How often has Hungary not been named a future top destination for wine tours. Forget about the future. The future is now!
These days, Hungary is such a great destination for wine and food, and statement was fully confirmed during a quick ‘tour de force’ through Hungary last August.
Budapest-Tokaj-Villany-Budapest in only four days! It sort of resembles Phileas Fogg travelling the world in 80 days, when you add visits to Miskolc in the Bükk mountains and Szekszárd to the agenda.
Spend a lot of time on the road, just like Fogg, (approx. 750 km and a bit more than eight hours in four days) and it is actually possible to accomplish it all.
We started out in Budapest. I simply love Budapest! Such a beautiful city with a long established reputation for food and wine and we rightfully started our tour with a sophisticated lunch at Fiaker – one of Budapest’s more recent gastronomic and vinous powerhouses.
Only 2020, Fiaker was awarded with Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for its impressive wine list focusing entirely not only on Hungarian wines, but wines from what used to form the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy.
And what a brilliant list with astonishing vertical depth. You really must stop by at 11 Mardách Imre út., conveniently close to both Vaci ut. and Andrassy ut. The latter will take you straight to Heroes Square and Vajdahunyadi vár, both of which you have to visit when you are in town.
Very befitting, our dinner included 3 whites: A Badacsonyi Olaszrizling from Hungary, Grüner Veltliner from Wachau in Austria and Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia respectively.
Enjoying Domäne Wachau’s Smaragd Ried Achleiten felt almost like drinking history already, as Wachau was granted DAC status earlier this year. ‘Smaragd’ is the upper level within the previous classification, ‘Vinea Wachau’ and this is one of the wines, where Fiaker stocks wines all the way back to the 1990’s. And it is a wine build for ageing. Notes of ripe, fruity notes are elevated by incredible freshness.
Never been to Budapest? You really should go. Budapest has so many places you don’t want to miss, and why not combine a visit to this beautiful, historic city with a visit to the wine festival in the Budapest Castle?
The castle itself and Fishermen’s Bastion with the beautiful view to e.g. the Parliament is worth the entire trip!
People who already visited Budapest will know, that it is a modern, swinging metropole. This cannot quiet be said about Miskolc, our next stop, some 2½ hours drive to the northeast. In modern times Miskolc was best known as the center for the country’s iron industry and when you approach, it does not at all look like a place to travel for wine – but don’t be fooled.
Rewind some 200 years and the Bükk mountains was home to the Bükk wine region, which today is more or less forgotten and squeezed between Eger and Tokaj. But underneath the city, the glorious history of Bükk and Miskolc is told. 2,000 cellars speak about the former important city, which used to be the junction between Budapest, Eger and Tokaj, Roland Borbély of Gallay Pince, our host for the evening, explains. Fast forward to 2020 and you only find about 10 producers of bottled wine here.
At Gallay Roland Borbély, former chief winemaker at Kovács Nimrod Winery and founding member of the local Terroir Bükk association, produces wine from only 11 hectares. Calling him a “garagiste” would only be fitting. Borbély did start out as a mechanic before changing career to wine – and his first vinous tryouts were conducted in his father’s garage…
Tasting with Roland Borbély is really interesting, as he really does things his own way, including the selection of varieties, he makes wine from.
Genus 2019 – A Blend of Bükk: 1/3 of each Chardonnay, Olaszrizling and Zenit. Tank fermented with time spend on the fine lees for added texture and mouth feel. A fresh wine with citrus, apples and peach as well as a mineral sensation. The finish has a definite grapefruity touch to it.
Kabar 2019 – This crossing between Hárslevelű and Bouvier was accepted only from 2006. It accumulates super fast and hence it was created with Tokaj in mind. Only 1,500 bottles was made from this low yielding variety. Floral, lemon zest and apples plus a touch of oyster and an underlying mineral feeling.
Nyékládháza 2016 – This is 100% Zenit. Notice how much faith Borbély puts into the Zenit grape, which does indeed seem to do well in the Bükk region. The wines was both fermented and aged 16 months on the fine lees in barrel. Warm citrus, lemon curd and vanilla from the oak. A stony minerality keeps the ripe fruit in check.
Blanc 2012 – 70% Pinot Blanc and 30% Zenit. This is a really well made wine displaying ripe secondary and tertiary aromas of pineapple, ginger and vanilla. The wine was aged in new and almost new 300 liter barrels, predominantly Hungarian oak. The wine fresh and fruity and a wine, I would like to play around with in the kitchen.
Rozé 2019 – In 2019 no reds were produced. Instead Roland produced this fresh, and lovely, easy drinking Zweigelt rosé. Note its fairly intense colour, which comes from the variety. Only 7-800 bottles were made of this wine. Intense aromas of red cherry and peaches but without the typical Zweigelt spice. This is really like drinking summer.
Bistronauta 2015 – 100% Zweigelt. Planting Zweigelt in clay soils slows down the ripening considerably and the grapes were only harvested around mid-October. 16 months in barrels of different sizes and ages. Cherry, raspberry and strawberry mingle with spices and cocoa. Comparing it to a barrel-aged Pinot Noir does not seem off. This wine represent excellent value!
Turán 2017 – Turán is such an impactful variety. So much, that Borbély only recommends about 5% of it in blends. And it tastes not really like anything else. Potpourri, violets, oregano, blackberry, boysenberry. Cocoa, coconut and chocolate from the barrel. The long growing season has given the wine its refreshing, high acidity. Turán is truly its own and really worth picking up, if you come across it. In terms of food, I suggest using in a similar way to how you would use your Bikavér.
The next day took us 45 minutes further northeast to the beautiful, world famous wine region of Tokaj. Tokaj, so historically famous for its incredible sweet Tokaji Aszú. But there is so more to Tokaj. Dry Furmint, varietal Hárslevelű, Szamordoni etc. Tokaj is such an exciting place these years.
As soon as Mád started showing up on the information boards on the highway, my heart started to race. Such is the impact, that this glorious region, its wines and its history has on me.
Our first stop was at Öreg Király Dűlő. Not too bad a view, eh?
This place is truly special and it is so easy to recognize, when you approach it by car. Take a look at this next photo:
Öreg Király Dűlő sits so beautiful and majestic in the landscape, raising up to 343 meters with vineyards as steep as 66%. It does stand out and so does its history with vines originally being cultivated here way back in the 13th century.
Our host at Öreg Kiraly Dűlő was Barta Winery, whose exquisite wines we tasted under guidance from winemaker Vivien Ujvári.
At Barta Winery the vineyards are cultivated organically and they strive to intervene as little as possible as to let the exceptional terroir shine through.
The wines from Barta boast plenty of concentration but remain so elegant and this tasting in the middle of Öreg Király Dűlő was literally like the photo above: Experiencing Tokaj through a glass of wine.
A shared feature of the first two wines, both dry expressions of Furmint, is the predominant use of 500 litres barrels from Hungarian oak by the supreme cooper, Kádár, who happens to especially focus on Tokaji oak.
Öreg Király Dűlő Furmint 2016
This is a classic, easy to understand Furmint with notes of peach, overripe apple, lemon and lemon peel and the – in my opinion – typical Furmint descriptor: Fresh almonds. Flinty and smoky aromas, also a classic Tokaji Furmint signature. Acidity balanced by residual sugar and only medium alcohol leads to a delicious freshness. Phenolics give a tannin-like grip to the wine.
Öreg Király Dűlő Furmint 2018
This younger version of a dry Furmint from the same vineyard delivers apple, citrusy notes, almonds and a peppery feel. The structure resemble the 2016 only with slightly higher levels of acidity and residual sugar. Also here you get this flinty, smoky sensation. A great wine with a lot of potential for ageing – for now it needs more time.
Öreg Király Dűlő Hárslevelű 2019
Hárslevelű is a more aromatic variety than Furmint, and it shows in this wine. Tropical fruit aromas such as mango and pineapple mingle with elderflower, white flowers and grapefruit. This wine, too, has high acid levels. It appears softer in texture than the two Furmints, yet possesses a similar minerality.
Öreg Király Dűlő Tokaji Szamorodni Édes 2015
Szamorodni is so underrated! This Polish word would translate into “As they come”, as botrysis impacted grapes and fresh ones are harvested and vinified together.
Concentrated with some signs of Botrytis. Apricot, ginger and fungi. Raisin, pineapple, orange peel and honey. It is not overly sweet (99 grams of residual sugar per liter). Compare it, maybe, to a German Auslese.
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2016
Concentrated aromas. Definite flinty and volcanic aromas underline the dried apricots, orange marmalade, raisins, honey, pineapple, ginger and just a whiff of fresh mushroom. The very sweet character of the wine is neatly balanced by mouth watering acidity. It is long and pure with a lovely, salivating acidity. To me this is way above your average 6 puttonyos and a wine to enjoy for decades to come!
Tokaji Eszencia 2013
The golden colour of this amazing wine goes beyond deep. It is so immensely concentrated. Notes of apricot jam, orange marmalade, raisin, quince, a ginger note and honey. So obviously impacted by Botrytis. Pronounced honey, orange marmalade, marzipan and ginger flavours. The finish is so long. I could still taste it, when we drove away from Öreg Király! Luscious, with high acidity and an incredible balance. How does one balance 1,76% alcohol and 616,7 grams of sugar per liter? This is how! This wine could live just about forever!
A few words on Botrytis and Eszencia
The effect of botrytisation is, that the grapes lose some 80% of their weight due to evaporation, leading to an extreme concentration.
The botrytised berries are handpicked, one by one, over several weeks, typically from early October to mid-November and the process is extremely labour intense, as one person can only harvest around 8(!) kg of botrytised berries a day.
When the botrytised berries are pressed under their own weight only, it results in only 3(!) litres of must from 100 kg of berries.
The extreme sugar content makes for a very slow fermentation – and only up to 1-3% alcohol.
Simple math tells us from the above numbers that 63 kg of grapes make for one(!) 375 mm bottle of Eszencia.
No wonder, this is extremely rare and extremely expensive wine to come across!
Patricius Winery hosted us for the remainder of the day and we started our adventures by walking up into the vineyards tasting the above mentioned lovely quintet in a small vineyard cottage.
On the way to the vineyard we were shown Patricius’ impressive collection of ancient grape varieties, most of which were, until visiting Patricius, completely unknown to me. This just confirms the very rich heritage of Hungarian wine production.
Tokaj Furmint 2017
This is a pretty lean version of dry Furmint. A really refreshing wine displaying apple and citrus along with mineral and smoky notes. The combination of medium alcohol, high acidity and low residual sugar content make for the refreshing sensation.
Tokaj Sparkling (Furmint/Hárslevelű)
This sparkling spend 3½ years on the lees. Bearing that in mind, the nose displays less autolysis character, than one might expect. Lots of citrus and a mineral sensation. The wine is dry and refreshing with both grapefruit and citrus zests.
Tokaj Furmint Selection 2018
This is an much more intense wine than the first one. Aromas of apple and white flowers, almonds and honey and a definite spiciness. The wine has a creamy texture and refreshing acidity that carries through to the finish. The oak influence is easily sensed here.
“Katinka” Late Harvest Tokaj 2017 (Furmint/Sárgamuskotály/Kövérszőlő)
Very expressive nose. Apricots, raisins, honey and ginger as well as a smoky, mineral note. The wine balances its marked sweetness with high levels of acidity. It displays a creamy texture which is balanced neatly by the mineral sensation.
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2016
This wine has pronounced aromas. Dried apricots and very ripe peaches, tropical fruits, with figs and hints of noble mushroom, complimented by the botrytis touch of ginger and bitter orange marmalade. Luscious, but balanced by the high acidity. Favours are so concentrated and the finish comes with a smoky, volcanic note.
Back from the vineyard it was time to celebrate!
Time to celebrate both the winners of http://www.hungarianwines.eu’s 2020 Web Wine Writing Competition in each of the three categories and both in Hungarian and English writing, but also to meet and greet and enjoy an abundance of excellent Hungarian wines from Tokaj to Villány. An added bonus were the wines from very old and endangered cultivars presented by Paul Demeulenaere from Wine Mosaic. These guys really do an amazing job trying to preserve these rarities.
The winners are:
Cabernet Franc – English language: Julia Scavo
Cabernet Franc – Hungarian language: Tamás Jakab
Wine Architecture – English language: Paul Caputo
Wine Architecture – Hungarian language: Zsanett Fürdős
Tokaj – English language: Sebastian Giraldo
Tokaj – Hungarian language: Márk Vargha
The following day took us all the way from Tokaj to our final destination, Villány in the deep south of Hungary, really close to the Croatian and Serbian border.
First, though, we stopped at a the idyllic Baracsi Halászcsárd restaurant at the bank of the river Danube to enjoy a lovely halászlé (fish soup). There is an ongoing dispute, which is the superior one: The Szegedi halászlé or the Bajai halászlé, which we were served and very much enjoyed.
I would strongly recommend, that you travel to Hungary to taste and decide for yourself, as both are delicious.
The classic wine to drink with this spicy fish soup is Kadarka and we were served two premium versions from Vesztergombi in the Szekszárd region. Interesting to compare those 2017 and 2018’s. The 2018 was full of red fruit such as strawberry and cherry and very spicy with lively acidity. The 2017 was nothing less than outstanding. Very ripe fruit with some botrysis (up to 5%). A wine with slightly more weight than the 2018. Fresh, yet soft and alluring at the same time. Csaba Vesztergombi explained how 2017 could potentially have been THE year, had they had the courage to leave the grapes on the vines after the September rain – but the feared, that wasps would attack the grapes as has been experienced in other vintages…
Next stop on the way south was a visit at Lajver Borbirtok in Szekszárd. Lajver, designed by Chilean architect Maurizio Flores, is beautifully situated in Szálka with terraced vineyards surrounded by the forests. At Lajver, wine is produced from 5 different white and 7 red varieties from a total of 26 ha on 32 terraces all surrounding the winery. These terraces are used to assure that each variety is planted where it will perform at its best. The winery is truly impressive to visit with everything done by gravitation. I understand, why it was named the most innovative cellar in Szekszárd back in 2011! The vines are still young, but the tasting of Attila Nagy’s wines proved, that there is a huge potential at Lajver.
Incognito 2019 Kékfrankos
That was a first to me. A white Kékfrankos! It is really driven by its primary, fruity notes of fresh, green apples, peaches and just a touch of cherries. This is a delightfully refreshing wine.
Pinot Noir 2017
What a nice Pinot Noir with aromas of red cherries, cherry pits, strawberries, a dairy MLF-touch and spices such as clove and cinnamon from the barrel ageing. The fresh acidity balances the ripe fruit and makes for a wine which should age nicely for at least another 5 years.
An enjoyable Kékfrankos with its black cherry and red plum in a ripe expression. Peppery and savoury. Noticeable but fine tannins. An elegant, lifted wine with only moderate alcohol, which really suits this medium bodied wine. Only around 600 bottles are made of this wine.
This velvet-like Merlot shows intense notes plums, blackberries and ripe strawberries, vanilla, clove and chocolate. Clever handling of the oak and neatly integrated, ripe tannins. The fruit concentration and alcohol level together with the level of acidity should give the wine a cellaring potential of at least another handful of years.
Infinity Cuvée 2015
Made from Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon this wine shows pronounced notes of black fruit: Black cherry, blackcurrants (cassis) and blackberries. The fruit is playing alongside oaky spices such as vanilla, clove and cinnamon as well as forest floor and tobacco. I really like the savoury attack to the palate. The wine still shows plenty of freshness and should drink beautifully for the next decade.
After the tasting the dare devils amongst us enjoyed off-road trip by Jeep through the vineyards to enjoy this breathtaking view over the many terraces.
From Szekszárd it is only around 45 minutes by car to Villány – and to Villányi Franc.
Villányi is the southernmost wine region in Hungary and as it is protected from cold northerly wind by the Villányi mountains and its peak, Szársomlyó, it enjoys a warm, only moderately humid climate and with plenty of sun (2100-2150 hours per year!), which is perfect for ripening black varieties. And black wines have made Villány famous – not least Cabernet Franc, which has received a truly unique place within Villány. Enough so to boldly label the top ‘Super Premium’ tier must be ‘Villányi Franc’ rather than Cabernet Franc and a Super Premium wine from Villány has to be 100% Cabernet Franc. Such is the importance of Cabernet Franc to Villány.
Our host this evening was József Bock at Bock Winery. József Bock is the President of the producers’ association in Villány and the Hungarian Winemaker of the Year 1997. Bock’s winemaking roots date back to the 1730’s, when Villány was populated by German settlers, and with the family’s viticultural activities being documented back to the 1850’s. From only 2 hectares back in the early 1990’s Bock Winery now produces wine from 80 hectares.
Having spend so many wonderful hours at Bock Bisztro Copenhagen back in the day, it was really an amazing experience to get to visit József Bock on his home turf in Villány!
At Bock’s Ermitage Hotel we were treated with a lovely, authentic Hungarian dinner including a delicious stew made from a deer shot my Mr. Bock, the avid hunter, himself.
Accompanying the meal were the following wonderful quintet, showing that Villány is not all about Cabernet Franc or even all about red wines:
Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay sparkling, 2019 Hárslevelű, 2019 Rosé, 2017 Syrah and 2017 Bock Cuvée.
After dinner, we went to the amazing cellar underneath the Ermitage to enjoy an epic tasting of wines from a quartet of superb Villányi producers: Gere Tamas & Zolt, Gere Attila, Vylyan and of course our host, Bock.
If you have never been to Villány, you wouldn’t believe what is hidden underneath Ermitage! After dinner, we went to the amazing cellar to enjoy an epic tasting of stunning wines from a quartet of superb Villányi producers: Gere Tamás & Zsolt, Gere Attila, Vylyan and of course our host, Bock.
The underground venue had the expression of a cathedral – a cathedral of wine, that would have to be!
To me this experience was about being present so no notes are available from this incredible lineup (See photo above), but the wines, we tasted, were:
Gere Tamás & Zsolt Kadarka 2017
Gere Attila Fekete Járdovány 2018 – Yes, the very same grape, we came across at Patricius in Tokaj! Resembles me of Nebbiolo.
Vylyan Villányi Franc 2016
Gere Tamás & Zsolt Villányi Franc 2016
Bock ‘Libra’ 2015 (Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon)
Gere Attila ‘Kopár’ 2017 (Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon)
Vylyan ‘Mandolás’ Villányi Franc 2012
Bock ‘Capella’ 2009 (Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon)
What made this tasting even more impressive was to hear the different producers explain, what makes this particular wine unique to them and just why they chose to bring this wine rather than other of their great wines. The ambience and the pure quality of the wines presented made this event so spectacular.
The next morning took us to Csanyi Winery, also in Villány.
Csányi Winery, founded by one of the true pioneers of Hungarian vituculture, Zsigmond Teleki, in 1881. The importance of Teleki and his work can hardly be overestimated, having bred the 5 BB rootstock, which is famous even to this day. To commemorate Teleki, the top brand of Csányi bears his name. Any visit to Csányi should include a visit to the more than 1 km long labyrinth underneath the winery, which is actually the longest in all of Villány.
Csányi possess vineyards in some of the best vineyards of Villány such as Kopár, Ördögárok, and Jammertal.
As can be seen from the above photo, the winery was busy processing incoming grapes as we visited. These are Pinot Noir destined for sparkling wines.
Winery Manager Zoltán Szakál guided us through a highly interesting tasting of Csányi wines.
Teleki Villányi RedY 2019
RedY is a new project aiming to produce easier drinking reds to attract new and younger wine drinkers, the so called ‘Generation Y’ – hence the capital Y. RedY must consist of at least 51% Portugieser and here the remainder of the blend is made up by Kékfrankos, Kadarka and Blauburger.
The wine expresses black cherry and sour cherry togehther with spicy aromas and a peppery note. It possesses lively acidity and only very moderate tannins. This is really great, fresh wine, perfect for e.g. outdoor parties during summer. Enjoy the wine in its youth.
Teleki Selection Villányi Kékfrankos 2017
Expressive nose displaying cherry, blueberry, a classic Kékfrankos pepper note and just a whiff of spices from the oak. This is a fresh, straightforward style of Kékfrankos. On the palate the alcohol makes the spiciness more noticeable and nicely balances the noticeable tannins.
Chateau Teleki Villányi Merlot 2015
This is a fresh style of Merlot. The nose show ripe cherry, ripe strawberry, red and black plum as well as vanilla from nicely integrated oak. Tannins are definitely noticeable, but they have a very ripe feeling to them and together with the acidity it gives the wine a beautiful structure. You could easily age this wine for for a handful of years to come.
Chateau Teleki Villányi Franc 2017
Intense aromas of black cherry, sour cherry, blueberry and blackcurrant as well as a classic Cabernet Franc green bell pepper note, blackcurrant leaves and finally clove and a liquorice touch deriving from the oak.
I find this wine very well balanced. The firm tannins are held in check by the alcohols and the fruit concentration.
Kővilla Válogatás Villányi Franc 2015
This is the first of two ‘Kővilla’ wines from this plot from highly famous Kopár vineyard. A small stone house of the winery still sits in the vineyard haveing witnesses so many important events of Villány and has thus inspired the naming of these wines.
This a limited production of ca. 5,000 bottles compared to 20,000 bottles of the Chateau Teleki Villányi Franc and limits are below 5 tons per hectar.
Smoky, a note of tobacco and cool mint pave the way for ripe blackberry and plum, sweet spices and cocoa powder. Wonderful mouthfeel will lots of dusty, powdery tannins balanced so well by the ripe fruit, high acid levels and a medium (+) level of alcohol adding to a very elegant expression. Here we are easily talking 10+ potential for ageing.
Teleki Tradícío 1881 Villányi Franc – Kopár 2015
I would love for this wine to be allowed to age for at least five more years to reveal all of its potential. Intense cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant of a riper character than in the ‘Kővilla’. Plenty of oak influence from the lengthy time spend predominantly in French oak. High acidity and again only medium (+) alcohol. This is a packed, multi layered wine with a big frame. A wine built for a long life.
Kővilla Válogatás Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
The wine comes across as a bit shy. Maybe due to very recent bottling. But given time to breath it shows ripe blackcurrants and blackberry, lots of spices like thyme and nutmeg, vanilla and cocoa powder.
This is a wine with muscles. High acidity, high levels of tightly knit tannins and lots of concentration. The finish is long and savoury.
This wine is so obviously only still in its very earliest phase. Store it for 15 years or more and you will still have a wine drinking beautifully.
Premium Cabernet Franc 2002
Still very deep colour and still garnet. Aromas speak of a wine of noticeable age. Savoury, confected fruit: blackberry, black cherry, black- and redcurrant. Tertiary aromas like mushroom and sub bois, chocolate and coffee. Acidity remains high, tannins are definitely present, yet soft and so well integrated. This is an outstanding wine that is nowhere near the end of the road, yet.
Teleki Tradícío 1881 Pinot Noir Rosé – Brut 2016
Having spend 30 months on the lees, this sparkling displays not much autolysis character. It is much more about the fresh fruit. Red apple, cherry and raspberry. Delicate mousse. Really, really well made.