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A cellar of note

My head is easily turned. Some would say I’m fickle. Mapping the direction of my conversation would be a challenge. I have a tendency to rhapsodise. On the few occasions I’m overcome with enthusiasm for something, I border on the evangelical. And when I discover something, or somewhere, or someone I really, really like, the world and its mother has to know.

I was introduced to Sándor Szogedi on a recent trip to Noszvaj. I’d gone to mass (wrong service, wrong church, different experience) while the others went to see the castle and the cave dwellings. They were to come back and meet me in an hour when I’d done praying for all our sins. Instead, I got a phone call. They’d found their church – the Gazsi Pince.

&&8It wasn’t by accident. My friend had sampled a red wine from the Gazsi cellar some time ago and knew it was resident in Noszvaj. They went to check it out and when they found it closed, she called the number on the gate. The ever-amenable Szogedi agreed to open up and let them taste his wine.  And it was there I eventually found them, lauding the merits of a rosé that apparently was the best anyone had ever tasted.

While I’m prone to exaggeration myself, I don’t find it becoming in others. I was just a tad sceptical and more than a little contrary that sunny Sunday. So I decided to ignore their urgings and go with one of the cellar’s 12 wines – a dry white 2015 Leányka. And I was impressed. Very impressed. Bottled from grapes from vines planted back in 1982, it’s certainly a ‘young lady’ of note.

I tried another, a 2014 Királyleányka. And the descriptive that came to mind was intriguing. I’m convinced that wines have personalities. A lot of them are simply boring. If they could speak, their conversations would be dull and uninteresting. I could relate to the Királyleányka – it caught me unawares. I liked it, too. A lot.

The others had moved on to the reds so I was catching up. Curiosity got the better of me and I gave in. I tried the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. Since discovering the virtues of rosé back in Wimbledon, UK, some dozen years ago, I have only once tasted anything that came close. I don’t have the vini-vocabulary to describe it so I’ll revert to the prosaic – it was bloody brilliant.

I’m not one for red wine. I had an unfortunate encounter with a bottle of port when living in Anchorage, Alaska, many moons ago, an incident that left me scarred for life. Even sitting next to an open bag of wine gums turns my stomach. But I was on a mission. And I tried both the dry Cabernet Sauvignon and the sweetish Turán. And if the rosé and the white ran out, I could drink either.

Szogedi, too, is a rather remarkable man. In a country where customer service is still in its infancy, he has nailed it. Eschewing the usual retail channels, Gazsi wines are sold directly to the consumer. Relationships are established. The family is extended. With just two hectares under vine, they buy in grapes from other growers and then work their magic. Their run is small – perhaps 6-8000 bottles a year plus the barrels dispensed in 2L and 5L plastic bottles. Their wine tastings can be coupled with a four-course meal in the cellar, something that’s now officially on my list of things to do. And with delivery runs to Budapest three times a week, putting wine with a personality on your table has never been easier. Introducing others to the delight that is Gazsi is a bonus. Check them out at www.gazsipince.hu

First published in the Budapest Times 17 June 2016

 

A blessing in disguise

We had a few hours to kill before our Glamping experience was due to start so we hit upon the neighbouring village of Noszvaj. We had plans to see the castle and the caves – caves in which people live today – and then to wander around the wine cellars. We stopped to ask an old lady which path to take to get to the castle and she invited us to church. She said the castle would still be there in an hour but the church service would be over.

IMG_4828 (800x600)IMG_4823 (800x600)Between the four of us, I was the only one to profess an ounce of religion. And it was a Sunday. And I was conscious of my duties. So I left the others to their own devices and headed into mass. Or so I thought.

I sat in the back of this 750-year-0ld church as hymnals were thrust upon me by a series of ladies of indeterminate age. After the fourth had made her offer, the rest sent up a loud chorus: she’s a foreigner. Everyone in the church that day knew I wasn’t Hungarian. And I knew that I was in the wrong church when a woman – and a fashionably dressed woman at that – appeared on the altar.

The second clue I had was when after the first hymn, by request from the lady of the cloth, everyone turned to greet their neighbour, shaking hands and nodding and having a quick chat. Wrong order here – we [RCs] don’t get around to that till nearly the end. And then it’s not so much of a chat but more a quick ‘peace be with you’.

A couple of hymns were a little on the pop-side of the bible. It was hilarious to see some of the headscarfed oldies pew-dancing to the beat.

The sermon took about 20 minutes and from what I gathered, it was mainly about fathers needing to be more than football coaches [this particular Sunday being the Day of Children in Hungary]. She delivered it with aplomb. I didn’t need to understand the words to get the essence. This woman had what so many priests in my church lack – she had presence. She had her audience in the palm of her hand. She had rhythm. She had tone. She had vocal variety in spades. And she had presence – I know I said that already, but it’s worth repeating.

There was no order that I could identify. There was no communion. I looked down once and when I looked up again, the altar was bare. She’d gone. It was over.

IMG_4833 (800x600) (2)IMG_4826 (800x600)IMG_4837 (800x600)I waited to take some photos and as I was leaving fell into conversation with one of the local women whose English was as good as my Hungarian. We got by. It transpired that I’d been to a Reformation church. And they only have communion a few times a year on special occasions. They were highly amused that I’d thought I was going to mass and even more amused when I told them that I was in Noszvaj to taste the wine.

But we parted on good terms.

The village itself is lovely. The old sod roofs are reminiscent of an Ireland of yore. I was quite taken with the solar panelled roofs, too. A nice mix of eco-traditional.  I was sorry to have missed the cave dwellings but I did catch up with the wine. More of that on June 17th, though. Now it’s enough to say that IMG_4838 (800x600)IMG_4848 (800x600)the village is home to the famous Thummerer Winery and a couple of others of note, but Thummerer is the one that gets the  most attention. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. But then again, all I know is what I like. And I liked the painted postboxes. And the feel of the village. And the quaint houses that dated back to the 1800s. I was completely entranced by what looked very like a map of pre-Triannon Hungary marked out in chalk or white stone on a nearby hill. Fascinating. Worth a visit.

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