In a bit of a departure from my usual blogs, today I want to talk about a recent trip to Hungary and a fantastic little wine bar visited in Budapest called The Tasting Table
Hungarian wine is undergoing something of a resurgence in the UK following LIDL’s decision to stock a range of Hungarian wines yet many people still when asked what they know of Hungarian wine will often hesitate before tentatively saying “Tokaji”?
The truth is there is so much more to Hungary than Tokaji and this tasting would prove it.
Upon arrival to the quirky underground shop/cum tasting room we were ushered to our table and of the various wine tasting flights available we decided upon the wine cheese and Charcuterie tasting for 9,900 HUF per person (roughly £28-30) – which we did pay for, it was not a freebie in return for publicity in the blog!
This covered a generous tasting of 5 wines served up with individual boards of charcuterie and cheeses and before I get to the wines, I want to spend a moment talking about the cheese and meats, which were both plentiful and delicious:
The 4 meats included a smoked goose breast with goose crackling, chorizo pork salami, a pork sausage infused with plum jam and an Italian style (ie no paprika) sausage. The cheeseboard was equally delicious: a goat’s cheese covered in ash, a creamy mountain cheese, a smoked cheese (parenyica) a hard Parmesan style cheese infused with thyme and a soft blue veined cheese all served up with pickles and nuts/dried fruits, breads and some lovely dipping oils made from poppy seed and roasted pumpkin).
Our host (Tamas Kovacs) gave an informative introduction to the history of the Hungarian wine industry, from the impact of Russia and Communism and the need for mass produced lower quality wines, the early commercial success of Bull’s Blood to the more recent improvement in quality due in part to European investment including by Hugh Johnson amongst others in establishing the Royal Tokaj Wine Company.
Tamas explained that Hungary actually had 22 wine regions although most would not be familiar to those outside of the country and whilst Tokaj, Villany and Eger are probably the best known, for our tasting he was going to concentrate on some of the lesser known regions: Somló, Csopak (Lake Balaton) and Szekszárd.
So, moving on to the best bit…the tasting! For our 5 wines we decided on a sparkling, one white, two reds and of course no visit would be complete without the coup-de-grace…a glass of Tokaji.
We started with the Fizz: Kreinbacher Sparkling Brut Prestige Brut, a traditional method sparking (ie the second fermentation is in the bottle as per Champagne) from Somló – a volcanic region in the north west of the country.
Made from 100% Furmint the first thing I noticed were the prominent small beads and deep golden colour. On the nose there were noticeable autolytic characters (think bread, biscuit, yeast) courtesy of its 22 months on lees as well as some lovely notes of apple and white flowers, which followed through on the palate, which with 9g of residual sugar still classifies as Brut but there was a slight residual sugar on the long finish, which balanced the high acidity well.
Our white wine was also from Somló and was from an ancient Hungarian varietal called JuhFark (pronounced your-far-k) which Tamas explained means “Sheep’s Tail” due to the shape of the grape bunch which is very narrow and long at the end and looks like a tail!
Kolonics Winery Juhfark 2015 – this wine was a big surprise, deep lemon in appearance with lovely honey, citrus and green apple notes. This was a bone dry full bodied wine with high acidity and there were hints of cooked apple and quince to accompany the honeyed nutty notes on the palate. The long finish was surprisingly complex (perhaps due to the 12-18th months in large Hungarian oak barrels) and was a popular wine with the whole group.
For our first red we moved to the Csopak region of northern Lake Baloton, as Tamas explained, whilst the southern part is flatter with fertile soils resulting in richer red wines and the north is better known for high acidity white wines, unusually we were trying a red from this northern region:
St. Donat Kekfrankos ‘Magma’ 2015 – Kekfrankos goes by many names (in Austria it’s known as Blaufrankisch), and has often been likened to Pinot Noir stylistically. This example was deep ruby in colour with a real freshness of vibrant red fruits on the nose and palate – sour cherries, cranberry and raspberry as well as a hint of spice (liquorice). A fresh and fruity dry wine with both noticeable acidity and grippy tannins. The wine has undergone some oak ageing in larger cask resulting in complexity and roundness without an overt oaky character. Highly enjoyable.
Our second red was the highlight of my tasting: the Pósta Cabernet Franc 2013 from the Szekszárd region in the south is one of the country’s oldest regions yet is overshadowed by neighbouring Villany which is a shame if this wine is anything to go by!
Deep ruby in colour with a purple hue, what hit me initially was the complexity on the nose, lovely concentrated red fruits (plum, strawberry and raspberry) alongside some secondary and tertiary characteristics from ageing including prune, dates and chocolate notes. Dry and quite full in body with lovely balanced acidity and tannin to give the wine a fantastic structure, the complex finish just went on and on, I loved this, suffice to say a number of bottles have been purchased!
Before we got to our final tasting, our personable host Tamas told us a bit of the history around Bull’s Blood (Egri Bikavér) – my knowledge had always been that it came from Eger in the North East, but it transpires that Kadarka and Kefrankos which are often used in the blend also grow in the Szekszárd region and were used in Szekszárdi Bikavér (the Bulls Blood of the South) although with Kadarka taking a larger role. Apparently for a time the wines from Szekszárd were not able to use the term Bikavér but this has now changed and quality has been improved further by the introduction of new quality controls and regulated winemaking, wines that abide by these regulations now being allowed to use distinctive embossed bottles.
Anyway, I digress! Back to the final tasting – what better way to finish a tasting and to accompany the delicious blue veined soft cheese than Tokaji.
Now I won’t go into too much detail as to how Tokaji is made but it’s worth a quick overview… stay with me…it’s quite interesting. Firstly the grapes: 6 white grapes are permitted but usually it contains a majority of Furmint and Hárslevelu. Tokaji required the presence of Botrytis Cinerea (aka “Noble Rot”) in the vineyard, this is a fungus which requires very precise weather conditions: humidity ie mist/fog in the early mornings followed by periods of sun and warmth in the afternoons, so most usually is to be found in regions where there is a lake or river.
Botrytis causes the grapes to dehydrate so condensing the sugars within the shrivelled grapes, because the Botrytis affects each grape at different speeds/levels of rot it requires many passes through the vineyard to individually handpick the grapes when they are ready (harvest sometimes continuing into December), these grapes are then crushed to form a paste, depending on how sweet the wine, more or less of this sweet paste is added to a base dry wine. This is then mixed and left to ferment and mature, legally Aszú wines can only be released in the 3rd year post harvest.
**Note – This is where the term puttonyos came from which you may have seen on old bottles, the term is largely discontinued but historically a puttony was a wooden tub and the number ie 3, 4, 5, 6 signified the number of tubs of the sweet paste added to the base dry wine ie the higher the number, the sweeter the wine. The terms have now been changed and the only thing you need to know is that for a wine to be called Tokaji Aszú there must be a minimum 120g/l sugar (equivalent to the old 5 Puttonyos)**
Anyway, enough of the technical stuff, onto our final tasting: Tokaji Aszu Hetszolo 5 Puttonyos 2008 – which we were told was an upgrade on the wine usually tasted which was a nice little Brucie-bonus for our group!
This 3 grape blend of Furmint, Hárslevelu and Zeta (a crossed variety) was relatively low in alcohol (around 11%) and displayed the classic Tokaj characteristics: a vibrant deep amber colour with intense aromas of orange/apricot marmalade and crystallised fruits with lovely honeyed complexity. Full bodied and rich, the high acidity prevented the luscious sweetness from becoming cloying and the result was a stunning stickie that was the perfect match for our soft blue-veined cheese (just as Tamas had promised!).
What a fantastic way to end what had been a truly memorable 3 hours, thanks to Tamas for making our afternoon so thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, for anyone visiting Budapest who has even a passing interest in wine, do try and make time for the a visit to the Tasting Table, they can be found at Brody Sandor Utca 9 and you can check them out at tastingtablebudapest.com – they come highly recommended!