What’s new in Hungarian wine… – and a world gone crazy!

Well, it’s only been two months since my last update on Hungary and yet I am ready to update you, once again…

Couldn’t we talk about recent developments from all wine producing countries of the world? Most definitely, but in the case of Hungary, changes and developments continue to be seen and felt with every vintage.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a highly tasting conducted by Maria Antoanett Crab of Borett Wines at the Hungarian Embassy in Copenhagen, which illustrated very well, just how much exciting stuff is going on in Hungary these years.

Vintages coming and going with the inevitable vintage variation is one thing. Climate changes, impactful as they are, affect any wine producing region of the world, and that is a completely different animal. Yet another thing is the human urge to experiment, which provides us with very different wines in back-to-back vintages, the creation of a new and exciting wine – or potentially even new wine regions.

Climate and climate changes

We all experience the effects of climate changes these years. The consequence of those is and will be increasingly more extreme climates north to south, east to west.

Temperature records potentially being broken everywhere from Spain to Denmark and so little precipitation, that rivers in southern Europe such as the Tiber in Italy are on the verge of drying out. Wild fires sweeping across wine regions of California, Greece etc. on what seems to be an annual basis and other parts of the world struggling to cope with floodings. Spring frosts are wrecking havoc in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Chablis as never before.
It is a world gone crazy – and we are to blame!

Already in earlier years, we saw the impact of these climate changes on wine production with e.g. Italy dropping a massive 40% in volumes in 2017 due to the intense heat and drought. This year, much of southern Europe might experience similar losses in yields.

From a wine producer’s perspective, what to do about the heat?

Harvesting earlier? Word is, that this year producers in Tokaj may begin to harvest already in the second week of August, which is really super early. And producers in Kunság most likely started even earlier…

What to produce and from which varieties is another place to look for some sort of answer. For example, in Bordeaux, six new, more heat- and drought resistant varieties have been approved, as in just a few decades, the climate is most likely too hot for both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce world quality wine.

In hotter countries and regions such as California and Chile the race for extremes has already begun with producers planting vineyards closer and closer to the cooling impact of the oceans, further away from the Equator or higher up into the mountains.

But the reality is, that the hottest of the wine regions of the world may not even have a future at the end of this century. After all, you can only harvest so early… And once you reach the shores…

And even within smaller countries, such as Hungary, the weather really can differ from one region to the next. This year, Somló and Szekszárd are suffering from excessive rain this year and for organic wine producers, black rot is such a huge threat, as there is really not a lot to do to battle it, if you want to grow your grapes organic. And at the same time, Villány and Tokaj are struggling with severe drought.

Let’s taste some wine

Dori Bussay makes beautiful wines in Zala, right on the river Mura, which makes up the border with Slovenia and Croatia.
Dori does both Olaszrizling, Welschrizling and Csókaszőlő so incredibly well, as does she Pinot Noir!

Her 2020 Olaszrizling from the Kövecs vineyard is slightly buttery with oaky spicyness and a salty sensation deriving from the high clay content of Kövecs. Underneath the ripe fruit lies a phenolic, grapefruit feel. Organic, spontaneously fermented and aged in local 500 litres oak barrels.
2020 Mura White is an Olaszrizling/Rizling blend that spent 6 months on the fine lees. To me, this bears more the resemblance of Riesling on the nose. Apple, lemon, blossom, almond and stony. On the palate it somehow reminds me a bit of Fino Sherry. This is a really fine gastronomic wine.
Mura Red is a Bordeaux blend style with the very rare and unknown – even to most Hungarians – Laska variety. The wine shows red cherry, red plum, currants and stewed strawberry together with a spicy note. And I find this potpourri note, too. Volatile acidity is noticeable here at 0,4. This is a rather light red at 12,5% abv. with fresh acidity (Laska is very acidic!), medium levels of tannins with some grip.

Csopak is on the northern shore of the lake Balaton and this is where the Kovács family has been making wine since founding Szent Donát in 1994. Their winemaker, Tamás Kovács was a founding member of the Csopaki codex and for a number of years now, they have been striving to make wines with as low intervention as possible.
They ferment their organic grapes spontaneously, release their whites with below 100 and their reds with below 80 mg/l of total sulphur – way below limits – and most wines are clarified and fined at all, and if they are, no animal fining agents are used.

Szent Donát are soil freaks and Olaszrizling freaks!

At Szent Donát the work vineyards on three different types of soil in Csopak, Tihany and Káli Basin: Sandstone, marl and basalt.

Hematit is an Olaszrizling from three vineyard containing red Permian sandstone soils of Csopak, all rich in hermatite: Slikker, Berekhát and Sálfránkert. The saw a few days of maceration and spent 6 months on the lees but no barrel aging.
Ripe pear, peppery and wet stone. A fresh style of Olaszrizling with a bit less of concentration.

2020 Márga Furmint from the limestone-marl containing vineyards of Szitahegy, Nagykút and Hegyalja. After a few hours on the skins, this wine was partly fermented in pyrogranite eggs (amphoras). Aromas of apple and pear, lime and litchee as well as green almond. On the palate it has a phenolic feel to it, high in acid and with a definite tartness. This style of wine really speaks to me.

Search out, if you can, their 2021 Szent Donát rosé made from Kékfrankos. Pure, red berries. Cherry, strawberry and redcurrant. It is made in a straightforward, fresh and easy to drink style and it is hard not to fall in love with – with or without food to go along with it.

2019 Magma Kékfrankos is an unfiltered and unclarified red from the basalt soils of Tihany. Tihany in its own rights is a place, you really want to visit, should you ever come to the Balaton!
Fermented and macerated for 6 weeks in open-top vats with punching down followed by 10 months in 225 litres barrels. The wine displays lots of cherry here with blackberry and plum, more red- than black fruit. Spicy and peppery with a touch of vanilla and just a touch of herbaceousness. Tannins are very pleasant with only a slightly green sensation, which for me lifts the wine.

On to Tokaj and to Erika Rácz of Sanzon, whose 2020 Furmint Classic displayed canned pear, vanilla, almond and blossom in a very well-structured wine with 6 g/l residual sugar and 7,8 g/l total acidity really balancing each other. The generous acidity is a common trait for 2020 and 2021 premium Tokaj.
Erika is always experimenting and with her 2018 Szamorodni Édes she is ‘fighting for tradition’, so to say.
This wine is so different from the 2017, sharing some of the same aromas, that can be found in biologically aged sherries such as green olive and brine as well as aromas of almonds, dried and bruised apple and candied lemon peel. Alas, it is nothing like a sherry. It is its own and it is lovely! 90 g/l of residual sugar and enough acidity to balance it. This wine has a lot to offer as an aperitif and with lots of food – not least in the salty kitchen.

I admit it! I remain a big fan of Vivien Ujvári at Barta! Her 2020 Furmint is spectacular. A bit restrained, but as it opens up: almonds, Granny Smith apples, white flowers and lovely minerality. Lime and lemon curd, high acid – is there such a thing as high (+)? – and very pronounced. Gorgeous wine!
2021 Hárslevelü comes with ripe apple, melon, lots of flowers. Wonderful acidity. Such a vibrant wine with 8 g/l of residual sugar really suiting the wine, as it balances the acidity so nicely.
2018 Kézöi szüret – late harvest – is a sweet wine (80 g/l of residual sugar) that comes with no deliberate botrysis character. Just overripe grapes and this wine brought us aromas of lemon curd, pineapple, ginger and a whiff of banana plus nuts and sweet spices from the time in Hungarian and French oak.

A Swedish collector producing wine from a German variety in Hungary

Villa Sandahl in Badacsony specializes in Riesling and Riesling only and the have a philosophy of picking the grapes late. 2020 Odins Horse displays green apple, lemon and lime, floral aromas and a flinty character. On the palate the ripe fruit shows with notes of ripe pear, noticeable residual sugar behind the 13% abv. The wine has an appealing bitterness on the finish and a lovely, distinct mineral bite. From the 2019 vintage we tasted both Starling Village and Birdie Nam Nam (Birds really fancied the Riesling grapes this year…) Both wines are made from “ultra-late harvest”, as the back labels tell you and that additional sugar accumulation in the grapes makes for big bodied whites with 14,5% abv. and very ripe fruit aromas. Starling Village shows ripe apple, ripe pear, lemon curd, and candied grapefruit peel with the typical Badacsony basalt providing fiery minerality to the wine.
Birdie Nam Nam is from the top range of the producer. Here, you already get that petrol/kerosene aroma in the wine. Ripe apple, ripe pear and with a lovely salty touch. This wine is pure and razor sharp and the acid is kept in check by 6 g/l of residual sugar. Ultra-ripe fruit – these are very late harvested grapes – salty and mineral and such big body. This is obviously a very young wine and one with great potential.   

Márkvárt in Szekszárd is a highly interesting producer and character, whose 2018 Kékfrankos shows much more black fruit than that of Szent Donát. Black plum, blackcurrant, a touch of prune, stewed fruit. Spices such as cinnamon and cloves, chocolate and smoke from the seasoned 500 and 1000 litres Hungarian oak barrels. Generous, ripe and chewy tannins in this full-bodied red.
Szekszárdi Bikavér has to be made from at least 50% Kékfrankos and a minimum of 10% Kadarka. To this, Janos has added Syrah and Zweigelt in his 2018 Bikavér. Spicy and oaky with cloves, cinnamon and toast. This wine is very young. Dark cherry, dark plum, a light touch of pepper (more prominent on the palate). Quite a complex wine. Solid tannic grip, adding to its big-bodied structure.

2 HA in Szent György hegy to the north of Lake Balaton continues to impress me.

2019 Tabunello is a 100% Sangiovese(!) – they are using a new, Italian clone these days – and it is lovely. Ripe red and black cherry, red and black plum with an iron note to it. Lots of oak (light toasted) here – from the brilliant, Hungarian cooper, Kádár – but it is beautifully integrated. More tannic than previously, and those big tannins make for a great structure in this unfiltered, unclarified wine.
Their Courage is a like a Bordeaux blend with Csókaszőlő aged 10 months in new, Hungarian oak. The oak regime varies, as does the toasting levels and it makes sense. Different vintages require different barrels. Ripe, dark fruit. Blackcurrants, plum and with an earthy note to it. Lots of oaky spices and big tannins.

Germans Ralf Wassmann and Susann Hanauer in Villány are biodynamic pioneers. They are Demeter certified and work a lot with a zero-sulphur regime.
Mundia is a Kékfrankos/Cabernet Franc blend showing dark cherry, blueberry and blackcurrant, all wrapped in a definite natural winemaking feel to it and it comes with less than 10 mg/l of sulphur.
2018 (Cabernet) Franc shows its natural making. A beautiful wine indeed, showing fresh blackcurrants, black cherry, black plum, blackberry. Cocoa and just a whiff of spices from the old, Hungarian oak.
2021 Otto is an orange wine from Muscat and beside that obvious grapey Muscat-scent it displays notes of apricot, orange peel and tea leaf. A lovely, fresh and easy-drinking wine with some tannic punch. For fans of orange wines, this is a must try.

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