Tag Archives: Bikavér

Bikavér – a work in progress

2019-02-22 18.54.19

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.

Terroir wine?

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.

The wines

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.

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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

Jani’s fantastical world

bolyki borokJános Bolyki, one of the most personable winemakers in Eger, has launched new labels for his entire range of wine. They continue the light-hearted style of his previous labels. Fantastical creatures and objects grace the colourful hand-drawn labels designed once again by Géza Ipacs.

The Bolyki Pincészet labels have always been considered as a little eccentric, with names like Indián nyár (Indian Summer) or Hazug mókus (Insincere Squirrel), so the new labels continue in the same vein, but add a certain uniformity to the range, with characters and motifs being repeated across the labels. One reason for this is that the winery is cutting down its vast range of 24 wines of last year to focus on a core product line of eight wines. Plus rosé, says János as this always sells better than beer at his festival! The long-term plan is to have only five or six wines They are working increasingly with export, so it’s difficult to communicate so many wines. Their main focus is on Bikavér, as he says that this is what the market is looking for, but the range also includes Királyleanyka, Cabernet Franc, Csillag, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

They came up with the roots for the new labels a couple of years ago when there was a circus wagon with animals at the winery, creating a fairy-tale environment for the kids. They decided to follow this direction but selected motifs that had worked in previous incarnations, so 70-80% of the motifs, such as squirrels, rabbits, hippos and zebras, are still the focal point of the colourful, somewhat surreal labels, and they all feature the quarry-like cellar in the background. The back labels weave playful tales and stories, with each wine having its own humorous story, yet linked somehow to the larger picture. He’ll be able to tell these to his kids too, as he and his wife are now expecting their fourth child. He wants the labels to say something about the winery, although he admits that you can only make labels like this if the context is serious, i.e. good wine.

The labels are being changed with the new vintage, so over the next year, Bolyki fans will be able to read the stories of the entire range, as well as taste the new vintage, of course.

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János started making wine in 2003 and by 2006 was making enough to start to sell them commercially. His father was always very critical of his wines, never actually saying they were good, but, as János quipped, he was one of their biggest drinkers! He was soon winning awards and then invested in three interconnected cellars in Eger that had previously been a quarry. He lives from his winemaking, but also organises events, such as the popular three-day FesztEger rock festival at the end of May, where János also doubles as a DJ. If you can’t make the festival, then the quirky winery itself is also worth a visit!

*all photos above courtesy of Wineglass Communication

 

Battle of the Bull’s Bloods

Forget Spain or Portugal, a major bullfight took part in Budapest last week. The battle of the Bikavérs from Eger and Szekszárd.

Both regions produce a blend known as Bikavér in Hungary, in English ‘Bull’s Blood’. This is generally a full-bodied, relatively tannic wine, without too many rules about the composition of the blend, except that in Szekszárd it should consist of at least a total of 40% Kékfrankos and Kadarka combined.

They are, however, quite different wine regions. Szekszárd is located towards the south of Hungary, thus its wines are generally rather more full-bodied than those produced in Eger. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the Szekszárd will always be the more full-bodied. In many cases, the Eger versions can be just as big fruit and tannin bombs as the Szekszárd ones.

It was a kind of ‘battle of the couples’, with pairs of winemakers lined up next to each other – one from Szekszárd, one from Eger. Twenty-six wineries were represented – thirteen from Szekszárd, thirteen from Eger.

Generally the blends presented were Kékfrankos-based – typically 40-50% – with a smaller quantity of Kadarka – often 5%, rounded out with various other grape varieties, often international, e.g. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. There did not seem to be a huge difference between the blends from the two wine regions.

Participants from Eger: Kovács Nimród Borászat, Gál Lajos Pincészete, Besenyei Borház, Gál Tibor, Juhász Testvérek Pincészete, Gróf Buttler Borászat, St Andrea Szőlőbirtok, Bolyki Pincészet, Thummerer Pincészet, Demeter Pincészet, Ostoros-Novaj Bor and Hagymási Pincészet.

Participants from Szekszárd: Takler Pince, Bodri Pincészet, Schieber Pincészet, Sebestyén Pince, Mészáros Borház, Heimann Családi Birtok, Fritz Borház, Merfelsz Pince, Vesztergombi Pince, Pratner Pince, Vida Családi Borbirtok, Eszterbauer Borászat and Bősz Adrián Pincészete.

So, what was the outcome? Well, actually, it was a tie, or a draw, if you like, according to the visitors to the sold out event, organised for the fourth time in Budapest.

Hungarian wine word play

A little fun had by some DWCC participants after the conference

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

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

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

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

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

– What a noble-rotten thing to saybotrytised grapes

– It…

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Wonderful wines of St Andrea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boldogsagós 2012boldogsagos

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

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

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

Napbor 2003

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

A blend of chardonnay, olaszrizling and szürkebarát.

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

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

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

Magyalos Kadarka 2007

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

Magyalos Kadarka 2005

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

Cabernet franc 2002

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

Merlot 2003

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

Bikavér 2002

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

Merengő Bikavér 2002standrea_merengo

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

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

Merengő Bikavér 2006

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

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

Merengő Bikavér 2007

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

standrea_hangacsHangács Bikavér 2008standrea_aldas_egri_bikaver_2008k

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

Áldás Bikavér 2011

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

(HUF 3250 from St Andrea webshop)

Valóban méltó Pinot noir 2009

Another delicious wine. Why break the trend, eh?

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

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

(HUF 7590 from St Andrea webshop)

Valóban méltó Pinot noir 2011

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

And another ….

Hangács Bikavér 2011

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

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

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