Sitting in the Hatpöttyös restaurant in Székesfehérvár, Viktória Fáncsi of the Pántlika winery laments the state of gastronomic culture in the city. This city of 100,000 inhabitants about forty-five minutes drive from Budapest once played a greater role in Hungarian life. During the Middle Ages, it was capital of Hungary and the first Hungarian kings were crowned and buried here. It boasts the ruins of one of the largest basilicas in Medievel Europe. However, nowadays it’s only the ninth largest city in the country and, perhaps due to its relative proximity to the capital, there’s a dearth of quality gastronomy and wine.
’There are over sixty restaurants’, says Viktória, ’but they mostly have the same wines, from Bortársaság. Nobody offers anything local. Anyway, many of the restaurants come and go relatively quickly.’ In terms of wine, there’s a Borhaló and one wine merchant, but nothing more. She’s been involved with trying to raise the food and wine profile of the city for the last ten years and has now organised the Nagy Fehérvári Bormustra (a walk around wine tasting event) for the fourth time. She tells us that on one of the previous editions, one lady called her up and asked her how far they would have to walk and what kind of shoes she should wear – a good indicator of how inexperienced the locals are regarding this type of event, which is practically a weekly occurrence in the capital.
We’re having lunch at the Hatpöttyös restaurant, a bright spot on the city’s gastronomic horizon. Not only is the restaurant somewhere where you can always find a vegetarian option on the menu, it is the second restaurant in the country to be staffed mostly by disabled employees. It’s a serious undertaking – the restaurant serves up to 170 meals a day, including deliveries – and already has plenty of regulars who subscribe to its daily menu. This always includes a vegetarian option and something more traditional; they’re trying to bring back some old-fashioned dishes as well as do more trendy things. Although only open at lunchtime (11-4, Monday to Saturday), the restaurant also does outside catering and organises wine dinners. They’ve laid on the food for today’s Bormustra too. Véra Nagy, the owner, tells us that all the servers working here are self-taught, none have done an apprenticeship. The chef, Imre Halasz, not self-taught, serves us up an example of what the restaurant is capable of – a salmon tartar tart with rocket, sweet potato soup with bacon chips, chicken breast roulade with herbs and goat cheese, served with pureed parsnip and roasted baby veg, and finally a chocolate brownie and mousse with fruits of the forest. Not bad for somewhere whose main profile is their lunch menu! Although they do have a chef’s dish or two each week.
We taste some local wines with and between courses. Véra apologises for the chunky wine glasses, saying that they don’t serve much alcohol during the week and they only really need them for big groups of pensioners at the weekend – and they don’t really seem to mind. Local wines, in this case, are wines from around Fehérvár (a short form of the longer Székesfehérvár), Etyek-Buda and Mór. Viki points out that there are increasingly good wines to be found around nearby Lake Velence.
Weighed down by our delicious yet generous lunch, we head off to the Bormustra, being held just a five-minute walk away. This year, there were a total of 25 wineries taking part – the usual suspects like Géza Balla, Koch, Holdvölgy and Etyeki Kúria – including 11 more local ones. Despite Fehérvár’s apparent lack of wine culture, Viktória told us she had no problem selling the 350 tickets and has enticed along four local restauranteurs for the trade and press tasting to try and get them to include some local wines on their wine lists.
As usual at these events, time was too short to taste as much you’d like. However, we managed to taste wines from Mór, Lake Velence and Pannonhalma.
Small family winery, Friday, from Mór showed a range of Ezerjó wines, including a sparkling and a rather oaky version, and two Chardonnays. They had used less oak on the 2017 than the 2016, so it was more balanced. They called themselves Friday, as it’s the best day of the week, said Gergely Németh, the owner.
Staying with Mór, Geszler winery showed their Mámor Ezerjó 2017, aged in untoasted oak. The idea being to bring back the old style – balanced, fresh and crisp, with well integrated oak and lovely acidity. We also tasted their Zenit 2017 (Ezerjó x Tramini), beautifully aromatic with a touch of residual sugar. Their aromatic Irsai Olivér 2017 and Vertes Kincs (Chardonnay-Zenit blend) were also very attractive wines.
Sáfrán winery, also in the Mór wine region, had a Csabagyöngy 2018 – which I’d never tasted before as a varietal wine. They say that they can pick this very early so it’s a good bridge between two vintages. It was floral, bright, aromatic with plenty of zesty lemon and a touch of white pepper. Perfect fröccs material.
Moving just to the north of Lake Velence to Pázmánd, Nagy Gábor és társa, whose vines are next to those of József Szentesi, showed us a lovely Zenit 2018 with plenty of tropical fruit, a beautifully restrained Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and a Kékfrankos 2018 tank sample, still fermenting a little, but shaping up nicely. We had tried his lovely Riesling 2015 with lunch, which was already developing attractive petrol notes.
Apró Kertek have 1.8ha in 8 or 9 small parcels, hence the name ’tiny gardens’. They had an intriguing blend of Csókaszőlő, Kékfrankos, Kadarka and Neró. The grapes came 25-30-year-old bush vines from three different vineyard parcels hence the name 3 Kert 2017. A juicy, bright very quaffable fruity wine with plenty of acidity, silky tannins and flavours of plum, cherry, spice and floral notes.
The Csóbor winery from Agárd on Lake Velence showed two very attractive traditional method sparklers, vinified by Szentesi, a Brut Natur from Riesling and Chardonnay which was fresh and crisp with an attractive mousse and a Brut from Zőldveltelini and Riesling with plenty of zesty green fruit.
We finished up in slightly further afield Pannonhalma with beautiful lively, mineral Riesling 2016 and bright, plummy Merlot 2015 from the Cseri winery and a very drinkable fruity Kékfrankos 2017 with plenty of crunchy cherry and cranberry from Babarczi winery.
So, blinded as we may be by the bright lights of more prestigious Hungarian wine regions, it’s worth seeking out wines from smaller wine regions that often fly under our radar, such as Mór, the Lake Velence part of Buda-Etyek and the more northerly region of Pannonhalma.
Oh, and if you happen to find yourself in Székesfehérvár during the day, do pop in and enjoy Imre’s cooking and the welcoming service at Hatpöttyös restaurant. You won’t be disappointed and certainly won’t leave hungry!
*Trip to Székesfehérvár organised by Borsmenta.