not a light wine, like usual, but a thicker wine with more tannins, yet elegant and playful. The bunches had been big with large grapes and there had been a couple of shrivelled grapes in each bunch. It saw no oak, went through malo and was then bottled, bright, fruity and fresh. He admitted that it had been a difficult year, with spring frost, and they had been happy to save the grapes. Their Cab Franc, Sauvignon and Merlot should be capable of producing premium wines, whereas the others will probably fall into the good category.

Peti Frittmann from Kunság brought along an aromatic Irsai Oliver, which was light and mtszl_ff-9148balanced and a Neró rosé. The grapes for this had been harvested early and resulted in a very floral rosé with plenty of red fruit and rose. Peti said that the cool year had contributed to the intensity of the aromas and the retention of acidity. He also produced a rosé blend from Medina and Zweigelt, which was fresh, crisp and fruity. The reds that they were able to harvest later were good too, he said, also maintaining a good level of acidity.

mtszl_ff-9279Tomi Kovács from Szent Donat in Csopak had a pair of vineyard-selected wines. A Kódex Olaszrizling from the Slikker vineyard, fermented partly in oak and partly in stainless steel, very attractive fresh wine with good acidity, lingering minerality and almond notes on the finish. The other wine was a Furmint from the Márga vineyard, partly aged in pyrogranite bowls, which he tells me, are a little like concrete eggs, allowing the wine to breathe, thus micro-oxidise, as if it were in oak but imparting no influence and so allowing the grape and terroir to shine through. Certainly the Furmint demonstrated excellent varietal purity and lovely minerality from the Márga soils. He said that they had experienced a lot of hail and had not even been able to harvest anything in some vineyards, although they had managed to save about 30-40% in Slikker. The harvest took place three weeks later than usual, and the quality was excellent where there had not been any hail.

Flóra Jekl from Villány poured a Primo rosé made from Kadarka, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Fresh and fruity, a bit tutti frutti with a touch of spice. She told me that she would also make a gyöngyöző (lightly sparkling) wine from this. Her Portugieser was light and fruity with fresh acidity.

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Tomi Kis from Somló brought along a Somlói Juhfark from the Gróf vineyard, an attractive nutty wine with plenty of yellow fruit and minerality. Tomi reported that they had suffered more than 60% damage due to hail, and the result will be a small quantity of good wines. To make matters worse, they waited until the last minute to harvest, and then the birds came!

Ákos Kamocsay presented wines from the mtszl_ff-9200.JPGMór wine region. A Rhine Riesling, still cloudy and young, that will be bottled next year, so very much a sample. The Chardonnay, also a sample, is being aged in 500l used oak and will spend 8-12 months in barrel on its lees and then go into stainless steel. Quite smoky and toasty with plenty of fruit along with zippy acidity and perhaps a touch of tannins. He said that Mór had also experienced a mixed year, afflicted by both frost and hail, but those who had not suffered damage had harvested good, healthy grapes.

As usual, Csabi Miklós was surrounded by a gaggle of admirers, so it was rather difficult to mtszl_ff-9164.JPGexchange any words with him, but he conjured up a barrel sample of his Demi Moor Királyleányka, which with lovely peach fruit and a touch of residual sugar, he said was intended to be a gastro and festival wine. His Ezerjó, the key wine of the Mór region, was fresh, lemony and appley with a touch of residual sugar and some saltiness on the finish.

mtszl_ff-9196.JPGDóri Bussay from the Zala region had a barrel sample of her Pinot Noir, still displaying some yeasty notes. The aim here, she says, is to have a fresh, fruity wine, so it will move barrels frequently. They were lucky and only had about four vines affected by frost as they are on a plain rather than in a valley, and the hail there came with rain, thus not much loss. The wine exhibited nice cherry fruit, was quite full bodied, with smooth tannins. It will have 8-10 months in oak and 2 months in bottle before release next August.

Csaba Vesztergombi had a Királyleányka, bottled that day, attractive and balanced, with mtszl_ff-9247.JPGplenty of stone fruit, very drinkable. He also showed a Pinot Noir rosé, gaining its colour simply from being pressed. Fresh, attractive fruit, elegant, bright and very quaffable.

Tomi Hérnyak from Etyek brought along a Sauvignon Blanc, which generally does well in Etyek due to its cooler climate, and displayed lovely varietal character, although still a bit yeasty. Tomi says that they can make good varietals and aromatic whites this year in Etyek. The autumn was hot and sunny, which was a saving grace after the earlier part of the year. He also had a late-harvested Zöldveltini, which had lovely citrus flavours of lime and lemon and some green peppercorns. Balanced, spicy and with good acidity.

mtszl_ff-9324.JPGBence Dúzsi from Szekszárd had a rosé from Blauburger, Portugieser and Zweigelt. Pale, attractive fruit, restrained on nose, but more intense on palate. Fresh and very quaffable, with perhaps a spritz of CO2. The red estate wine (Birtokbor) of 50% Kékfrankos, Cab Franc, Sauvignon, Merlot and some Pinot Noir aimed to show the winery’s characteristic varieties, and was rich and fruity with a hint of toasty oak.

Andi Gere from Villány had DiVino branded Irsai Oliver, light, summery and aromatically fragrant, and a rosé from Kékfrankos, Merlot, Portugieser and Pinot Noir, restrained and elegant, but with enough bright fruit to balance the fresh acidity. She also had a barrel sample of Portugieser, which will spend a further three months in oak. Attractive fruit and some toast and coffee, but with just a touch of bitterness and slightly flabby acidity.

Angelika Árvay of Tokaj had a Sauvignon Blanc which had only been harvested on 26 September. The grapes were bought-in, but they did the harvest themselves. It has only seen stainless steel and will hopefully be bottled in January or February. Attractive varietal character and lovely fresh acidity. A tank sample of Sárga Muskotály was the last wine. It needed lots of aeration as it was very yeasty, but some lovely grapey aromas shone through, with a touch of salt and some residual sugar.

The crowds were now building up, so it was time to head off, but all in all an impressive collection of still very young wines.

(Photos courtesy of Junibor and Árpád Pintér)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Furmint Február

Going to a major wine-tasting event with still relatively blocked sinuses is not really conducive to sniffing and t2015-02-05 15.43.20asting ability. However, it is Furmint Február and this also means the annual Nagy Furmint Február Kóstoló held at the scenic Vajdahunyadvár in Városliget, so I gave it my best shot.

Seventy-nine producers from around Hungary and across the border were offering up their wines for our delectation. With five hours to taste, not much chance of trying them all, but I managed to taste a fair few – from around thirty producers, mostly from Tokaj or Somló, but also one or two from elsewhere, such as Eger. Dulled senses prevented me from being overly analytical, but still got a good impression of the quality and range of wines on offer.

I didn’t really taste any of the sweet and aszús, concentrating mainly on the dry and off-dry offerings.

Some highlights:

A 2013 blend from Bott Frigyes, Super Granum, which included not only Furmint but also Hárslevelű and Juhfark. The Juhfark had been macerated on its skins for four days giving it notes reminiscent of szamorodni or orange wine. Delicious.

A fruity, crisp mineral Kikelet 2013 Váti Furmint.

A rich, fruity, honeyed off-dry 2009 Csontos Furmint from Bott Pince bursting with ripe stone fruit.

The interestingly named 2013 Furmintage from Portius – a mouthful of minerally peach, quince and tinned pear.

The concentrated and complex Demetervin Király Furmint 2013, produced exclusively from grapes harvested from the Király dülő’s upper slopes.

If you missed out on the ‘Grand Tasting’ and want to get stuck into some Furmint, there are still plenty of other Furmint-related events happening in February – http://www.furmintfebruar.hu/hu/programok/ (only in Hungarian – the English does not appear to work).

What, Switzerland makes wine?

Wine is not something that most people generally associate with Switzerland. Cheese, chocolate, mountains, watches, yes.

Landing in Geneva
Vines in Vaud

However, Switzerland does produce wine. They have six wine regions and approximately 15,000 of vines. Mostly white, typically Chasselas or Arvine, but also some lovely Pinot Noirs and Merlots, along with a fair few indigenous grapes that few will have heard of. The only thing is, that they keep most of it for themselves, only exporting about 1% of production.

A week or so ago, I attended the DWCC2014 conference in

View from hotel window in Montreux
View from hotel window in Montreux

Montreux to learn more about wine and all things digital, which gave me the ideal opportunity to try a few for myself.

For some strange reason, I seem to have developed an interest in obscure grapes, so decided to go along to the session on rare Swiss varietals with Jose Vouillamoz.

Jancis and Jose
Jancis and Jose

We had already had the Grand Tasting with Jancis Robinson and Jose, where we had tasting more typical varieties , such as Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Now it was on to the curiosities.

The first wine we tried was a Räuschling from the area around Zurich. A progeny of Savignan and Gouais blanc, it has a deep yellow colour, fragrant and aromatic. Well-developed aromas gave hints of freshly cut hay and camomile. Although not big on the fruit, there was apricot and a savoury, smoky, earthiness.

Rèze, Vin du Glacier
Rèze, Vin du Glacier

We then moved on to a Rèze, an alpine variety previously widespread in Valais, but now there is only 2.5ha planted. It is also used to make a speciality of Valais, ‘Vin du Glacier‘, a wine made in the valleys but then brought up to the glacier and stored in a Solera system, producing a kind of Vin Santo. A smooth, honeyed wine with flavours of ripe yellow apple and herbs. The acidity on the finish keeping the mouth lively and fresh.

Next up, Humagne Blanc, of which there is only 30ha in the world, all of which can be found in Valais. A discrete nose, with aromas of straw and camomile, slight minerality and notes of mandarine and apricot.  A little lacking in acidity.

Lafnetscha was the next in our wine palette. From the German-speaking part of Valais, it is now only produced by four winemakers. Apparently in this part of Switzerland, the locals speak a rather incomprehensible dialect, little evolved since the Middle Ages. The name means don’t drink too early! Perhaps due to its high acidity. Powerful aromas of melon and white peach. Well-structured, persistent finish with a touch of bitterness, rather like that of a kumquat.

On to the Amigne, first mentioned in 1686 in Valais. There are now some 42.5ha remaining, mostly in one village. For many years, this wine was made with some residual sugar without actually mentioning it. Now bottles carry little bee symbols to denote sweetness, one being dry, two off try and three semi-sweet. One bee means a wine with residual sugar of less than 8g. A wine with a powerful golden nose, flavours of ripe pair and honey. Full-bodied, almost oily with good acidity and a bitter, almondy finish.

Our final white was Completer. There are 3ha remaining, principally in Graubünden. As the vines yield tiny bunches with very low yields, only ten producers persevere with it. A wine with a more powerful nose. Toasty, almondy with an oily texture. Creamy with mandarine and melon in the mouth. Jose informed us that this wine ages well.

First up in the reds was a Bondola, which is produced in Ticino and representing a typical alpine red. Good with salami and the local polenta, we were reliably informed. Cherry aromas and a cherry stone bitterness, with quite gentle tannins.

Next was the intriguingly named Plant Robert, no not Robert Plant. Although an internet search on this varietal will doubtless return lots of hits about rock stars! An old clone of Gamay, which was most likely introduced from Burgundy, although it is no longer found there. A red fruit  and cherry bomb, similar to Gamay from Beaujolais, but with more tannins and structure.

Cornalin was our next varietal. Originating in the Aosta Valley, in Piemont, it was introduced to Switzerland around 1900. Ironically there is now about 130ha in Valais and only 1ha remaining in Aosta. A tannic wine with dark fruits and chocolate, dried vine leaves reminiscent of a vineyard in November (Jose’s description, not mine), earthy, yet fresh and drinkable. I particularly enjoyed this variety and found a few more to try on the walkaround tasting later.

And last but not least, Rouge du Pays. Certainly not least, as it was the most expensive of our tasting! Also originating in Aosta, it can now only be found in Valais (122ha).Nervy, fresh and zingy with cherries and a lengthy finish. Delicious!

So, there is in plenty more to the Swiss wine palette than Chasselas.

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

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

tarcalIt was a particularly interesting tasting for several reasons:

  • The winemaker
  • The ‘entertainment’

The winemaker

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

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

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

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

The flight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Entertainment’

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

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

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

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

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

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