The Vida Winery in Szekszárd has launched a new red blend named after the wine region’s principal soil type, loess, which they feel has a great influence on the wine style.
Peter Vida Jr presented the wine in Budapest last week, explaining how loess was an important soil in many prominent wine regions around the world, such as Central Otago in New Zealand, various regions along the Rhine in Germany and the Danube in Austria, and of course, here in Hungary, in Szekszárd.
The Vidas have always strived to produce elegant, approachable wines, and Peter points out that loess always produces round tannins and acidity, lovely fruit and floral aromas, and, above all elegance. Their goal is to show this to the world. To show what Szekszárd is all about – authentic expressions of its diverse valleys and its loess soils.
The release of this new red blend follows on from their successful image revamp of last year, which Peter remarks actually led to a 20% increase in sales. With the image change came new labels which no longer emphasised Vida as a producer, but rather the origin of the wines, Szekszárd and its individual valleys. So, the choice of name, ’lösz’ is simply a continuation of this desire to highlight their wines’ terroir, rather than their hand in the winemaking.
Lösz, like their other premium wines, is aimed at restaurants and wine merchants, and they hope it will fill the gap between the Szekszárd trio of Kadarka, Kékfrankos and Bikavér and their flagship La Vida, and encourage people to trade up slightly to this classy new blend.
The 2017 Lösz is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Kékfrankos, Merlot, Syrah and Carmenere, originating from their Barany-völgy, Hidaspetre and Virág-hegy vineyards. It’s smooth and elegant on the palate with fine, ripe tannins and intense flavours of plum, cherry and spice as well as a long finish. As the aim here is to best showcase the loess soils, the blend will change each year depending on what is best felt to highlight its characteristics.
No, it’s not a typo, it’s deliberate. It’s about two volcanoes, distant in time and space. One is well-known around the world, while few are aware of the existence of the other. One is ancient and now sleeps like the dead, the other is alive and could kick into action at any time. One lies by the sea, above a sprawling city, while the other rises out of the Kisalföld plain in Hungary, just like the hat God left behind. They each have their own stories to tell and indeed their own tails. But let’s begin with the less discovered.
One of the regions in Hungary that lies closest to my heart is also one of its smallest. The black basalt volcanic butte protruding from the flatlands surrounding it is home to a myriad of small winemakers as well as a couple of large ones. Covered with verdant vines, press houses and wineries, it is a world unto itself. Narrow roads, often sunk between walls of black volcanic rock, just like a surreal, maybe underworld version of sunken English country lanes, where there is only room for one car at a time, wind up the sides of the black hill. This world is Somló. Where the rest of the world seems far away and the hill seems to stand watch over the plain around it, just like the Hungarian name for this type of volcanic butte, ’witness mountain’. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still up here on the hill, certainly there is no running water up on its sides, so those living here collect rainwater to meet their needs, or fetch water from one of the local springs. It certainly makes you think about how you expend resources while you are up here.
Unless you are really into wine, then you are probably blissfully unaware of Somló’s existence. Although, blissfully is perhaps not quite the right word, I would say that I am blissfully aware of its existence, as are a growing number of wine lovers, especially those, like me, who are in love with volcanic wines. Somló’s uniqueness, both as a place and in terms of the wines that its soils yield, has earned it a cult-like following, and a growing number of young, experimental winemakers are setting up shop on its slopes. Somló is starting to earn back its reputation of yore, when its wines were transported far and wide and even rivalled those of Hungary’s shining star Tokaj!
But what of this tail? This tail is Juhfark, the hill’s iconic indigenous variety, and fast becoming its flagship. Be careful how you say it out loud though, as it will raise a few eyebrows amongst English speakers. Juhfark translates as ’sheep’s tail’, or more accurately ’ewe’s tail’, thus named thanks to the shape of its tightly packed, long curved bunches of small berries which are said to resemble a sheep’s tail. The variety is synonymous with Somló nowadays, although it was more widely planted prior to phylloxera. Its relatively neutral character is perfect to showcase Somló’s basalt, mineral-rich, volcanic terroir, on which it thrives. When young, its frankly bracing acidity can overpower everything in the wine, especially in a poor year, coming across as rather sharp, herbal and austere. While in the right hands, and especially with a year or two in cask as well as a few years of bottle age, it can boast fragrant stone fruits, a creamy texture, full body, wonderful spicy complexity, honey and almond, as well as the hallmark saline, smoky minerality of Somló itself. It seems that after a while, regardless of the variety, every wine simply becomes a Somló wine.
Looking for a male heir?
Somló’s followers today are enticed by the uniqueness of its wines and the otherworldliness of the hill, rather than the supposed medicinal properties of Somló wines, which were believed to cure a whole host of ills. Not only that, drinking Somlói was allegedly the way to guarantee a male heir, so was a favourite tipple of the Habsburgs and even British Queen Victoria – the so-called nászéjszakák bora, or wedding night wine, a white field blend, was revered far and wide for this property. Although drinking Juhfark may no longer be a way to guarantee your new-born will be dressed in blue, if you like your wines volcanic and individual, then you should really dip your toes into the world of Somló and its Juhfark.
But what of the other volcano and its tail?
The fox’s tail of Campania
The other volcano is better known for its scenic location on the Bay of Naples and its burial of Pompeii in 79 AD. Although Somló Hill is long extinct and is no longer surrounded by the Pannonian Sea, Vesuvius is still very much alive. Although asleep at the moment, nobody knows for sure when this volcano might reawaken.
Vesuvius is located in Campania, a hotbed of volcanic activity, just like the lands to the north of Lake Balaton once were. Campania also boasts its own tail – this time the ’fox’s tail’, or Coda di Volpe. Again, named for its opulent bunch, curved at the end, which resembles a fox’s bushy tail. Like Juhfark, it is a relatively neutral variety whose wines reflect the terroir where it is grown. As Juhfark is an archetypical Hungarian variety, Coda di Volpe is a true native Italian grape, which was apparently known and appreciated as far back as Ancient Rome, when it was known as Cauda Vulpium and thought by some to have produced the famous Falerno. Or was this a totally different variety, as the earliest mentions with the name Coda di Volpe go back to 1592? Italy is well known for its myriad of indigenous grapes which go by many names, or bear the same name as many others, or are confused with many others. So, who knows…
It is little found outside Campania, where it primarily grows in the provinces of Benevento, Avellino, Napoli and Caserta, but most abundant in the first two. However, let’s remain with our volcano analogy and return to Vesuvius where it can be found in the Lacryma Christi and Vesuvio Bianco DOC blends. Here, people may also claim that their Caprettone is Coda di Volpe, as this now seems to be the trendier of the two, and anyhow, the two varieties have long been confused, but then, this is Italy. On mineral-rich, lava soils, its wines are austere, salty and high in acidity, although on non-mineral soils, the wines can be rich, creamy, complex and tropical. So, some parallels to Juhfark here? Coda di Volpe generally has low acidity, so benefits from the higher acidity imparted by volcanic soils, which the screechingly high acidic Juhfark does not necessarily need.
Of course, being Italy there is also an even less well known variety called Coda di Pecora, or sheep’s tail, which was long felt to be identical to better known and more abundant Coda di Volpe – in this case, the cluster looks like the tail of a sheep. This grows in the vineyards of northern Campania, in Caserta. And of course, this too was for a long time believed to be one and the same as Coda di Volpe
But let’s stop our brief journey to southern Italy now, hoping we can return there in more detail once normality resumes, and go back to Somló for a short taster of three Juhfarks.
Csetvei Nagy Somlói Juhfark 2018 (11%)
The youngest of the three. A light-bodied wine still showing its youth with fresh zesty lemon and mineral notes with a saline finish. Would benefit from another few years in bottle to put on weight and develop additional complexity.
Rich and generous on the palate with ripe tropical fruit, peach, mango, grapefruit and a touch of butter. Smooth and textured with zippy grapefruit acidity and a mineral, smoky finish.
Tornai Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017 (15%)
One of the larger players in Somló, this is one of their single-vineyard Juhfarks. Boasting a hefty 15% alcohol, it’s packed full of peach, ripe yellow apple, honey, almond and marzipan. A serious, complex wine with a long salty finish.
And if you’d like to sample more Juhfark and can make it into Hungary in October, you should set your sail for Somló and the Juhfark celebration in mid-October. You can read about my visit to the 2017 celebration here.
The wines were supplied courtesy of the Somló Wine Shop, who boast a great selection of volcanic wines.
Just for a change, I’m not going to be talking about wine, rather something soft. That is, a soft drink made by a family business in one of the villages in the Tokaj region – Bodrogkeresztúr.
Some months ago a friend of mine gave me some Shrubbie to try. She brought around six cans for me to sample. I was a bit dubious as she described it as a soft drink based on Tokaj Furmint wine vinegar among other things. Now, I like sour things, I like bitter things, but I wasn’t too convinced about this idea, so they sat there in the fridge for a while before I tried one.
Well, a previous partner of mine had at one time turned his hand to brewing Kombucha himself, which I have to admit, wasn’t always very pleasant, although I did like the commercial variant – it was sour and vinegary and not something I enjoyed too much. I was rather expecting Shrubbie to be a bit like this. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I had the quince and lavender variation to try – two flavours I really like. It was, of course, slightly sour, but in an enjoyable way, not a gut-wrenching acidic fashion.
So what is Shrubbie anyway? The name implies it’s made from a hedge or something similar. Not too appealing at first contemplation. Well, actually, it’s a gently carbonated soft drink based on wine vinegar made from Tokaj Furmint, along with filtered water, apple cider vinegar aged on a bed of fruit and herbs (hence the name) and apple concentrate. If you like artisanal cider, you may well like this, and of course, for the health conscious, it’s got no alcohol and far less sugar, thus far fewer calories than your average soft drink. I must admit, I rather like it. I’m not really one for soft drinks as I usually find them too sweet and artificial, but this was really quite refreshing and certainly not overly sweet.
It’s totally natural and, of course, makes numerous health claims on the website, which I am always wary of, including helping to regulate blood pressure and fighting against oxidation and stress. Although the fact that it contains cider vinegar, which is always touted as being healthy, is certainly true, and it does of course contain antioxidants. Supposedly it’s also good for a hangover, which is probably true, given its ingredients. But I haven’t tried out that special beneficial property yet. Although I’ll be turning 50 quite soon, so may need a can or two the day after. However, whatever its alleged benefits, it’s certainly refreshing and pretty quaffable in the summer.
Since then, they’ve also launched some new flavours, which I got my hands on a few weeks ago – sour cherry and mint, the slightly wacky hemp and ginger, and raspberry and rosehip. Although it’s no longer summer and I don’t crave something cold and refreshing like this, I’ve been enjoying trying them after swimming, when in need of rehydrating with some non-alcoholic refreshment. Let’s see how many I need on the day after I make my half century!
If you fancy trying it out, you can order it directly from their website www.shrubbie.hu, where they also list stockists in Hungary. You may be in need of some after the holidays! Enjoy!
Etyek is just a brief drive from Budapest and as the wine region closest to the capital, has long been considered the capital’s vineyard. It’s a great place to venture out from Budapest to relax and taste some wine and Etyeki Kúria’s attractive, modern winery is the perfect place to do this.
They have been working their Etyek vineyards for more than 20 years now, where their main varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, they now also have vineyards in Balf, in the Sopron region, where they produce Kékfrankos and Merlot. This brings their total vineyard area to 54 hectares.
I have already visited the Kúria and toured the vineyards as well as participated in their annual Pinot Noir vertical tasting two years ago, when Pinot Noir aficionados had the chance to taste one of Hungary’s top Pinots going back to 2003 and compare various barrel samples.
Always looking to the future, as was clear on my previous visit, Etyeki Kúria have now expanded their facilities with a new event space – the Kúria Pavilon, located just below the Kúria and some of its vineyards. This can be used for functions both large and small, ideally on a warm summer’s day, which we, unfortunately were not treated to that day. This meant that the space’s new motto ‘Chill with us! Taste with us!’ took on a whole new meaning that rainy day in May. The Pavilon is spacious and tastefully designed with lovely views over the vineyards. Perfect for something romantic, like a wedding reception. Or something less romantic, like corporate team building.
The Kúria can therefore now offer four spaces for events. Besides the Pavilon, there is the Vinotéka for smaller tastings, the spacious Üvegterem (Conservatory) with an attractive terrace for sunny days and the old, atmospheric cellar where you can even learn how to blend your own wine, bottle and cork it and add the capsule yourself. Once you’ve designed your own label and stuck it on, you can take the bottle home as a nice memory or a gift. Chocolate lovers can make their own chocolate bonbons with Gingalló Csokoládéműhely. Naturally, you can also do some traditional wine tasting or learn about food and wine pairing.
Photos of the space and the event by Gergő Ombodi
The Kúria have also just launched the latest in their line of ’project wines’. Chief winemaker Sándor Mérész, now celebrating ten years at the winery, has been crafting a series of limited edition ’Méresz Sándor Projekt’ wines. The initial Grüner Veltliner was followed by a Zenit and a Pinot Gris orange wine. Now it’s the turn of Sauvignon Blanc, harvested from several different vineyards, all with limestone soils but with differing exposures. It’s wild fermented and a small percentage is aged in new French oak. It has all the hallmarks of a great Sauvignon Blanc – green pepper, cut grass, gooseberry and herbs and a good dose of tropical fruit, yet a lovely, creamy mouthfeel too.
Etyeki Kúria showcase their other Burgundian variety in June during ChardonnÉJ. The playfully named evening, Éj is Hungarian for night, takes place every year on the Saturday closest to midsummer’s eve. Fans of the world’s favourite (or perhaps most controversial) variety can enjoy a whole evening tasting Chardonnay wines from Burgundy, the New World and Champagne as well as more local versions from the Carpathian Basin and enjoying the, hopefully, sunny weather on the terrace.
This year, it takes place on 22 June and will also feature a masterclass from WineSofa’s Dániel Ercsey and a Random Trip concert. You can find more details about the event here.
Let’s hope for better weather this Saturday so that we can enjoy the terrace and all the Kúria’s space!
Dániel Kézdy, the powerhouse behind Furmint February and many other initiatives connected to Tokaj’s flagship variety is now turning his attention to another traditional Hungarian grape. This time he has set his sights on the oft-maligned Kadarka.
On 15 March, the Hungarian national holiday celebrating the 1948 revolution, Dániel launched his new project in the Kálvária Pince in Budakalász, dubbing the variety ’the wine of freedom’. However, quips were soon made saying that Kadarka was perhaps just the opposite for winemakers as the variety is notoriously difficult to work with, thin-skinned and susceptible to just about any vineyard hazard, probably only produces decent wine three or four times every decade and requires the continual attention in the vineyard. But, that aside…
Creating new traditions with Kadarka
Dániel believes the wine does not get enough attention, which I certainly agree with. In the right hands, and in the right vintage, Kadarka produces some beautifully elegant, light red wines. But, why the wine of freedom? Dániel thinks that the variety could be connected to this national holiday celebrating the Hungarians bid for freedom from the Austrians: spring is on its way, hopefully, although it was rather chilly this year, and Easter is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to promote and drink a lighter red wine.
He gets lots of foreign visitors to the cellar, many of whom, especially the Scandinavians, considered Kadarka something really special and interesting. They particularly liked the light, elegant fruity versions. He feels that this is something that we should pursue. He’d like to create some new traditions with Kadarka on 15 March, to organise events around the variety, perhaps with open cellars and workshops.
We started the tradition this year with a press tasting. Two winemakers from Szekszárd and Hájos-Baja, both strongholds of the variety, presented three wines each and then we tasted an additional flight of ten Kadarkas blind.
Sziegl Családi Pince
Balázs Sziegl, presented three of his wines and told us something of his background and philosophy.
His is a classic family winery based in the Hájos-Pincefalu – a village full of traditional old cellars – although he also has plots in three other villages. Kadarka is very close to his heart, he says, as their first place was in Kadarka utca and he also wrote his university thesis on Kadarka. This area was traditionally a Kadarka production area in the past, before the post-war planned economy put paid to it. In the sixties, pretty much everything ended up in state hands, which nearly led to the death of Kadarka. Previously around two-thirds of Hungary’s black wine grapes were actually Kadarka; it’s now less than 1%. Fussy thin-skinned Kadarka naturally didn’t react well to efforts to train it high and try to make it produce high yields.
Kadarka from Hájos
The area’s soils are loess and clay, with lots of limestone and sand on the surface. Kadarka was generally planted on thin sandy soils with around 80% quartz content, which reflects the sunlight, helping the grapes to ripen fully.
They have Kadarka on two plots – the Herreberg dűlő, which was planted in 2010, and the Kolostor-domb. This an intriguing hillock with cellars built around it, dug into the loess. On the top, the Sziegls found some old vines that were presumably so difficult to get to and work that they were left alone and not grubbed up during the years of communism. They were in pretty bad shape, but they managed to save two vines that are around 70-80 years old. They’re not really entirely sure of their age, but a neighbour of theirs who’s around 80 said they were already there when he arrived in the village.
Balázs and his wife Petra, who he met in Villány, have been involved in wine since 2012. Their hearts took them back to Hájos in 2015 and they are now both working full time in their winery. They work with minimal intervention, open vat fermentation, seven to eight months in oak and just a touch of sulphur before bottling. They are also in the process of converting to organic cultivation.
People who put too much emphasis on Kadarka must be mad!
Balázs had always wanted to work with Kadarka, but his wife was against it as the variety demands so much work – you always have to be there to tend to it. However, he seems to have won her over, or perhaps worn her down, as they are planting some more Kadarka next week – Pécsi clones as well as one of their own – and are slowly increasing the number of Kadarka vines. He had attended a Kadarka round table a few years ago, where Péter Vida Snr from Szekszárd had stated that if more than 10% of your vines were Kadarka, then you must be mad! The Sziegls now have more than that and their six to seven years’ experience so far has proved the ratio of when you can produce good Kadarka – they have managed it only three or four times so far.
Producers from Szekszárd and two from Hájos (himself and Csaba Koch) had participated in the round table as well as Géza Balla from across the border in Romania, Frigyes Bott from Slovakia and Ernst Sagmeister from Serbia. It seems that they all had totally different philosophies and couldn’t really say what the common picture should be for Kadarka, i.e. what they were striving for with the variety. The only thing they could agree on is that it should be light, spicy and elegant.
Péter Vida Jnr now takes over the reins from Balázs, telling us that Kadarka is an important vine for them too, like for many in Szekszárd. They truly believe in it, which is why it is one of the wine region’s main wines, along with Kékfrankos and Bikavér. They even have some old vines from 1920, which only yield about two to three bunches per vine, which they use for their Bonsai Kadarka. The roots go down about ten metres and of course, they find a different range of minerals at that level. The Pécs University Research Institute selected vine material from this vineyard for their gene pool. There will be three or four new clones from these vines.
While most people have Kadarka P9 clones as that was probably what was available, they have none. Their clones are different, generally with looser bunches. Balázs had told us earlier that one problem with P9 clones was that they have both big berries and bunches, so the grapes are tightly pressed together and may easily burst.
Although Kadarka is important to them, they still feel it’s really risky to have more than 10% Kadarka, so of their 23 hectares, only two are Kadaraka. Some also say a touch of botrytis is good for the wine, but they disagree and think purity is the most important. They also always pick early so there is no chance of the grapes drying out. This was helpful in 2015 too when the weather was extremely changeable and there was a big storm on 18 September and only those who had harvested beforehand had any Kadarka that year. They had picked the day before – it was as if his dad had felt something!
Ageing and vineyard selection
Péter feels that Kadarka has more to offer than many people believe. They are sending cases to the UK, where it is also listed in Michelin-starred restaurants. Also, as concerns Kadarka’s ageing ability, he has more faith than most. Although most think that you should drink it within two or three years, he recently tried one from 2003 that was still in good shape and he particularly likes their 2008 at the moment too.
There are also vineyard-selected Kadarkas in the pipeline from Szekszárd’s various meso and microclimates. They have also planted Kadarka in Barnya-völgy and Virághegy.
They have regular varietal tastings in Szekszárd and recently, he says, there was one were there were over 40! He gave up and went home to his family halfway. Those who remained said they were a rather mixed big and that only around 20 were any good. Some say that deeper, richer ones always score better in competitions, so we see plenty of unnaturally dark, tannic Kadarakas, but they are not interested in this. They prefer to produce fresh, light Kadarka, that is like Kadarka. They also prefer it unoaked, as did a British MW, Liz Gabay who had visited and tasted both oaked and unoaked versions. Kadarka should be light in colour, so if it’s dark, it’s most likely got something added to it (you are legally allowed to add 15% of something else without declaring it on the label).
Although the older generation are prejudiced about Kadarka due to the past, similarly to the Brits with German wine thanks to horrors like Blue Nun and Black Tower, the younger generation are not so negatively influenced and Kadarka is fast becoming quite trendy with them. Let’s hope more people pick up on its lovely quaffable, light character.
Blind tasting of ten Kadarkas
Our blind tasting of wines from various regions very much bore out what we had previously been discussing. That there is no clear style – some are more (too) oaky, some clearly have had something added to them to add colour and structure, some older Kadarkas still had nice freshness, although some were also rather past their peak, and the lighter, fruitier versions generally went down better.
So, is Kadarka worth bothering with despite its fickleness? Most definitely! I’m looking forward to Dániel’s further initiatives and our next ’Wine of Freedom’ masterclass next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
*Photos, except the last, courtesy of the organisers.
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.
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.
Every year, the winemakers of Szekszárd and Eger present their Bikavérs in a joint tasting in Budapest. This year saw its sixth edition with winemakers from both regions presenting their current and, in some cases older, vintages of this regional speciality. The two regions are working together to promote this most Hungarian brand and the Bikavér Párbaj is a good opportunity to taste wines from the two regions side by side.
What is Bikavér anyway?
Now, if you’re not from Hungary, your first question might be ’What is Bikavér anyway?’ And how can it be the regional speciality of two distinct wine regions which are not even located next to each other?
Both regions lay claim to the term Bikavér for their full-bodied, fiery red blends based on Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch). Naturally, they argue, hopefully good naturedly nowadays, about who used the name first.
What’s in a name?
Eger have an appealing tale about how their wine got its name based on a story in which defenders of its citadel drank up the citadel’s red wine stores when they feared they were about to be overrun by the Turks. Legend has it that the soldiers were so emboldened by the wine, i.e. drunk, that they fought with surprising aggression and saw off the Turks, who reported that the Hungarians had been mixing bull’s blood with their wine to give them courage. Bikavér is the Hungarian for bull’s blood – the name that the wine was marketed with in English-speaking countries in the past.
Szeskszárd’s story is a little less romantic, simply that János Garai, an eminent Hungarian poet praised the colour of Szekszárd’s red wine in one of his verses, likening it to bull’s blood.
So, both regions still use the name for their red blends. It’s a blend based on Kékfrankos (minimum 40% in Szekszárd, and between 30 and 60% in Eger). Szekszárd also requires minimum 5% Kadarka. The rest of the blend in both regions is then made up of a combination of other permitted black varieties. This tends to be a bit more rational and restricted in Szekszárd, the smaller of the two regions, and is generally Bordeaux varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Heimann winery also add a dash of Sagrantino to theirs! Eger, however, has a huge range of permitted varieties and hence Bikavér here could contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Blauburger, Turan, Syrah and Menoir, to name but a few.
A kaleidoscope of styles
As you can imagine, this does not lead to a particularly uniform image of the style, especially when you then add in the various quality levels defined in each region. Eger has three – klassikus, superior and grand superior – whereas Szekszárd has two – standard and reserve. Let’s not even mention the sea of substandard, bottom-shelf wine pumped out by many large producers, still churning out the same poor quality wine that got Bull’s Blood a bad name in past decades.
In search of a style
Prominent wine journalists, educators and other experts meet each year prior to the tasting in a panel chaired by Gabriella Mészaros to discuss an aspect relating to Bikavér or one of the wine regions. In the past, we’ve considered how well modern Bikavérs are ageing, styles of Kadarka and rosé. This year, we looked at eight wines from the 2016 vintage (a cool year with lots of rain, but a consistent summer without any severe heatwaves), four from each wine region, to see how much progress is being made with consistency in terms of quality and style.
One of the main issues of our session was brand-building and the fact that to build a brand, you need both reliable quality and consistency. The situation regarding consistency is improving with winemakers tasting together more often. This is naturally easier in Szekszárd where there are fewer winemakers, fewer hectares and fewer varieties, making finding a direction somewhat easier than in Eger. Eger also has a bigger issue with quality as it is home to large producers, some relics of the Communist era, who are responsible for churning out the cheap, poor-quality plonk referred to above. This also creates a problem for the brand as it stretches from bottom-shelf quality up to prestitious, well-crafted wines commanding high prices. Could the lower quality wines be somehow rebranded, e.g. to Óvörös, if some kind of purity and reliability could be guaranteed, posits Gabriella.
Changes for the better
The style of the wines is clearly changing from the tannic, oak bombs of the past, to fruitier, more elegant styles. This is helped by the fact that consumers are also becoming more discerning and their tastes are changing. While there are of course some who still seek the tannin rush, and a number of winemakers who cater to this, more people are looking for fruit-forward wines with some finesse. Progress has clearly been made in this area.
Another question which arose was whether Bikavér should be linked to terroir. Of course, there is already clearly a difference in style between the two regions. Egri Bikavérs are generally creamier, more tannic and more structured, despite lying further north. Szekszárdi Bikavérs are typically softer, more textured and leaner thanks to its loess soils and warm. dry summers. Beyond this, vineyard-selected wines come into play too, with three of the wines tasted coming from specified vineyards.
Our first pair of standard Bikavérs demonstrated the fact that the wines are becoming less oaky and more fruit forward, with a greater focus on good acidity. However, they were very different indeed, with Tibor Gál’s TITI clearly showing its Pinot Noir component. The Takler Bikavér was far more elegant and less heavy-handed with oak than in the past.
The second pair from Szent Gaál and Nimrod Kovács (Rhapsody) were demonstrably more oaky. The lesson here being how the quality of the oak and its integration can come to dominate the wine if there is insufficient fruit behind it or the oak is of poor quality. The fruit in the Szent Gaál wine was unfortunately masked by the grippy tannins of the oak, whereas the fruit concentration of the Rhapsody was able to stand up to the clearly high-quality oak.
The third pair clearly showed how important terroir is for Bikavér with the Péter Vida’s Szekszárdi Bikavér demonstrating the soft, lean elegance of Szekszárd and St Andrea’s Hangács vineyard-selection (Egri Bikavér Superior) showing what Eger, and in particular the Hangács vineyard, is capable in terms of concentration and creaminess.
The final pair was a good illustration of what top Bikavérs aspire to. The Sebestyén Csilla and Csaba Ivan Völgy Szekszárdi Bikavér went head to head with the St Andrea Merengő Egri Bikavér Grand Superior. The Sebestyén Bikavér was felt to come close to representing a Bikavér benchmark – with ripe, spicy fruit, elegance, vibrancy, balance, complexity and great length. The Merengő, on the other hand, was a clear representation that Eger wines generally take longer to be approachable than those from Szekszárd. It also demonstrated the difference between the Hangács and Merengő vineyards, in that the Merengő wines tend to need more time before their optimal drinking window.
The tasting bore out much of what we had discussed at the beginning – that the wines are generally improving in quality and something resembling a style is now beginning to emerge, especially in Szekszárd, that showcases this Kékfrankos-based blend. The wines are becoming more elegant and better-quality oak is being used more intelligently. However, Bikavér is still far away from having a clear enough style and consistent quality (which I saw later in the grand tasting in particular) for it to be considered a brand in its own right, especially internationally.
Bikavér is still very much a work in progress, but progress is being made.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Bikavér’s past, present and future, you can read about it in my WineSofa article from two years ago, based on the 2016 discussions.
The last year has seen a flurry of new labels for the wines of many of Hungary’s prominent wineries, often along with a tightening up of their ranges.
Villa Tolnay has joined this trend too, launching its new labels a couple of weeks ago at the Kóstolom Wine Bar in Buda.
Swiss owner and chief winemaker, Philipp Oser, and co-owner and estate manager Laszló Nagy presented the new labels and showed a few of their revamped range of wines. Of course, they also filled us in on some of the other developments at the winery, as they’ve not only been working on the presentation of the wine itself, but also on the winery itself. They’ve built a large cellar including bottling line, 700m2, most of which is underground, so in line with their environmentally conscious way of thinking. They work organically, although are not yet certified, which Philipp points out is not the main thing anyway – it’s all about making the wines better. All their wines are spontaneously fermented, and they no longer use cultivated yeast or sulphur, no bentonite for clarification, only settling and gravity. The only time any sulphur comes in contact with the wines is during racking.
Along with this winery renewal, they have decided to change their whole new corporate identity. Their new labels are bold, yet elegant and simple, focussing on the terroir and place, rather than the variety. Their three-star wines (more about this later) focus on the location of the winery and the vines – Csobánc, or the older version Csobáncz, which they’ve chosen to emphasise on their labels in large, bold print. The word Badacsony, the official wine region, is nowhere to be seen and the name of the variety and the single vineyard name are only featured underneath in much smaller letters. They’ve also opted to use soft wax instead of aluminium or plastic capsules in the interest of sustainability – red or white. It’s a nice extension from the label as it reflects the fact their work is based on craftsmanship; it’s elegant and doesn’t splinter when cut.
Philipp has been here in Csobánc for the last 14 years now and decided it was time to change a few thing. One of the most important things for him was to keep things simple and to show simplicity, which is just what the labels do.
The product line will now feature three levels, which he calls their one-star, two-star and three-star wines. One-star wines will be fresh wines which focus on the variety, e.g. the yet-to-be-released Sauvignon Blanc and perhaps a Zöldveltelini, two-star wines are blends such as Tenger and Névtelen, whereas three-star wines are the top wines, usually single vineyard and single variety, although there may also be blends, depending on the vintage. They will not hesitate to downgrade wines though, if the vintage is poor. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are their most important reds, with Riesling, Olaszrizling, Zöldveltelini and Chardonnay their key whites. There are no plans for a pure Furmint, which, although important, is needed for their Hidden Treasures wine – Balaton – a blend of Furmint and Riesling produced for Burgenland Roland Velich. Interestingly, the new labels bear more than just a passing resemblance to the labels for this series.
Panororama Olaszrizling 2016
The Panorama vineyard is a one-hectare plateau in the middle of Csobánc with 35-year-old vines, which they keep saying they’ll grub up and replace as this old plantation, abandoned for at least a decade previously, always involves a lot of work and produces tiny berries with thick skins. However, each year they taste the wines and decide to wait another year. Philipp calls the wine Csobánc’s ambassador.
The wine shows great typicity of the volcanic terroir. Intense, yet austere and lean with beautiful lemon and almond notes and a salty, long finish.
Philipp’s favourite wine regions are Pfalz and Burgundy, so the aim is to create a style with less alcohol than the modern norm, so around 12-13%, that is lively, vibrant and light, but at the same time dense, something akin to the finesse of Burgundy, he hopes.
Panorama Zöldveltelini 2017
This wine also reflects the basalt terroir nicely with lively acidity, fresh green fruit and honey pepped up with spicy, floral and mineral notes. Lovely concentration, elegance and an attractive, long, salty finish.
A new brand for them – tenger means ’sea’ in Hungarian and reflects the fact that the Balaton is known as the Hungarian Sea and that this whole area was once also covered by the Pannonian Sea.
A blend of 50% Chardonnay with Zöldveltelini, Riesling and Olaszrizling making up the remainder. Philipp calls the wine Hungary’s answer to Chablis or Pouilly Fuissé. He uses a little oak to add some nuttiness to the blend.
The wine offers flavours of ripe autumn fruits and vanilla with zesty acidity and just a touch of grip It’s rich, creamy and complex, yet fresh and vibrant with a long saline finish. Pure Csobánc.
Panorama Chardonnay 2017
Lovely finesse, nicely integrated oak, a mouth-filling wine with crisp acidity, mineral notes and a long elegant finish.
Philipp’s philosophy is to make the best that he can, so they also source their vines from regions which produce some of the top wines from those varieties, so the Pinot Noir comes from Gevry Chambertin, the Chardonnay from Meursault, the Cabernet Franc from the Loire and the Riesling from Pfalz. Philipp has high hopes for Riesling from the northern shore of the Balaton. He just thinks they all need to try harder!
Unfiltered Cabernet Franc 2017
A crunchy red and black fruit salad of cherry, blueberry, raspberry and cranberry. Definitely more in the Loire than the Villány style. Vibrant, crisp and fresh with fine-grained tannins. Lovely to drink now but will be even better in a couple of years.
Star of the tasting for me. Philipp said the goal with this wine is that anyone who opens a bottle of his Cabernet Franc will want to finish it off themselves!
The five-year-old vines are planted on one hectare at the foot of the hill where the soil is soft, limestone sediment from the Pannonian Sea as well as the results of volcanic erosion, which helps keep the wines lean with lovely freshness, so that they will be drinking well after five or six years. Another of Philipp’s wishes is to be able to release wines a little later, which the spacious new winery will enable them to do.
’New Pannonian wine tradition’
With this slogan, Philipp hopes to build new traditions in the region, perhaps returning to the use of the hegy or ’hill’ in labelling, like with Csobánc, just as in the past. For him, origin is everything. The talk here inevitably turns to branding around the Balaton. A contentious issue currently. Brand-building in the wider region is difficult for various reasons. Csopak and Olaszrizling are already their own brand, Balatonfüred is nearer to the motorway and hence easier to reach, whereas heading to Badacsony requires more time and effort. Perhaps varieties should be more closely linked to each hegy even – e.g. Olaszrizling with Szent György-hegy or Kéknyelű with Badacsony. Food for thought….
Philipp is also aiming to start another Pannonian wine tradition – Winemakers @The Villa. The first edition of the event will take place on 5-6 April this year. It will consist of a mini winemakers’ get-together to connect western European producers with Pannonian ones, with debates on biodynamic or organic production and networking opportunities. They’ll begin with six or seven winemakers including several foreign guests from the Pfalz and Wachau, along with Tamás Kis from Somló, Zoli Heimann from Szekszárd and, of course, themselves. Over time, they’d like to grow it and turn it into an annual fair giving visitors the opportunity to taste international wines at the Balaton. However, it will be a small affair, at least this year, with a maximum of 40 guests.
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 ensure 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.