It was my third visit to Kreinbacher Birtok in Somló, a relatively new wine estate founded by József Kreinbacher in 2002. It has grown to 60 ha cultivated organically with grapes from another 20-30 ha each year making it the second-biggest wine producer in the Nagy-Somló region.
As we approached the now familiar concrete building set into the base of Somlóhegy, I began to salivate. I was familiar with the rooms with their polished concrete and industrial-like fittings. I was looking forward to the smell – the bath products and aromatic diffuser. And there was the whole reason for the visit – the five-course degustation menu with the accompanying wines.
We knew the drill. Yes, there was a little glitch at reception when they couldn’t find our booking. [Note that if you’re using a gift voucher, you need to CALL them to confirm as the website will insist on you giving your credit card and when you don’t, your booking won’t register.] But it was soon sorted. We got the same room as last time. It felt like visiting a wealthy ageing aunt.
We booked in for dinner at 7.30 and after sorting ourselves, toddled over to the main building to sample some of the wines we wouldn’t be having at dinner.
There’s an a la carte menu but for the degustation, they choose for you. We started with a chicken liver parfait with quince and apple served with toasted brioche. They say you eat with your eyes first. I was immediately taken with the colour – a purple cabbage powder. It looked amazing. It was paired with their Brut Classic.
Next we had their take on the traditional Hortobágyi palacsinta (crepe). This has to be one of the most interpreted Hungarian dishes with plenty of room for flair. Ours had jalapeno, red pepper, chicken thigh, paprika, sour cream, hazelnut, and a chicken jus with onion oil. This heady combination was paired with the 2021 Olaszrizling.
The soup was an Asian broth with a confit of duck, quail egg, coriander, onion and vermicelli. This was paired with their 2021 Juhfark (sheep’s tail), a grape peculiar to the region.
Perhaps to make up for the check-in hiccup, we were offered a second main course – not a second each, but one of us could choose something else so we’d have two dishes to taste. The venison fillet with pork belly and kale and buckthorn was already on the agenda. The pork belly was lightly breaded and positively orgasmic.
We chose another Hungarian classic – Mangalica pork with green peppercorn sauce, puréed potato, with a mushroom and pine nut salad. Both were paired with their 2019 Furmint Selection.
Wondering how we’d manage dessert, we soldiered on for the grande finale – a brown butter mouse with chocolate, walnut, and plum served with a plum salsa and paired with an Argentinian Chandon Garden Spritz.
Breakfast the next morning started with a selection of cold meat, cheeses, and kinds of butter followed by eggs or pancakes. I missed the bubbly though.
Their cellar master Christian Forget from Champagne Paul Bara makes regular visits to Somló, sharing his experience in méthode traditionnelle winemaking. Executive Chef Gábor Langer works magic with the food. And I hear that recent two-Michelin-star-winning chef, István Pesti from Platán also has a hand in things.
For us though, this visit wouldn’t have been what it was had it not been for Kreinbacher’s new restaurant manager, Péter Szántay.
There’s a fine balance between too much attention and not enough. There’s a balance, too, to be found regarding how much information to give. Szántay has the art form down. He happily chatted with us before dinner, explained each of the courses to us when they were served, reasoning why each wine was chosen. He knew we had some experience with Hungarian wines. We traded preferences of other wines from other wine estates. He involved us in the experience. He treated us like old friends at breakfast. Both times I’d visited before, I’d felt like an outsider. Tolerated. But not really part of the gang. This time, it was a completely different experience. And I’m grateful for it.
I’m grateful too, to the gift givers for the gift to himself that I got to share. A lovely experience.