Tag Archives: Red wine

It’s spring and Eger is calling

eger_tavasz_2_foto Busák Attila

Events in March

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.

eger_tavasz_3_foto Busák Attila

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.

For more information, please visit the Egri Bor Most Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/egribormost/

* based on a press release from Wineglass Communication, photos by Attila Busák

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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.

La Parilla

Once upon a time, in my former life as an English teacher, I used to teach at a bank on the corner of Szabadság tér in Budapest. Opposite the main entrance was a very sorry-looking building – blackened walls, held up by equally blackened wooden scaffolding.

KI_B7188

Szabadság tér is one of my favourite squares in Budapest, a large, open expanse, surrounded by magnificent buildings, thankfully now mostly in a good state of repair. KI_B6849-HDREven this derelict black building has been brought back to life and is now occupied by the luxury IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel, which opened in October 2016. An independent restaurant, La Parilla, now operates on the ground floor. It has an elegant red, black and beige interior designed by a Spanish designer and from April you’ll also be able to enjoy its terrace with a great view of my favourite square.

The food on offer is mostly Mediterranean style, but they also have great steak or DSC_3479mangalica and Hungarian food, as well as an impressive dessert menu.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to taste a selection of the wines from their 100-strong wine list, featuring both Hungarian and international wines and to sample the cuisine of chefs Peter Szabó and Balázs Papp.

Wines tasted:

AnDSC_3499na de Codorniu Rosé Brut / Spain, Penedés

Anna de Codorniu Rosé Brut is the rosé version of Codorniu’s most iconic sparkling wine.

Elegant and subtle, made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. A fresh wine with cherry and strawberry notes and a fine mousse.

Gizella Barát Hárslevelű 2015DSC_3776

A vineyard selection from the Barát vineyard in Tokaj.

A rich, broad yet lively wine with intensive varietal flavours of tropical fruits, mango, lemon and lime.  It’s spicy with plenty of mineral notes and a long finish.

Bodegas Faustino, Rioja, Spain, Faustino VII white 2015

Pure Viura, aka Macabeo, better known for use in Cava.

Crisp and spicy with apple, peach and delicate, floral notes. Tangy on the palate with rich fruit and a fresh finish.

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Bott Frigyes, Rajnai Rizling 2015

A special wine using only eight tiny clusters per vine, selected in three tries, whole bunch pressing followed by spontaneous fermentation in barrel. Owing to the perfect vintage and biodynamic cultivation, it required only light filtering and no fining.

A wonderful wine, initially a little reserved, it opens up nicely to reveal a rich, floral, herbal and apricot nose with plenty of minerality.  Crisp and elegant. A wine to be savoured.

Masi, Veneto, Italy, Masi Masianco 2015

A winery better known for its Amarone, a dry red wine made from the red varieties used to create Valpolicella. This white is also made from partially dried Pinot Grigio and Trebbiano grapes.

Restrained but opens to show attractive tropical fruit aromas. Palate is a little chalky and strangely earthy but fills out on the mid-palate allowing the fruit to blend with a touch of honey. Finishes dry with a citrus twist.

DSC_3781Vida Öreg Tőkék Kadarkája 2015

Kadarka is the oldest grape variety in the historic wine region of Szekszárd and these vines date back to 1996-7. Kadarka is a thin-skinned variety, thus sensitive to the weather, so this is not made every year.

Light and elegant with a wonderful spicy nose. Soft but characteristic flavour of red fruits on the palate should be a real crowd-pleaser.

Heimann Barbár 2013

This wine, made by one of the most prominent winemakers in Szekszárd is named after a DSC_3759composition by Béla Bártok, the famous Hungarian composer. It’s made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tannat and Kékfrankos.

A dense nose followed by a vibrant palate of sour cherry, fruits of the forest, blackcurrant and dark chocolate coated prune. A youthful wine that’s both taut and flavoursome, but with still slightly grippy tannins.

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004

Produced from Rioja’s typical grapes of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo.

Intense, bright cherry red colour. Aromatic and complex, with notes of tobacco, cedar and leather against a background of ripe fruit, jam and spices. On the palate, powerful yet velvety, with flavours of rich red fruit, liquorice and minerals with smooth, ripe tannins with some spice and vanilla on the medium finish.

Peter Lehmann, Barossa, Australia, Futures Shiraz 2012

This is the winery’s top wine. Is named in honour of how Peter financed his winery – when he wanted to start making wine, he didn’t have sufficient capital, so, he asked people to pay in advance for his wines. Enough people seem to have trusted him and he’s still going strong today!

The wine is matured in French oak to integrate the intense, spicy fruit flavours, resulting in an approachable and supple wine. Deep red-black colour with a nose loaded with spicy plum and chocolate notes. The palate is firm and rich with a long finish, a legacy of the low yielding vineyards of the north-west Barossa.

HDSC_3779oldvölgy Exaltation 2012

Awarding winning dessert wine made from 100% Sárgamuskotály from the Nyúlaszó vineyard in Tokaj.

Luscious wine with floral aromas and notes of peach, honey, rose and lychee.

With our wines, we were served a selection of dishes including a blue cheese tart, olive jelly, breaded pork with homemade ajvar, and toast with chickpea and octopus cream.  Avocado and chocolate mouse and a mango tart kept those with a sweet tooth happy.

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La Parilla is open from 7 am for breakfast, there is a weekly lunch menu and you can dine until midnight. I was impressed by both the food and the wines on offer. Although, admittedly, the Hungarian wines we tried won the day for me. So, if you are in the vicinity of Szabadság tér, it comes recommended, especially once the terrace opens and you can look out on the square.

Quo Vadis Kadarka?

Since the fall of Communism twenty-five years ago, Hungary has been trying to rebuild its wine industry once again and restore the image of quality wine which many of the regions in the country had once been known for. During the cold war period, Hungary was pushed to churn out gallons of low-quality wine to serve other countries in the Eastern Bloc. Most of its vineyards were turned into cooperatives and quantity was the main goal, not quality.

Since then many winemakers have been making efforts, and succeeding, in doing just the opposite, producing innovative, quality wines and increasingly focussing on indigenous varieties such as Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Irsai Olivér and the unpronounceable Cserszegi Füszeres.

However, unlike countries like France, Italy and Spain, where most renowned wine regions are known for producing either wine in a certain style, full-bodied reds from Bordeaux, or from certain grape varieties, e.g. Pinot Noir in Burgundy, the majority of people look blank when asked about Hungary. If you are very lucky, they may come up with Tokaji, most probably meaning aszú, but are unlikely to know what grape variety it is made from. They may indeed proffer Bull’s Blood if they remember the days of the full-bodied, yet at that time rather rustic, red wine from Eger which could be found on the UK supermarket shelves in the 80s and 90s. Indeed, even within Hungary itself, the identities of many of the wine regions are not particularly clear to the majority of people, perhaps not even to the winemakers themselves, who are often producing a vast range of wines from an array of grape varieties.

Some regions are now trying to create a more homogenous image for themselves. For example, Csopak has created a Codex, focussing on Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Villány with Cabernet Franc and, of course, Tokaj with its sweet wines, in particular aszú, and now increasingly flavoursome and full-bodied dry whites from Furmint and Hárslevelű in particular.

Another such region that is making a concerted effort to build a consistent and positive image of itself is Szekszárd. This is a wine region located in the south of Hungary, generally known for its full-bodied reds. Typical wines produced in Szekskárd are very often based on Carpathian Basin varieties, such as Kékfrankos and Kadarka, either varietals or as a blend, e.g. Bikavér (Hungarian for Bull’s Blood) like in Eger. Moves are being made to focus on these particular wines. A new slogan has been chosen by the winemakers – Szekszárd – Kulcs a szívedhez, i.e. key to your heart, and a tasting of mostly these wines took place recently at the prestigious Corinthia Hotel in Budapest.

Questions, however, still arise. Even if they focus on these varietals and kinds of blends, what should they actually be like? What style wines should be produced? What should a bikavér consistent of? What should a Kadarka be like? Has anyone outside this region actually heard of it? Should it try to ape Pinot Noir? To which it is similar in some ways, being a thin-skinned and sensitive variety producing pale, light wine.

P1020375These questions are obviously being considered by the wine region and winemakers themselves. Research is being done. Clones are being collected. Regular tastings are held, both by the winemakers themselves and for the general public around the country, such as the event two weeks ago.

In connection to these large public tastings, a select gathering of wine writers, academics and other professionals under the expert tutelage of Gabriella Mészaros gathers prior to the large events in order to taste according to a certain theme and to consider such questions in the light of the wines tasted. Whether Bikavér can age well was considered earlier in the year and this time we were looking at various styles and ages of Kadarka.P1020376

Various themes have been connected to Kadarka for the last few years:

  1. The variety itself and its character. Which direction should Kadarka wines go in? Many wines are now produced in a more structured, spicier direction, with more intensity, colour and tannin, perhaps due to the new world influence, as that is often what competition juries are looking for.
  2. Kadarka as a grape. What is Kadarka actually? Thirty concrete clones have been collected. In addition, there are various cultivars known as Kadarka, but which are not actually Kadarka.
  3. How to attract ‘regular red wine drinkers’ to this lighter style of wine

There is currently 700-800 ha of Kadarka planted in Hungary, with an increase of 10% in the last years, most of which is in Szekszárd. Eger is the second region in Hungary where Kadarka is on the increase; Nagy Eged, with its limestone soils, makes some nice, elegant wines. Szekszárd itself produces generally reliable, good, average quality, although there are some outstanding examples, too.

The main problem appears to be connected to its type. It’s a bit like Pinot Noir, similar in that it’s not like normal reds – thin skins and low tannin – so it is difficult to categorise, although generally does not produce wines of such high quality as  Pinot Noir. There is a clear need to create an identity for it. The ‘picture’ has started to crystallise a little over recent years – a pale, light wine with crisp acidity, spicy, but without overcooked fruits. It should perhaps be considered on a national level how to do this, not simply on a regional basis, which seems to be the case at the moment (not only for Kadarka in particular); how to create the image of an outstanding Kadarka.

P10203742014 was an unfortunate year for Kadarka due to the poor weather conditions and extreme rainfall, particularly coming at harvest time, making it difficult to harvest healthy grapes, thus a lot or rosé was made instead of red, two of which we tasted to begin with. The first from Mészáros Borház was an attractive pale pink with a clean fruity nose, crisp and refreshingly dry, with bags of elegant red fruit, particularly cherries and strawberries. The second, from a well-known producer, was clearly out of condition, lacking in fruit and with a rather cidery touch to it. We planned to give it a second chance at the end, but unfortunately ran out of time.

The reds were a mixed bag to say the least, with a fair few again having some kind of fault. One or two were not even in a condition in which it was possible to taste them.

Some were light, easy drinking reds, like Kadarka is generally perceived to be. For instance, the entry level “Sógor” Kadarka P10203772013 from Eszterbauer Pince. A pale ruby wine with clean, spicy red fruit, some herbal notes and touch of cinnamon on the finish. An elegant, balanced light wine – a good example of a Kadarka.

Others were attempting to be more full-bodied and structured, with greater and lesser degrees of success. Given that Kadarka is usually rather low in tannins, many of them were overly tannic, perhaps due to poor use of oak, or poor quality barrels, particularly in one or two of the older wines – we tasted back to 2000. Some excellent samples came from Heimann Családi Birtok. The 2011 had a pale purple colour with a pronounced perfumed, even floral nose, full of fruit – sour cherry, spice, pepper and rosehip on the P1020378palate. The 2007 was pale garnet with a slightly oxidised character that lovers of fortified wines such as a Tawny Port would be sure to appreciate. Nutty, caramel, prunes, figs, tobacco all filled the nose and mouth. Not much fruit remaining, but very complex and rich. An older treat. Bodri Pincészet’s 2009 was also a treat. A pale garnet wine, with cherry, tobacco, baked spiced fruit, plums, sour cherry punch, cigar and toast all assailed the senses. A long finish but rather high alcohol. Vida Családi Birtok’s Öreg tőkék Kadarkája 2003 was a good example that Kadarka does indeed have the potential to age, and elegantly too. Cherry jam, tobacco, spicy pepper and some herbal notes were intertwined with purple flowers and anise. A complex, intense wine that would be best enjoyed with food.

So what could be concluded from this? The wines were a real mixed bag – some light and fruity, some overly tannic and full-P1020379bodied, some elegant and balanced. Some had aged well, some less so. Clearly there is no concrete identity for Szekszárdi, or Hungarian, Kadarka as yet. There is certainly a lot of work to be done. Should Kadarka be what it truly is, or should it try to conform to the red wine drinker’s image of what a red wine should be? It will be interesting to follow what advances are made in this direction in both Szekszárd and on a national level.

We finished up with a Kadarka Törkölypálinka – egészségedre!

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.

What, Switzerland makes wine?

Wine is not something that most people generally associate with Switzerland. Cheese, chocolate, mountains, watches, yes.

Landing in Geneva
Vines in Vaud

However, Switzerland does produce wine. They have six wine regions and approximately 15,000 of vines. Mostly white, typically Chasselas or Arvine, but also some lovely Pinot Noirs and Merlots, along with a fair few indigenous grapes that few will have heard of. The only thing is, that they keep most of it for themselves, only exporting about 1% of production.

A week or so ago, I attended the DWCC2014 conference in

View from hotel window in Montreux
View from hotel window in Montreux

Montreux to learn more about wine and all things digital, which gave me the ideal opportunity to try a few for myself.

For some strange reason, I seem to have developed an interest in obscure grapes, so decided to go along to the session on rare Swiss varietals with Jose Vouillamoz.

Jancis and Jose
Jancis and Jose

We had already had the Grand Tasting with Jancis Robinson and Jose, where we had tasting more typical varieties , such as Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Now it was on to the curiosities.

The first wine we tried was a Räuschling from the area around Zurich. A progeny of Savignan and Gouais blanc, it has a deep yellow colour, fragrant and aromatic. Well-developed aromas gave hints of freshly cut hay and camomile. Although not big on the fruit, there was apricot and a savoury, smoky, earthiness.

Rèze, Vin du Glacier
Rèze, Vin du Glacier

We then moved on to a Rèze, an alpine variety previously widespread in Valais, but now there is only 2.5ha planted. It is also used to make a speciality of Valais, ‘Vin du Glacier‘, a wine made in the valleys but then brought up to the glacier and stored in a Solera system, producing a kind of Vin Santo. A smooth, honeyed wine with flavours of ripe yellow apple and herbs. The acidity on the finish keeping the mouth lively and fresh.

Next up, Humagne Blanc, of which there is only 30ha in the world, all of which can be found in Valais. A discrete nose, with aromas of straw and camomile, slight minerality and notes of mandarine and apricot.  A little lacking in acidity.

Lafnetscha was the next in our wine palette. From the German-speaking part of Valais, it is now only produced by four winemakers. Apparently in this part of Switzerland, the locals speak a rather incomprehensible dialect, little evolved since the Middle Ages. The name means don’t drink too early! Perhaps due to its high acidity. Powerful aromas of melon and white peach. Well-structured, persistent finish with a touch of bitterness, rather like that of a kumquat.

On to the Amigne, first mentioned in 1686 in Valais. There are now some 42.5ha remaining, mostly in one village. For many years, this wine was made with some residual sugar without actually mentioning it. Now bottles carry little bee symbols to denote sweetness, one being dry, two off try and three semi-sweet. One bee means a wine with residual sugar of less than 8g. A wine with a powerful golden nose, flavours of ripe pair and honey. Full-bodied, almost oily with good acidity and a bitter, almondy finish.

Our final white was Completer. There are 3ha remaining, principally in Graubünden. As the vines yield tiny bunches with very low yields, only ten producers persevere with it. A wine with a more powerful nose. Toasty, almondy with an oily texture. Creamy with mandarine and melon in the mouth. Jose informed us that this wine ages well.

First up in the reds was a Bondola, which is produced in Ticino and representing a typical alpine red. Good with salami and the local polenta, we were reliably informed. Cherry aromas and a cherry stone bitterness, with quite gentle tannins.

Next was the intriguingly named Plant Robert, no not Robert Plant. Although an internet search on this varietal will doubtless return lots of hits about rock stars! An old clone of Gamay, which was most likely introduced from Burgundy, although it is no longer found there. A red fruit  and cherry bomb, similar to Gamay from Beaujolais, but with more tannins and structure.

Cornalin was our next varietal. Originating in the Aosta Valley, in Piemont, it was introduced to Switzerland around 1900. Ironically there is now about 130ha in Valais and only 1ha remaining in Aosta. A tannic wine with dark fruits and chocolate, dried vine leaves reminiscent of a vineyard in November (Jose’s description, not mine), earthy, yet fresh and drinkable. I particularly enjoyed this variety and found a few more to try on the walkaround tasting later.

And last but not least, Rouge du Pays. Certainly not least, as it was the most expensive of our tasting! Also originating in Aosta, it can now only be found in Valais (122ha).Nervy, fresh and zingy with cherries and a lengthy finish. Delicious!

So, there is in plenty more to the Swiss wine palette than Chasselas.

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