What do Tóth “Scheller” István, Szászi, Laposa, Káli Kövek and Válibor have in common? Well, may things. To start with, they’re small or very small wineries focusing on white wines. Then they’re from the Káli medence and the area around (which may well be the most beautiful region of Hungary). They have a well recognisable style. They’re not extremely accessible, but their wines are very affordable, fairly priced wines. Istvándy and Villa Tolnay are already a bit different so let’s not talk about them here.
I like the above winemakers with their imperfections. It’s a shame that their production is probably less than of a medium sized winery’s in Villány, combined. Of course, tourism didn’t do good for the region. Unlike Tokaj, Villány and Somló, this region attracts visitors for many other reasons but wine and the proportion of sophisticated consumers remains tiny whilst Fröccs and bulk wines rule the area. So the main question is: are these wineries capable of taking the wines of the region to the next level? But then it raises other concerns: do they have a driver to do that? These are quite unsettling questions until I realise I don’t care as long as they continue to provide us with such good and interesting wines so cheap.
This Olaszrizling from 2008 is a rather heavy wine, but unlike Tamás’s from Csopak for instance it’s not because of the oak primarily, but perhaps not having been filtered may be one of the causes. With enough substance, 13.5% alcohol and a vibrant, even sharp acidity the wine’s well balanced though. An elderberry-flavored palate with boiled celery tartness and a minerally undertone is enhanced with some restrained fruity notes of apple, quince and pear and a hint of nutmeg. There’s a prickling sensation too especially at the finish which also adds a little to its complexity.
For HUF 1 700 t’s a best buy for those who like the stlye but will disappoint those looking for a clean, polished style.
Price: HUF 1690 (it’s a best buy for those who like the style)
All attempts to produce really good red wine in the northern Balaton region have failed so far. The truth is you can barely find half decent efforts. Villa Tolnay have been supplying the market with perhaps the most stable quality of white wines over the years. And yet they’re still betting heavily on red wines.
Névtelen 2006 is almost terracotta colored. Warm, very light nose with hints of spices, caramel and walnut. Later wild mushrooms and earthy notes. Very dry, very thin, with a slightly bitter tannic backbone. Pretty vacant.
Price: HUF 2 600
According to the merchant’s website, the grandson of those who bought this pice of land of Köveskál in 1945 took over the winery three years ago which means this might be his first tentative to produce a decent wine on the volcanic hills of northern Balaton. He managed to do it by blending Olaszrizling (2/3) and Riesling (1/3).
Not very intense rocky mineral smell. On the palate it looks older than it is and it’s not fresh either. Very subtle acidity except the finish where it finally shows lemon scented acidity. Good length, stretching throughout all the way in a linear manner.
I find this wine a little bit middle of the road. I’d reverse the proportions to give this wine a more distinct terroir edge and allow bigger body. But not a bad start.
Score: 4 points
Price: HUF 1 950
The name of the guy who invented time machine is Dr. Sándor Tóth, winemaker under the name Scheller and a long-time favorite of mine. It’s difficult to track his work over the years, although rumour has it that he’ll put on the market the wines of 2006 soon (what happened in between is up to you to find out). But his wines from 2003 are still fresh and lovable in spite of being light and not overly acidic, theoretically not exactly suitable for ageing for too long. They’re not in perfect shape any more (perhaps they’ve never been), but you like to think that once they were beautiful, maybe even gorgeous and they are still enjoyable, in some way, after so many years.
This Zöldveltelini from 2003 is pale golden yellow with a light brassy reflection at the edges. It has a creamy, maionnaise bouquet with a lemon zest accent. Creamy texture with a sparkling bitterness from the midpalate. It’s ample but with little substance. Soft acidity. Very empty finish. When chilled, it feels like a lollipop made of butter with a little bit of persley and sometimes other spices too. I finished off the bottle on the third day and it was still as good as 3 days before, and on the second day it turned out to be a great pair with a chicken curry, something unimaginable before. You may laugh now, but you should try it instead!
Score: 4 points (at least)
Price: HUF 1 500
Villa Tolnay are better known for their white wines, often laballed “terroir” and “artisan” wines by the snobbish community (they’re in my opinion simply one of the most exciting wineries in the Balaton region along with wineries like best-buy producer Scheller and the more unpredictable Szászi Endre). I was recommended this particular (arguably a limited edition) Kékfrankos by someone close to an online wine portal, describing it as a great, fruity red wine under HUF 2 000 selected by the said portal who (I was being told) had been looking for a wine to sell as their own brand for a long time for. The time has come.
However, a Kékfrankos from 2007 from the northern-Balaton region doesn’t sound too promising does it? Suspicious? Let’s see.
Classic ruby color with a not so classic black core. The nose is light but full of toast, burnt bread actually, mingled with red steak and a touch of cherry. The palate has a similar character with toast and meat supported by young, thin but hard and still harsh tannins and medium acidity. The tannins smoothen after 2 hours a little, the acids retreat a bit but a bitter-sour element remains. The overall impression is somewhat enhanced by a chocolate note on the nose and hints of cherry on the palate.
All in all this wine is unworthy of Villa Tolnay who are able to produce not inexpensive, but good white wines year after year. And the online publishment shouldn’t be so proud of their long awaited selection either. It’s quite disappointing actually, after so much hype.
Price: HUF 2000
2003 produced some of the first really remarkable great white wines this country’s seen in this millennium (just think about Mandolás Furmint). We learend to appreciate this vintage even more after the tough 2004 and 2005 vintages. The glory of most of these wines, however, didn’t last for more than 4 years, some of them starting a sharp decline as early as in 2006. On the other hand, some of these wineries couldn’t repeat their performance up until now (again, think about Mandolás). The wines from the north bank of Balaton have been having hard times as well. Still, or maybe because if this, I was very happy to discover this already forgotten Kereklevelű (known as Chardonnay beyond the Carpathians) in my cellar from Tóth Sándor (aka Scheller).
Medium-deep hay on the glass, the wine opens slowly to show some flinty notes on the nose. On the palate an almond element mingles with lot of rustic, but attractable minerality. This latter becomes denser, just as the whole wine, after one hour and a half. Medium-large bodied wine supported by lower-medium acidity (which means there could be a little bit more) and a slightly bitter minerality. A bit sweet, the wine is still fresh and in good shape right now with soft, slightly sandy tannin. The marzipan and almond is later faded by dried apricot and even richer minerality. I sometimes sense a botrytis-ish element in the background.
This wine will give you lot of pleasure for only HUF 1 600 especially if you can give it an hour or so before drinking.
Price: HUF 1 600
I first appreciated the affordable wines of Paternina of Rioja on my first trip to Madrid and the Banda Azul brand accompanied us through our journey through Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla, Ronda, Cabo de Gata to Segovia. When we went back few years later to visit le Pays Basque and País Vasco, we visited their winery near Haro (I think, btw, that everyone should visit that land if for nothing else but their tapas bars). I picked up a cheap Chardonnay there, from 2006. This ultra-light wine of pale greenish color is fresh and young with a celery and fennel character supported by crisp acidity in smaller quantity. It’s still slightly sparkling on the palate. This wine is a decent 3+ points effort and provided a good basis of comparison to the very different Áldozóhegyi.
A cheap Szürkebarát with a relatively deep hue is always suspicious. Of course you don’t see it through a bottle (which, in this case is rather pretty). I don’t know why I keep running into oxidized wines in this segment but this one from Dörgicse wasn’t different. It’s like all went wrong with this wine: it has a slightly appalling nose of rotten grape, slightly sweet, the alcohol burns and it has no substance whatsoever. On top of this the finish is bitter. The wine comes with a plastic cork. The nose didn’t show typical corked character. Still, this wine is barely drinkable.
Pántlika owns 40 hectares around Dörgicse, a well-preserved small village with a stunning view of lake Balaton, and it probably makes it the largest winery of than region. Although the cellar’s based in a former socialist co-op “hangar”, the front-end of the headquarters is a nice old-fashioned stone house. After this dichotomy I was very much looking forward to tasting their wines, made by a 19 year-old (!) winemaker.
The Olaszrizling Válogatás 2006 was the first ever made in the history of the winery. Pale yellow with greenish reflections, this Olaszrizling has an intense nettle nose. On the palate it’s light, thin and quite empty for a “selection” with relatively low yield per vine. Slightly sparkling on the palate with nettle and elderberry flavors. It’s a bit tart from the mid-palate.
Score: 3+ points
Sauvignon Blanc 2008. This pale yellow wine also has nettle aromas on the nose and on the palate but a bit more warm and with a flinty-gas accent. Better textured, more creamy but it’s just as thin as the Olaszrizling. Less acidity here but better rounded.
Score: 3+ points
Chardonnay 2008 is bright with medium-deep yellow tone. More closed on the nose, fairly fruity but this one’s also very thin-bodied, although well balanced but it’s a wine without character.
Score: 3+ points
You’ll find informative pictures on the website of the winery: pantlikapinceszet.hu
This is the debut of Villa Tolnay on Budapest Daily Review although I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. The Swiss owner Philipp Oser started making wine in Csobánc (Balaton region) in 2005 and currently has a bit more than 5 hectares of which almost 50% planted with red varietals (mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon I think). All of their wines are matured in oak barrels and they’re not using modern winemaking technologies but focusing on low-yields so Tolnay belongs the so called handicraft winery movement. This Rajnai Rizling 2007 (aka Tavasz) is the entry-level wine of this small winery.
Pale yellow with greenish and metallic reflections, showing freshness and indeed the nose is full of fresh greenish, grassy aromas with a lemon accent. On the palate it’s very refreshing too with very nice, lively acidity and a salty-chalky element for re-balancing the residual sugar this wine certainly has. It’s light bodied and pleasant to drink. This wine has apple and green pear elements too and a long, acidic finish. I expected some oaky notes but there isn’t any. A decent effort from an IT expert. And a very good value for the money.
Price: HUF 1 500
Bortársaság is a major wine store chain in Hungary. Their own product line consist of three pieces and this white cuvée was made in Fodor Béla’s winery of Balatonszőlős (the red’s made in the Takler winery and the rosé at Villány’s Ikon).
The suspiciously low price (about HUF 1 100) for this big, although nicely designed bottle from an unknown producer (Fodor’s name doesn’t appear on the front label) repels wine snobs just as much as it attracts students and low-budget drinkers. I thought that this, put aside Tüske’s red magnum was the ultimate party wine purchased in the last minute by the said target market. I decided to test it on members of a family reunion and it was very well received. And indeed, this is a light wine however well-balanced and with a remarkably integrated structure. It’s fruity on the nose and on the palate too. It’s way ahead of many 75 cl bottled white wines and for HUF 550 a liter it’s a real bargain. And not just for parties.
I went to Csalogány 26 restaurant the other day for a quick lunch and I was offered the house’s red wine for only HUF 200/100 cl and it turned out to be a very good choice (a cuvée from the Malatinszky winery made specially for the restaurant). I was very surprised by the price in such a good restaurant but I think that this is the way to get Hungarians drink wine in restaurants (yes, they don’t). The price of wines in Hungarian restaurants is outrageous. Some people my have realised this so they organised Wine Wednesday (or Borszerda), a single day in a year when participants (few dozen restaurants in Budapest for instance) offer wines at a 50% discount. They still make a good profit on it so I’m surprised why most good restaurants did not list up for the event.