Why Hungarian wine continues to grow on me

Recent discoveries from Hungary
– why Hungary continues to grow on me

Hungary deserves recognition as a wine growing country, and ’Why Hungary deserves greater recognition in the world of wine’ was exactly the the header of Patrick Schmitt MW in his article on Drinks Business earlier this spring.

And he is right, as is Caroline Gilby MW, who hosted a wonderful webinar late February, where she beautifully laid out just how great a variety Furmint is – if anyone ever really did doubts that anymore – and just what can be accomplished from the country’s widespread volcanic soils. From Tokaj over Somló to Badacsony.

To follow the developments with Furmint is in itself reason enough to continue to pay attention to Hungary. Furmint is not just for the adventurous wine drinkers anymore!

Hungary, though, is so much more and the two most recent master classes at the Hungarian Embassy in Copenhagen allowed me to get a glance of other exciting wines and regions first hand.

All of a sudden a new destination was added to my bucket list: Pannonhalma!

Such is the beauty of this Northwestern part of Hungary and so delicous are the wines of Pannonhalmi Apátsági.

You find Pannonhalma in the Upper Pannon region west from Budapest and very close to Györ, meaning that access to the region is very easy, wheather you come my car or by train

You know me, right? You know how much of a fan I am of a country making the most of its indigneous varieties, but it is not a doctrine to me. If you are able to make beautiful wines from e.g. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay – go, go, go! Don’t hold yourself back!

And this is what they do at Apátsági, this beautiful, Roman-time monastery, which in its own right is more than enough of a reason to go to Pannonhalma.

Tamás Illés from Apátsági did a great job presenting both the wines and the winery.

Lovely Tricollis rosé from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir with fresh strawberry, raspberry and red plum wrapped in a creamy texture and a similarly fresh Tricollis white from Gewurztraminer, made in a reductive way.

Pannonhalma tends to compare itself to Alsace, Loire and Burgundy in terms of conditions and of course they have planted some Sauvignon Blanc at both the very cool Tavaszó and early ripening Széldomb vineyards.
The wine is about its ripe, primary fruit. Gooseberry, litchi, green apple and a whiff of asparagus as well as a mineral grip, adding to a fresh impression.

The Rajnai Rizling was fresh and packed with lemon/lime and a grapefruity finish. Yellow apple and blossom and a slightly peachy sensation. Great intensity here with both high acidity and a mineral touch providing a feel of freshness.

Prior white was shown from the brilliant 2020 vintage, in which the grapes for Prior were harvested exceptionally early. This is more about riper, more intense fruit such as candied lemon, lemon curd, apricot, tangerine. The wine seems to have a fuller texture and to be less acidic. Lovely phenolic finish.

Hemina white came out a bit reductive to me at first, but opened up beautifully. Ripe apple, lemon, peach, vanilla and spice from the used barrels and a dairy touch from MLF. Almost somewhat Burgundian in style. This is a wine for aging for the the oak to become even better integrated.

Hemina red is a 70/30 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc displaying red cherry and plum as well as blackberry, black cherry, black pepper, rosemary and thyme. A ripe, joyful style and a very good gastronomic wine.

Pinot Noir 2020 showed beautifully. Ripe red fruit. Cherry and strawberry. Smoky and even bacony (like crispy bacon chips). Vanilla, sweet spices, cloves and tobacco from the rather obvious use of oak. A strawberry and cream sensation. This wine is hard not to like.

Infusio 2019 is 60/40 Merlot and Cabernet Franc and fairly obviously very much remiscent of a Right Bank Bordeaux. Obvious use of oak. Both red and black fruit. Highly intense with lots of oaky spice and almost a cocoa/coconut touch.

Hungary is gifted with lots of very small scale, highly talented winemakers throughout the country

Just a few weeks later I was invited to a highly interesting Master Class, conducted by Maria Antoanett Crab from Borett.

This time focus was on a number of producers from various regions of Hungary, some of which extremely small scale and some incredibly high end 😉

Does Zala ring any bells with you? No? It should! If nothing else because of Bussay Winery, because the wines from Dori are beautiful. We got to taste a really nice Olaszrizling from Kövecs showing fresh almonds, ripe lemon and lime as well as a salty, mineral note. Gorgeous, racy acidity.
Her Pinot Noir was nothing short of gorgeous! Ripe cherries and strawberries as well as roses, herbs and spices. Slightly gamey. You do not want to miss this!

From Palkó Zsolt we were show both his Hárslevelü and his Furmint from 2020. Furmint taken to Badacsony, where he grows grapes from on 1½ ha on volcanic soils which gives a distinct mineral character to the wines.
The Hárslevelü was floral with fennel, ripe pear and bruised apple and a very intense, fiery and mineral expression.
His Furmint showed apple, peach, mushroom, almond and a salty element. Mineral, stony, flinty and with an earthy touch to it. I really loved the acidity in the wine.

Erika Rácz from Sanzon in Erdöbenye in Tokaj grows grapes from 4 ha and we were treated with two wines from the Rány vineyard. Hárslevelü and Furmint.
I know her wines quite well, but her new Hárslevelü was really something else. 50% of Hungarian clay amphoras and 50% of 500 litre oak barrels from the brilliant, Austrian cooper, Stockinger. Stockinger is a widely recognised cooper, who also produces barrels for e.g. Austrian and even Burgundian producers such as Rémi Jobard in Meursault.
Really floral with loads of white lilly. Ripe lemon zest and an obvious phenolic finish to it. Stony, salty and overall truly mineral. Definite Tokaj.
The 2020 Furmint ’Rány’ has massive potential. Seems kind of restrained right now. Obvious grapefruit here as well as lime and anise.

Barta Winery is a light tower in Tokaj in my humble opinion. Vivien Ujvári is doing a brilliant job there and Öregkiraly is a by all means truly spectacular place, both to visit and to grow grapes. The 2020 Furmint is amazing. Apple, very ripe lemon zest and anise and obvious smoke. The mouthfeel is so creamy and the wine very intense.
Their 2013 Szamorodni Édes was obviously sweet with 90 grams of residual sugar and showed lemon, apple pie, orange- and lemon peel with a very creamy texture. This is a beautiful wine from an amazing vintage!

Villa Sandahl fro0m Badacsony is a producer, whose wines I tasted last year at an event in Siklós. What to think about a Swedish wine collector producing Riesling in Hungary? I can’t but love it! The wines are beautiful. Winemaker here is Zsolt Palkó – remember him from earlier? 😉
Odin’s Horse 2020 is made from grapes harvested into November. Apple, lemon curd, no petrol – but still a kerosene whiff – banana and peach.
Starling Village 2019 showed more of the kerosene note along with ripe peach and ripe apple. Kerosene (petrol) was noticeable on the palate along with ripe pear and a slightly bitter, phenolic finish.

Márkvárt in Szekszárd is a producer, whose wines I really connected with. 2018 Kékfrankos showed such varietal typicity with its black cherry, liquorice, pepper and spices. Full bodied and highly intense.
2017 Szekszárdi Bikavér, which has to be made of 50+% Kékfrankos, 10+% Kadarka and then at least two more grapes (e.g. Zweigelt and Merlot)  had an obvious Kékfrankos feel to it. Deep, ripe black fruit (including plum and obvious oak: vanilla, chocolate and cloves. And such big tannins.
Oh, did I mention that Márkvárt has Kadarka vines dating back to 1902!

2HA Winery (The name needs no explanation!) brought maybe the biggest surprise of the day with an unfiltered, unclarified Hungarian Sangiovese! Ripe, red cherries and vanilla. Surprisingly soft tannins and soooo easy to drink at only 13%.
Their 2017 Courage is sort of a reversed Bordeaux blend with Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark cherry, dark plum and blackberry with a lovely tannic structure. Very precise wine.

When do we come to the Cabernet Franc!! You can almost hear me yelling, right? Brought to you by Wassmann Winery, whose 2016 Cabernet Franc has seen old Hungarian oak. Hungarian oak is used by quite a big number of premium and super premium producers in Hungary, from coopers such as e.g. Kádár and Trust.
This great Franc showed lots of black fruit. Blackberry, black cherry, black plum. Very pure, very fresh fruit. High alcohol, but it is so perfectly integrated

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