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.
The Pécs wine district in the south of Hungary is probably not the first region you think of when you think of innovation in quality wine. However, it should be. Down in Pécs, high on Miklós-hegy is the picturesque, if somewhat rundown, old building of the University of Pécs Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, surrounded by vines in all directions. It was my second visit to the institute – thankfully, this time on a warm sunny day as opposed to the last time when we had been forced to shelter in the doorway due to the icy wind. The occasion was to celebrate the launch of their Nadir 63 pezsgő (traditional method sparkling wine).
Now, you’d assume that sparkling wine was something of a novelty in the Pécs area as you rarely come across it, but that is not actually the case, as Pécs was historically one of the centres of sparkling wine production in Hungary, after Pozsony (now Slovakian capital Bratislava). László Héver, the institute’s chief winemaker, is looking to revive this almost forgotten tradition with this sparkling wine made from Zenit.
This is what is in fact the novelty. Zenit is a 1954 crossing of Ezerjó and Bouvier, the goal of which was to create an early-ripening quality variety that was suitable for mass production. The goal was successfully achieved and Zenit is used to produce light fruity whites, sweet late harvest wines and now a sparkling wine.
Its name, Nadir 63, comes from counterposing the concepts of Zenit (the highest point), i.e. the vineyard at the top of the hill, and the lowest point of Nadir, the cellar down at the bottom of the hill. The difference in altitude between the two is 63 metres. Just as you need balance in wine, you also need both the zenith and the nadir in astrology.
The base wine came from the 2017 harvest and spent two years on its lees. The wines were shaken up every six months and then laid back down to rest. Recently disgorged, the 600 bottles, minus a few tasting samples, are now ready for release. The Zenit produced a lovely pure, elegant wine with zesty acidity, lemon, green apple, honey and discrete brioche notes.
This year they have also harvested their two hectares of Zenit for both still and sparkling, but László also tells us that they plan to start looking into the possibility of using it to make pálinka and a grape distillate similar to brandy.
Creation of new and revival of ancient varieties
The institute is not only looking at different ways to vinify Zenit, but since 2000, also has a 20-year programme aiming to create new varieties that should be as high quality as traditional varieties, but more resistant to powdery and downy mildew. They have had eight of these certified so far, such as Andor, Jázmin and Pinot Regina (a back crossing of Pinot Noir).
They are also one of the champions of ancient Hungarian varieties such as Csókaszőlő and Járdovány, both of which are delicious and deserve to be resurrected. Incidentally, Vylyan in Villány and Bussay in Zala both also cultivate and produce wine from Csókaszőlő, while Villány’s Attila Gere produces a Fekete Járdovány.
The research institute also boasts the second largest grape gene bank in Europe (after Montpellier) and the sixth in the world, which includes over 1600 varieties, including table grapes and crossing materials.
We take a wander up through the vineyards despite the heat, passing a vine grown from a cutting taken from an ancient 450-year-old vine in Pécs, the Rosa Menna di Vacca table grape variety, brought to Hungary by the Turks. We taste a dry Olaszrizling produced as wine for mass for the Pauline order, followed by an aromatic Jázmin, a crossing of Bianca x Petra with more than 15 years of research behind it.
After lunch, we visit the Nadir, their cellars at the bottom of the hill, above which they have a collection of 102 Carpathian Basin varieties as well as Armenian, Georgian and Japanese varieties.
Centuries-old cellars and flex cubes
The ecclesiatic estate and its cellars ended up in the hands of the state in 1949, before coming under the remit of the University of Pécs in 2008, and the wines are still made in the 300-year old cellars. Most of the wines are made in micro batches, and stored in the two experimental branches of their cellars. There are a range of porous plastic containers, known as flex cubes, 400 individual demijohns as well as some more usual oak barrels, many of which simply bear a code. Naturally, there are also some ancient large casks, which are no longer in use, and some more standard-looking stainless steel tanks of varying sizes.
Near the old casks, László points out that, although of course they now produce micro batches of experimental wine, in Communist times, all white grapes from Hungary’s three R&D centres went to Budafok and became Kövidinka, while all red was turned into Kadarka. Whether he was joking or being serious, I’m not quite sure!
Near the old casks, László points out that, although of course they now produce micro batches of experimental wine, in Communist times, all white grapes from Hungary’s three R&D centres went to Budafok and became Kövidinka, while all red was turned into Kadarka. Whether he was joking or being serious, I’m not quite sure!
However, we emerged back into the sunshine to taste a couple more of their excellent wines, including the light and fruity red Csókaszőlő, a variety I’d like to see more of in the future.
Four times International Wine Challenge trophy winner
Winning an IWC trophy is no mean feat, but to do it four times is nigh on impossible. Yet the Tornai Pinceszét from one of Hungary’s smallest wine region’s, the emblematic Somló, has managed just that. Of the 15,000 or so wines entered, there is only generally a handful in each category which are awarded gold and the trophy winner is selected from among these, so kudos to Tornai and Somló!
Somló wines are renowned in Hungary for their unique, mineral character and in the past their reputation was known all across Europe and it seems that the region is stepping up to take its rightful place again.
Tamás Tornai presented the trophy-winning wine, the winery’s Top Selection Grófi Hárslevelű 2017 at the Kóstolóm Borbár in Buda along with its other gold-winning wine Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017, which was pipped at the post by its sibling in winning the Hungarian white wine trophy. He pointed out that it was not just an honour for the winery, but also helped to bring the region of Somló and its indigenous varieties into the spotlight too.
If you want to get your hands on the wine though, you’ll have to subscribe via the winery. They only produced 3000 bottles and are laying half of those down to see how they age, with the rest only being available via subscription.
The Tornai Pincészet is one of the key wineries in Somló. Founded in 1946, they now have around 65 hectares in some of Somló’s best vineyard areas. So, are consistently producing top-notch wines and helping to raise Somló’s image around the world. They’ve not only scooped up numerous golds at IWC but also at Decanter World Wine Awards as well as many other competitions.
We also had the chance to taste a flight of their award-winning wines on this occasion, including some older vintages, including their Grófi Juhfark 2013, IWC trophy winner in 2016, which showed just how well Somló wines age.
Friss Zenit 2018 (MUN-DUS gold, MTA wine) Fresh, aromatic and fruity with balanced acidity, Lovely peach and zesty lemon fruit.
Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2017 (IWC gold – 2019) Textured wine with lovely honeyed peach and quince fruit and mineral notes. Opens on the palate, revealing layers of flavour before a lingering salty, mandarin finish.
Top Selection Grófi Hárslevelű 2017 (IWC gold and trophy – 2019) Complex, structured wine with zingy lemony acidity and notes of sweet spice, yellow flowers, honey and a touch of tannin, underpinned by salty minerality. Long savoury finish.
Top Selection Apátsági Furmint 2015 (IWC gold – 2016) Perhaps a little closed at the moment, but attractive zesty acidity, with honeyed flavours of dried fruit, peach and almond marzipan and a long salty finish.
Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2013 (IWC gold and trophy (2016) Lovely combination of honey and saltiness with zesty grapefruit acidity. Rich and textured with notes of fragrant quince, marzipan, herbs and dried apricot.
Top Selection Aranyhegy Juhfark 2011 (PrestigeReserve gold, Wine of Budapest, Bayer gold – 2013) Beautifully textured wine with lovely bottle aged notes of honey, nuts and caramel. Savoury and long.
Aranykönny 2015 Made from shrivelled grapes with no botrytis. Lusciously honeyed with plenty of dreid fruit, spice and yellow flowers.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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