Thermal weapons and wine

Up until the mid-sixteenth century, thermal weapons were all the go.  The objective was simple: inflict maximum damage by scalding or burning. Hot water and sand. Perfect. Hot animal fat. Even better. Nowadays, especially in Hungary, the smell of boiling fat is synonmyous with festivals.







In a country where vegetarian menus often feature dishes with bacon (which hasn’t yet been given full meat status here) and vegetable soups are often made with chicken stock, meat reigns supreme.

At the Budafoki Pezsgő  és Borfesztivál (the Budafok Wine and Champagne Festival) last weekend, the smells were enticing. I was particularly impressed with the sight of a full cow carcass on a spit. Beef is a luxury here in BP and it’s hard to find good stuff for anything less than exhorbitant prices. But this  simply fell from my fork. Beautifully cooked and a taste to die for.

In Budapest terms, Budafok is District XXII and home to most of the wine makers in the Budapest wine region. The biggest attraction at the festival by far is Törley. It opens its doors to the public this time every year, giving tours of the cellars and selling some of its harder-to-find champagnes.The rather clever exhibition hall includes a massive walk-through   bottle of champagne. Out in the courtyard, jazz bands keep the punters amused while the reasonable prices for 1dl of champers gives the guzzlers a chance to sample the fuller menu.

Hitting the main street, stalls stretch far into the distance with 13 wine cellars and dozens of booths offering all sorts in the line of craftware and oddware. It’s the first time I’ve seen Pivní Kosmetika (beer cosmetics) and can’t for the life of me imagine rubbing Carlsberg onto my face. It seems to be a Czech concept and I wonder if it will ever catch on here in Hungary.

This was the festival’s 23rd year and my 3rd. It’s the first time I stayed into the evening and really got to see what it’s all about. It’s a very local gig – and with tourists (foreigners) few and far between, they were quick to adopt the three of us. I laughed so hard that I cried. Between us, with what Hungarian we could muster, we did okay (Wales definitely took home the cup for Best in Hungarian).

Budafok seems to have its own measure of measures with 1dl differing quite dramatically between the various stalls.  As one blogger put it: ‘Here you still find wine makers who give you more than 1dl of wine just because they are proud of their product and not because they need to make the most money out of their stock.’ Others must be extracting vengence on whoever left them in charge. It’s a regular fixture on my calendar now and I’ll definitely be going back again next year.

Why I love living in Budapest No. 9

IMG_3803In victory deserve it; in defeat need it. So said Winston Churchill of the great elixir that is champagne. Mind you, he had a thing for the Pol Roger heiress so maybe his love of the nectar was a little suspect. Still, he is supposed to have started his day with a glass of champers and that’s a habit I could willingly fall into. If I had my druthers and could find the heir to the Törley throne, I’d quite happily end my days personifying Churchill’s abhorrence of exercise. You have to love  man who reckons you should ‘never run when you can walk, never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down!’

Since arriving in Budapest, I’ve been a great fan of Hungaria Dry. The very sight of that blue foil cap makes me weak at the knees;  I find the sound of a champagne cork popping positively orgasmic (and let’s leave Freud at home with his knitting!)

But what I didn’t know was that Törley makes Hungaria Dry! I’ve been so busy drinking it that I never took the time to read the writing! It’s a long and complicated story that spans more than a hundred years. Back in 1882, old Joszef Törley reckoned he’d made something ‘far superior’ to champagne… And I for one would have to agree. Now, I’m not for a minute saying that I’d ever refuse a glass of Dom P. It’s quite lovely. But wasn’t it Warren Buffet who said that price is what you pay, value is what you get? and spending a small fortune on a labelled champagne has always struck me as a rather silly thing to do. But, if it ain’t my money, who am I to argue?

IMG_3808On Saturday, thanks to a very generous invitation from the lovely HE to join her at the 20th Budafok wine festival, I had the rare opportunity to have a guided tour of Törley (it opens to the public one weekend a year) and it was there, at the tasting, that I discovered that not alone does Hungary produce the very palatable Hungaria Dry, it also has about 15 other perfectly respectable sparkling wines. La Method Traditionale is alive and well. I was in hog heaven. Serenaded by the sound of popping corks, clinking glasses, and that ever so subtle rush of bubbles…paradise. And that’s not even mentioning Törleycastle! I had a hard time dragging myself away from that particular fantasy!

I had no idea that sparkling wine took so long to make. And the detail: turning the bottles at 30 degree angles over 18 months, by hand, and then icing the necks to extract the yeast, and picking the most acidic grapes to begin with! A far cry from adding some carbon to a bottle of white! Had I to start life all over again, I’d seriously consider a careers as a champagne master!

That afternoon, we wandered the streets of Budafok with our wine glasses, stopping at various pincek (cellars) to sample what they had on offer. It’s all a bit of a blur really. I had two boxes of soapflakes made from goats milk in my bag when I got home, along with the four bottles of bubbles I just had to buy! (De Wimmen are coming over in October and with them, it always pays to be prepared! )

Hungarian wine doesn’t get the global credit it deserves. And while up to now, I’d have rated my sparking wines in the following order: prossecco (Italy), cava (Spain) and then champagne (France), I’ve had to revise the list to put Törley at the top. Ah, the Chardonnay Brut is to die for! So, not alone have I discovered the joys of Nyakas (a relative newcomer to the Hungarian wine scene), I have now experienced the sublimest (and yes, it is a real word) taste of all…  Francois President!  I love this city!