Tag Archives: Kékfrankos

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

Hungarian winemakers put their football skills to the test

borasz_foci_szekszard_2015_2On 18 July, winemakers from Balatonboglár , Etyek-Buda, Hajos-Baja, Szekszárd and Tolna did battle for a trophy. However, this time, the trophy had nothing to do with wine. The winemakers donned their football boots and went out onto the footbal pitch.borasz_foci_szekszard_2015_3

This year, Szekszárd provided the pitch for the winemakers turned sportsmen, who have been honing their tackling and scoring skills for the last ten years since the first ‘Winemakers’ Battle’ in Pannonhalma.

borasz_foci_szekszard_2015_5Szekszárd’s András Takler organised the event this year, but it was originally the brainchild of Eger’s Tibor Gál, who organised a friendly between Eger and Pannonhalma ten years ago. Since then, other wine regions have joined the fray. Not only does the event give the winemakers the chance to keep their ‘foci’ skills from getting rusty, it’s also a good opportunity for them to get to know their colleagues from elsewhere better.

The reigning chborasz_foci_szekszard_2015_4ampions, Balatonboglár succeeded in holding onto their title. The opening match between Etyek and Szekszárd ended in a 2-2 draw. György Takács from the south of the Balaton was the tournament’s top scorer, clocking up twelve goals in four matches. Etyek boasted the best goalie, Richárd Csalánosi.

borasz_foci_szekszard_2015_6But the fight was still on for the wine of the tournament, should it be the Szekszárdi cserszegi fűszeres or the kékfrankos rosé? Maybe that was decided at the tasting and dinner in the evening.

An afternoon of ‘foxy’ wine

In this case, a ‘foxy’fuxli wine is not the kind of wine with strong musky, animalistic notes that reminds you of your grandmother’s fur coat or fox muffler, sometimes used to describe certain American grape varieties  such as Concord.

The wines I tried last week were Szekszárd Sillers, otherwise known as ‘Fuxli’. All the wines have a label with some kind of fox illustration, hence the name Fuxli.

You might be asking what on earth a Siller is. This is a summer wine, somewhere between a rosé and a light red. They are produced in the same way as a red, but are racked off their skins much earlier. Mostly after one to four days. They are usually fresh and fruity, with relatively high acidity and often a slightly bitter finish. Perfect for quaffing on their own or as a fröccs.

You can find Siller elsewhere in Hungary, but Fuxli is the name chosen to represent the renaissance of this style of wine, previously drupostank for three centuries, but brought back to life several years ago by a small group of producers in Szekszárd including Heimann and Merfelsz.

They have to be produced from at least 50% grape varieties from the Carpathian Basin, in this case, Kékfrankos and Kadarka, and the rest can be made up from other varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The 2014 Fuxlis will be on the shelves in a week or two and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the ten that were selected as Szekszárdi Fuxli this year. Two, apparently, did not make it past the selection panel.

This year you’ll be able to find Fuxli from the following producers:eszterbauer

  • Prantner
  • Markvart
  • Eszterbauer
  • Sebestyén
  • Mészáros Pál
  • Heimann
  • Takler
  • Posta Borház
  • Göndöcs Lajos
  • Merfelsz

I found this year’s offering to be rather dilute with high acidity, no doubt due to the poor year. However, they were mostly still quite drinkable summer wines. My top three (in no particular order) were:

Merfelsz (70% Kékfrankos, 30% Merlot) Nice and fruity with bags of cherry spice and some floral notes. More concentrated than most on offer. Well rounded and quaffable.

Posta Borház (85% Kékfrankos, 15% Kadarka) Concentrated ripe colour, bags of cherry and spice, with a slightly bitter finish.

Sebestyén (50% Kékfrankos, 50% Merlot) Unusually compared to most of the others, this wine had seen some oak (three months). Rich cherry and red fruits. Less bitter on finish than many of the others.

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.