Tag Archives: Tokaj

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.

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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.

Aszú, a drop of golden nectar for the festive season

2016-06-02-18-54-34Advent, and Christmas, will soon be upon us and the question is what sweet tipple you should imbibe along with your mince pies or festive biscuits. Although not usually one to drink much sweet wine, I have learned to appreciate the delights that aged port, tawny or ruby, have to offer. Of course, in the UK, you would be tempted to go with a port, or maybe madeira, a drop of Sauternes or an unctuous sweet sherry; however, I currently reside in Hungary and there is something just as delicious and precious on offer, indeed many would claim far more precious. Tokaji Aszú, dubbed the Wine of Kings and the King of Wines.

What makes Aszú so special? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is perhaps one of the mostbotrytised-grapes labour-intensive wines in the world and it’s made from rotten grapes to boot. I can see the uninitiated beginning to pull a face right now. However, this isn’t just any kind of rot, it’s ‘noble rot’, a special type of rot called ‘botrytis cinerea’, which attacks the grapes, thinning the skins, sucking out the moisture and concentrating the sugars and flavours in the grape whilst not breaking the skins. The grapes, hence their must and the ensuing wine, also gain additional flavours from this botrytisation process. Aszú is also generally made principally with the Furmint variety, which is known for its high acidity, thus allowing a wonderful balance between all that unctuous sweetness and some fresh, zippy acidity.

The Tokaj region, where Aszú is produced, lies in the northeastern part of Hungary, sandwiched between and around the rivers Bodrog and Tisza, which give rise to morning mists in the autumn. Why is this important? Well, in order to develop, botrytis needs warm, damp conditions, and the microclimate in this area is just perfect for this. The morning mists are burned off by warm sunshine – just right for botrytis to develop and spread their fine fungal threads over the bunches of grapes.

_zmp0343-misolataTokaji Aszú has been made for centuries in the region. The story goes that the region was under attack by the Turks and the grapes were therefore left out on the vines long past the normal time as nobody set foot in the vineyards to do any work at this time. After the danger had passed, the large quantity of ‘rotten’ grapes were then used to make a late harvest sweet wine, the descendent of which we now know as Aszú. Legend has it that this wine was produced by the Calvinist preacher László Maté Szepsi, forebear of the prominent Szepsy family still residing and making wines in the region.

Firstly, the botrytised grapes, outwardly reminiscent of raisins, are picked individually from each bunch at harvest time. Women work through the vineyard in several tries, selecting and picking only these ‘rotten’ grapes; this is an extremely labour-intensive and costly process. Then, the grapes are placed in vats, where they are stored before perhaps being trodden into the consistency of a paste known as ‘aszú dough’ or simply processed. During this time, any extremely concentrated and sticky must that drips out of these perforated vats under the weight of the berries themselves will be bottled as ‘escenzia’, an even sweeter, and somewhat expensive treat, generally enjoyed by the spoon rather than by the glass!

This aszú dough or berries are then macerated in must, frementing must or wine from the same vintage_zmp0362 before being pressed and the resulting extremely sweet must transferred to oak barrels or vats where it will ferment slowly in a cool environment, perhaps for as long as several years; it will spend at least 18 months in Gönczi barrels before it is released for us to delight in.  You can find a visual representation of this process on WineSofa – Aszú-making infoposter.

So, what does this delicious, unctuous wine taste like?

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of the Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013, which I believe may be the one awarded gold and an incredible 97 points in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, so I’d like to share my experience of that here with you.

Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013

grand_tokaj_tokaji_aszu_2013(Alcohol content 9.5%, Sugar content 170.8 g/l)

The wine was made with 100% procured aszú berries. It was an excellent vintage so the berries were high quality and completely infested with botrytis. The aszú berries were mainly Furmint and Hárlevelű as well as smaller amounts of Zéta, Kabar, Kövérszőlő and Muscat grapes. The base wine was 100% Furmint and the aszú berries were added to the fermenting base wine after steeping for 24 hours. After pressing, fermentation took place in vats. The wine was then aged in new 500-litre barrels for a minimum of 18 months in the Szegi Cellar.

Tasting note

Attractive golden colour. Aromas of exotic lemon, acacia blossom, spice, ripe apricot, white peach and a herbal note. A balanced elegant wine with lively acidity, flavours of citrus, grapefruit, candied lemon, dried pineapple, honey, sunlight, almond, stone fruits and hay with a long, slightly salty finish. A concentrated, tangy wine with a long future ahead of it.

This was only one wine, and a relatively young one at that. If you are interesting in finding out more about the characteristics of Aszú, then check out this Aszú flavour wheel or get your daily dose of Aszú throughout Advent by following #KoccintsAszuval on Facebook, although you will probably need some Hungarian to do the latter!

 

 

 

Repositioning Tokaji aszú as a premium brand

Would you pay upwards of €1000 for the luscious amber nectar that is Tokaji aszú? Maybe in the future you’ll have to.

Until now you would have paid €80 for a bottle of István Szepsy’s aszú, but maybe in the future, you’ll have to fork out €1000-€2000 for a bottle, a ten to fifteen-fold increase. István, in an interview with Borbrand, says that people will need to decide what is the best sweet wine in the world.

All Szepsy’s wines will maintain the same quality, the difference will be in the quantity. The ‘normal’ Szepsy wines are made from three grape varieties, whereas the ‘luxury brand’ will be made from single varieties, using the best grapes from the very best vineyard plots. It’s obvious, he says, that wine from such a premium parcel should make its way onto the world market. The first year released will be the 2013, followed by the 2015.

Drop of bubbly anyone?

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Budapest is the place to be in the next couple of weeks for sparkling wine lovers. The city is hosting Pezsgő Szalon (pezsgő being Hungarian for sparklng wine), a series of events and special offers connected to the theme of bubbly taking place both in Budapest and throughout the country.

You should put the following dates in your diary at least:pezsgo_szalon_torley (1)

Saturday 20 June – Nagy Pezsgő Kóstoló (Grand Tasting) taking place at the Corinthia Hotel.

Here you have the chance to try a wide range of sparkling wines from both Hungary and elsewhere. You could also attend one (or more) or the three masterclasses on offer (Hungarian language only): Champagne and other premium Euopean sparkling wines, Tokaj and sparkling wine, or a vertical tasting of wines from the Garamvári Szőlőbirtok. There pezsgo_szalon(1)are limited places available for the masterclasses, so prior booking is essential.

There will be more than 40 sparkling wine exhibitors with their wares for you to taste. 7,900 HUF in advance and 10,900 HUF on the door. Don’t miss it!

Also as part of the Pezsgő Szalon programme, the Etyek-Budai Pezsgő Szalon at VinoPiano on 25 June.

In this case, the sparkling wines of Etyek and Buda take centre stage with the following wineries in attendance: Kertész Pinc, Kálna Pince,Gombai Pince, Kattra Pince and Törley Pezsgő Pincészet.

If you’re feeling studious, you can also participate in some masterclasses with some winemakers. For example on Champagne orpezsgo_szalon(4) New World Pinot Noir.

There will also be some artisan chocolate and bonbons on offer too. What more could you want?

Cheers!

Great Tokaj Wine Auction

P1110830Last November I was fortunate enough to be in Beaune during the weekend of the P1110851auction of the Hospices de Beaune. I had the chance to attend various events connected with this, including various cellar visits, tasting of the auction lots from the barrel at 8am with the locals, an impromptu informal tasting with Gina Gallo and Jean-Claude Boisset, and the Sunday evening ‘Diner de Gala aux Chandelles’. Quite an experience!P1110859

For the past couple of years, a similar event has been organised in Tokaj as part of the ‘Tokaj Spring’, taking the ‘Vente de Vins’ as its inspiration. This year will be the third occasion that the auction has been held. It will take place on the weekend of 24-26 April and offers a unique opportunity to sample some wines that are not on the open market, from dry white wines right up to 6 puttonyos aszú.

Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014So if you have some surplus cash and fancy investing in a barrel of Tokaj of your own, Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014here is your chance!

Of course, if you don’t have that much cash to splash around, you could always just take the opportunity to enjoy what should be a unique weekend in Tokaj.

Start off on by travelling style and taking the ‘Tokaj Express’ to travel to Tokaj. A heritage train with the opportunity to thumbs_tokaj-grand-02try some wines even before you arrive in Tokaj. Take part in one of three guided tours led by winemakers, one of which will be led by Mr Szepsy himself.

Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014On Saturday you’ll have the opportunity (if you have registered, that is!) to taste the auction lots in Sárospatak castle, followed by a picnic lunch. It will initially be a blind tasting, so you won’t know whose wine you are trying. You’ll only find that out later, when there will be the oppportunity to retaste the wines.

You can find a list of the auction lots on the Tokaji Bor Lovagrend website. I unexpectedly had the chance to try the Zsirai Betsek Furmint from the barrel when visiting their cellar in Mád on Saturday.

A gala dinner dance will end the day and on Sunday you can visit participating producers.

A portion of the income will go towards supporting the Tokaj wine regon – a UNESCO world heritage site; so definitely a worthy cause.

At Tokaj Grand last weekend, we were able to taste some of the wines auctioned in 2013 and 2014. If these are anything to go by, if you do head off to Tokaj, you are in for a treat.

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Tokaj Grand 2015

tokaj_grand_logoA unique opportunity to try all the Tokaj wine region has to offer is coming up in Budapest shortly.

Tokaj Grand’ will take place on 28 March at the five-star Corinthia Hotel. It is being organised for the first time by Winelovers and promises to be a remarkable event.

Most people are familiar with Tokaj because of the sweet, botrytised aszú wines. However, kesei_szuretelesu_furtTokaj also produces some fabulous dry whites and some late harvest wines too. Tokaj Grand will give you the chance try some of these as well as the more famous aszú.

In addition to the opportunity to walk around and try the wines (over 200!) of more than seventy producers, if your Hungarian mesterkurzus_foto_graselly_balazsis up to it, you could also choose to attend one of the eight thematic masterclasses on offer during the day. Of course, you could just go along to the classes in order to try some great wines in a more relaxed environment! You’ll need to buy tickets for these in advance though.

Choose from themes such as:

  • Dry Tokaj wines and their international rivals
  • Mádi Kör selection
  • Disznókö 5 Puttonyos aszú vertical tasting
  • Szepsy masterclass
  • Tokaj Kereskedőház masterclass (in English)
  • Wine, intoxication…Bénye
  • Tokaji autumn
  • Mindszent Havi Mulatság

See you there!

Botrytis cinerea – the Jekyll and Hyde fungus

Caroline’s thoughts on Botrytis, including the following remark: ‘Historically speaking, botrytis cinerea would have been a widespread challenge to winemakers ever since wine was first made. But evidence suggests it may have been the Hungarians who first documented deliberate use of noble rot in winemaking in Tokaj in the 16th century.’

Caroline Gilby on Wine

And on the eve of heading to Hungary to talk Tokaji at VinCE in Budapest , here is my latest piece for The Wine Society blog on the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Botrytis cinerea

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