Category Archives: The neighbours

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.

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Popping around to the neighbours for a quick drink – Bucharest – Time for some tasting

The Saturday dawned wet and windy, but I set off gamely for a bit of a wander around the centre prior to meeting Razvan Stoenescu, author of the Vin2 blog and organiser of Monday evening’s #winelover hangout. Razvan had offered to take me on a tour of a couple of wine bars in the evening. Always glad to have the insight and knowledge of a local, I had quickly agreed.

After a few hours of sightseeing in the blustery rain, discovering the historic town centre and the ‘ostentatious’ avenues and P1040083People’s Palace (now housing the Parliament and various other governmental bodies) built by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceacescu, and taking a look around the fascinating Bucharest Historical Museum, I headed back to the hotel to try to make contact with Razvan.

This had proved quite difficult, as my phone had decided not to register itself automatically on the local network as is usually the case when crossing into another European country. Anyway, finally I manage to speak to Razvan via the hotel reception and half an hour later we were heading off into the northern part of Bucharest on the quest for Romanian wine.

Our first port of call was Vinoteca Mea, a specialist wine shop and wine bar, where I was surprised to see the range of non-Romanian wines they had on offer, including some quite good Hungarian ones, including from Somló. I am sure this situation is not reflected in Hungary, where you rarely see Romanian wines on the shelves. Here we tried several wines.

P1030993First up, a Fetească Regala 2013 (Királyleanyka in Hungary) from the Crama Ratesti winery. A fresh elegant wine with exotic fruit and some floral notes. Flavours of ripe apple, stone fruits, some stoniness, and a slightly bitter finish.

Our next wine was a Crămposie Selecţionată 2013 from the Crama Cepari winerP1030994y in south Romania. A nutty, oaky wine with high acidity, with flavours of pear, mandarine and ripe apple. Warming alcohol.

Moving on to Ethic Wine, a wine shop just round the corner, we tried a further Feteasca Regala 2013, this time from Via Sandu. A complex, full-bodied wine with floral, with mineral notes which linger on the finish.

IMG_4382We also tried a Fetească Negrea (Fekete Leanyka), but by then we were standing outside with the other patrons of the wine shop, and I’m afraid to say, I didn’t take any notes or even a picture in this case. However, I remember that it was rich and mouth-filling with velvety black fruits. I’m starting to become a big fan of this grape variety.

P1030999Next day, lunch at the Crama Domnească Restaurant saw us tasting an example of the grape variety dubbed the Romanian Furmint, Grasa de Cotnari – Colocviu at Moscow 2014. A fresh, elegant wine with flavours of hazelnut, green apple and citrus, perhaps a little less bitter on the finish than a Furmint.

P1040005After lunch, we set off to do a bit more wine-tasting at Corks, situated in the historic centre and the only wine bar that appeared to be open that Sunday afternoon, where we tasted our way through a good range of native varieties, a Cabernet from Dragașani and a blend from Moldova.

Here I discovered the deliciously different rosé, Busuioaca de Bohotun, made from grapes that are pink-skinned rather than black.P1040017

We tasted a Via Sandu Crămposie and another Crămposie from Prince Stirbey, a Mustoasa de Măderan from Balla Géza, La Petite Sophie (a blend of Fetească Neagra, Chardonnay and Riesling) from the Moldovan Gitana winery, a Novac, a Furmint and the highlight, in terms of being unusual, the highlight was discovering the abovementioned Busuioaca de Bohotun, here in a blend with Tomaioasa Romaneasca, deliciously, fruity, fragrant and floral.

P1040019And the main reason for my visit to Bucharest was still to come, the next day’s #winelover hangout, organised by Razvan, when I was looking forward to continuing my Romanian wine odyssey.

Popping around the neighbour’s for a quick drink – Bucharest – Prelude – The journey

Perhaps you could argue that spending fourteen and a half hours on a train is hardly popping around to the neighbour’s. Maybe you could dispute the fact that three days of wine tasting – I swear, I wasn’t tasting the whole time! – is not really a quick drink. Well, that’s beside the point. That’s the name I’ve chosen for adventures outside Hungary.

A #winelover hangout had been organised in Bucharest and it was suggested that Bucharest is not far from Budapest, and wouldn’t I like to join the event. I thought, well, we are neighbours, I’ve always been interested in visiting Bucharest, but had never made it further than Brasov, put off by rumours of packs of wild, rabid dogs roaming the streets of Bucharest. Any Brit who grew up in the seventies was instilled with a horror of rabid dogs, foaming at the mouth, on the ‘continent’; Britain being rabies free and due to quarantining any poor animals arriving on to ‘our green and pleasant land’ was likely to remain so.

I took a look at the Hungarian Railways website and discovered that it would take me nigh on fifteen hours to get there by train and there were no attractive flight offers. I was dissuaded for a while, but then thought, “what the hell! I’ve got plenty to read”. In the end, it turned out that I, in fact, had plenty of work to do, so the journey passed, I wouldn’t go so far as to say flew, unfortunately.

The day started well. Having woken up at, what for me, is the crack of dawn, I waited in vain for a trolley bus to take me to Keleti, and two did not show up. Now, do I trust in the gods or take things into my own hands. I decided that if the next one did not arrive, I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, so I set off at a trot to Keleti, pulling my case behind me. I made it to the station, sweat pouring, heart beating hard, breath rasping, with three minutes to spare. The next trolley bus following me in. Hmmm.

I settled in for the duration. Tapping away on my computer, we reached the border after three hours or so, where we sat for what seemed like hours.

Shortly after the border, the fun began. Ensconced near the window, concentrating on my work, I had no idea what was going on. Raised voices in Romanian. Raised voices in Hungarian. People pulling their bags here and there. Finger pointing. More shouting. A large number of people hovering in the aisle. I continued to work, completely oblivious, or at least, I pretended to be.

The Romanian ticket inspector arrived. More confrontational voices. I continued to work, trying to pay no attention, despite the piercing quality of the elderly Hungarian ladies’ voices behind me.  The inspector asked for my ticket, took one look at it and stared at me as if it were not valid, but said nothing at all, simply scrawling something on the ticket.

A few moments later, a lady sat down opposite me and informed me I was in the wrong seat. No, I showed her my ticket. She showed me hers – same seat number, but different carriage. But this is 434, I told her. No, it’s 435. Well, in Budapest it was 434. The Hungarians, I was told, had put the wrong numbers on the carriages in Budapest. Now they were correct. I saw this later when using the ‘facilities’, it was indeed now 435. Somehow it had mutated at the border. So, in actual fact, I should move into the other carriage. However, she didn’t mind, so unless someone else came and kicked up a fuss, we settled in for the rest of the journey, still about eleven hours at this point. Now I understood what all the shouting had been about. But, I have to ask myself, who, in their right minds, changes the carriage numbers at the border on a long distance, international train. I make no comment here.

The rest of the journey passed rather uneventfully but for Dana showing me numerous pictures of her family and soothing my now rather nasty cough with a supply of throat sweets she had in her bag. Although, admittedly at every (extended) stop, there was a bit of a frisson – would anyone come to oust us from our seats?

I now understood why it took so long to make the 850km journey. The train stopped for not inconsiderable times at many stations and crawled along at a snail’s pace.

Finally, arriving in Bucharest, close to 11pm, I braced myself for the packs of stray dogs I would doubtless encounter as soon as I exited the station. I strode forward purposefully, ignoring the gangs of ruthless taxi-driver criminals I was also sure to meet on my way out. My strategy worked, after a short detour into a shop to replenish my depleted supply of water, I tried to look like I knew where I was going. I had consulted my map in great detail before getting off the train, in the hope I would not have to produce it in order to orient myself. I left the station, the taxi drivers’ coercions just bouncing off me. I was out. Where were the dogs? There was not a dog to be seen. Not even one. Perhaps it was the rain.

I made my way to my nearby hotel, still no dogs, and checked in.

I was out like a light. However, perhaps I heard a dog barking during the night!