wine-tasting hungary

Hungarian wines and the 5%

I’m not a great one for wine-tastings. I have a thing about pretentiousness. I don’t trust the lingo. Talking of balance and body and finish and legs and such brings out the blue collar in me and I resist what I see (irrationally) as poncey. I’ll fess up. It’s my issue. It’s in my head. Mine alone.

A few years back, I’d taken visiting family to a wine-tasting in VinoPiano, a wine bar in the IXth district. The fab Kiss Ferenc, their sommelier at the time, did a great job of explaining the wines and their histories and their tastes without the slightest hint of pretension. He was all about making wine accessible. And I loved it. I took note of his recommendations and they still feature on our menus. I went back a few months later with a mate who fancied booking a tasting for her birthday, but Feri had moved on and no one was saying where to.

Fast forward to Thursday night and a wine-tasting at my new favourite gathering spot, 6:3 Borozó. I hadn’t registered that the Ferenc mentioned in the marketing bumf was the Feri I knew from VP so when he arrived, I was delighted. I could relax. I wouldn’t feel stupid. I’d learn something. And I knew I’d enjoy his pick of wines. He might look young but he certainly knows his stuff.

We started off with a Kékhegy ami úrrá tesz 2016 from Gyöngyöspata in the Matra region. I recognised the vineyard as Feri had introduced me to the Piroska Siller last time out (the new harvest is due out mid-May and I’m ready).

This dry white is a 50/50 blend of two grapes grown on the vineyard: Cserszegi fűszeres and Tramini and it was probably the most popular wine of the evening. The Cserszegi fűszeres is a Hungarian grape created in 1960 by a chap called Károly Bakonyi. It’s a hybrid of Irsai Olivér and Roter Traminer. There’s lots of research going on in Hungary into new types of grape with plenty of cross-pollination experimentation and it would seem that this has always been the case. The Tramini isn’t that popular in Hungary with few vineyards growing the grape. Apparently, it has a low yield. The blend of the two is delicious. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it got the audience vote of the evening. The lads had asked us all to rate our top two picks so that they could add them to the summer menu.

 

 

Next up was the Somló kincse píros bakator 2017. And yes, it’s a white wine and yes, píros in Hungarian is red. It’s a gorgeous colour – like rose gold jewellery. The second most expensive wine on the list, it was really lovely. I’d splash out on this one. Definitely. We tasted the 2017 first and then the older 2016. What a difference. White wines don’t usually age well. I’ll admit to preferring the younger one, though. It had more going on. I was probably sold on the colour. The current ratio of white to red wine production in Hungary stands at 60:40; this is on a downward curve as climate change makes itself felt. Not being a red-wine drinker myself, I see this as a way to slowly move in that direction. A white wine made from red grapes – and a rare grape at that. In 2017, the few vineyards growing this grape formed the Bakator Association to promote it. It’s one worth reviving.

 

From Tánczos pince came the Zengő válogatás 2016. This was my least favourite and I still liked it. It goes well with mushrooms apparently 🙂

I’m not sure if it was named after the highest peak of the Mecsek, a mountain range in southern Hungary. Zengő translates as resonant – and according to legend, the noises heard coming from the mountains on occasion are said to be made by treasure hunters who went missing in them years ago.

Another curiosity about the area: 90% of the total population of the Paeonia Officinalis ssp. Banatica flower lives on the Zengő. It certainly seems to have a lot going on. The wine got some rave reviews from our table but I wasn’t one of them.

 

 

Next up was the one I’d been waiting for: the Mayer pince tolnai Siller 2017. I’m a huge fan of the Hungarian Siller. Originally Siller wine was a mix of red and white grapes but this is no longer allowed (am not sure who stepped in, stepped on, and stepped out) but now, Siller wine comes from the blue grape, the same as rosé and red. The difference is in how long it’s soaked in the grape skin. Longer than rosé and not as long as  red. The name then doesn’t refer to a grape, per se, but to a colour. It was very fashionable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and is currently enjoying a revival of sorts. It’s still relatively unknown, even in Hungary, and indeed when I’ve asked for a Siller I’ve received more than my fair share of disapproval from sommeliers in the know. It seems it has more detractors than fans but I’m a fan. The Piroska Siller from Kékhegy was my go-to bottle but now that I’ve had the Mayer – a blend of kékfrankos, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon – I have a second option. I loved it. Others at the table weren’t as keen.

No Hungarian wine-tasting would be complete without representation from the Tokaj region. And Feri didn’t disappoint. His offer of Breitenbach pince’s Hárslevelű Bathóry-dűlő 2014 was more than acceptable. When it comes to wines from this region, Feri reckons that the Furmint is the brother and the hárslevelű, the sister. But DNA tests reveal that Furmint is most likely the father of hárslevelű. DNA and grapes? Really?

In the early 21st century, DNA analysis confirmed that a parent-offspring relationship exist between Furmint and the Hunnic grape Gouais blanc. As Gouais blanc, has been noted in documents since the early Middle Ages and has been well established as the parent of several grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Elbling and Gamay, ampelographers believe that Furmint is likely the offspring of Gouais blanc instead of the other way around. DNA analysis also suggested that parent-offspring relationships exist with the Hungarian wine grape Hárslevelű and the Swiss wine grape Plantscher but instead of either being the second parent to Furmint with Gouais blanc, ampelographers believe that it is more likely that Furmint is one of the parent variety for both grapes.

And for those of you not in the know, an ampelographer identifies and classifies grapevines. Regardless of its history, I’m a fan of both furmint and hárslevelű, so this wine was a winner.

The last wine of the evening was the single red on the list. I was delighted to have the balance favour whites as I’m not a red fan.  Okay. I like a nice Kadarka but for the most part, I detest the smell of red wine. Csutorás Ferenc’s grand superior menoir 2016 didn’t smell red so I liked it. It’s a controversial grape though as, back in the late twentieth century, someone said that the Médoc noir/Kékmedoc growing in Hungary was the same as Mornen noir that rose to fame in nineteenth-century France. Apparently, Hungarians are a little loose with their terminology when it comes to translating French grapes and used Médoc noir to describe anything from Merlot to Malbec. But in 2009, DNA analysis (once again) put an end to the speculation deciding that the Hungarian Menoir has nothing to do with the French Mornen noir, or Merlot or Malbec; it’s a wine in and of itself. And a rare one at that with just 40-65 acres (depending on what you read) given over to growing in the whole country.

I was well impressed with the evening. Each of the wines was accompanied by cheeses and cold meats, homemade bread, asparagus pesto and the grand finale, the minty meatballs that won 6:3 Borozó first prize at the recent Etyeki Piknik. At about 5000 ft a head, it’d be hard to better in terms of quality and value for money. A great night with fun people, lovely wines, and the winsome Kiss Ferenc from the local PinceÁron wine shop on Kinizsi u. 31. I’m already looking forward to the next one. Oh – and that 5% I mentioned? Only 5% of wines produced in Hungary are natural wines with natural ingredients. The other 95% can have as many as 2000 chemical additives. And PinceÁron only represents those in the 5%. Who knew!

 

 

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