I haven’t been following the winery as closely as I used to since the new generation of Figulas took over Balatonfüred’s possibly best winery, which certainly used to be the best ten years ago. I paid a visit in 2009 and what I found can be summerised as follows. They’re still strong in the lower price category but with an increasing focus on full-bodied and more complex white wines. The red wines are getting somewhat better but there’s nothing to be too excited about. The use of new oak is less obvious, but still important.
Figula – Olaszrizling, 2009
Bright lemon yellow with greenish reflections. Fresh nose of parsley and celery. Further on more vegetable notes on the palate supported by moderate (too little?) acidity and a hint of salty minerality. Later more juicy mouthfil adds to the already silky texture. It’s light, yet fairly complex wine with a medium-long finish, a lovely wine, very good drink but a bit pricy (HUF 3500).
I didn’t disappear for more than a week because I didn’t drink anything good but because I’ve been drinking too much lately. Mostly in public and mostly way too much and I don’t expect that December would be any better. But fortunately I still managed to spend some quality time alone with some lovely wines, like this one right now when I’m writing this post and will publish soon, although not the subject matter Olaszrizling from Csopat but that’ll be another post anyway.
I asked the winemaker which is the single best white wine he’d recommend me to take away and he picked this one without any hesitation. Although I heard winemakers from North-Balaton complain about 2007 I took it. You may want to read about this visit and his Syrah 2006, and also about his artisanal ways here.
Tamás Pince – Olaszrizling, 2007
Mature, medium deep vibrant golden yellow. Very densely styled but fairly fresh nose, packed full of citrus fruits and mustard. It evolves into sweet citrus with a minerally uppertone. On the palate lively acidity carries a massive layer of minerality. Very much like Szabó Zoltán’s classic Rajnai Rizling except a fading tart finish and it’s a touch woody too. Very juicy with lemon zest and grapefuit flavoured acidity mingled with adorable salty minerality stretching into a long finish. It seems to develop a more moderately fresh, less acidic character with longer exposure to air.
The fact that a 5 kms (wet) distance that separates the Northern from the Southern Balaton wine region apparently makes red wine making impossible on the North is fascinating. In my pursuit of a fine Northern Balaton red wine I visited the small Tamás Pince in Csopak to find out about the prospects and the vintage of 2010.
Ever since I was introduced to Tamás wines about 5 years ago my perception about Tamás Pince was of a maker of good but not outstanding and a bit pricey wines. I didn’t take notice of his commitment to artisan wine making until recently, but that’s exactly why I decided to pay a short visit.
What I’ve found out about this year’s vintage is that it is going to yield somewhat (and not dramatically as elsewhere) less wine than usually and not too unexpectedly sugar levels are lower than as usual. You’ll find more, very useful information on the winery’s website about each wine (provided that you’re fluent in Hungarian), including details of the crop described with scientific precision and not so scientific information about the ageing potential of the wines (how does he know that stuff?).
Most of the tiny land is planted with Olaszrizling but I know it only too well so I become more interested in the red wines and I found Észak és Dél 2008, a blend of 40% Syrah by Tamás and 60% Cabernet Franc by Légli Géza from the South bank the finest of all. In general all the wines were decent wines of fresh and thin character and chosing one to take home proved to be difficult. I was told by Tamás on my hesitation that girls tend to chose the Syrah over Cabernet Franc, but I didn’t find the CF particularily boyish and I found the Syrah a bit more exciting.
Fact sheet: Manually harversted, 27hl/ha. Aged in small second use oak barrels for 22 months.
Blurred pale ruby wine with a restrained nose of black pepper with a hint of toast.
Very tight, light and dry on the palate with lot of pepper flowing into a decent length with a sour element from the mid-palate. Fresh, almost vibrant acidity with well rounded edges, still it feels a bit over the top for this small-bodied wine. Not that expressive at present, the palate displays hints of unripe plum. But with an ageing potential of 18 years it’s too early to say.
So how was it then?
Around this time of 2008 expectations about this vintage ranged from good to outstanding in every region although some remarked that a rainy October could leave this vintage short of excellence of, say, 2006. I’m not saying that the same irrational exuberance took over the Hungarian winemaking as it did in Bordeaux but Hungarian winemakers undoubtadly tend to be more optimistic in their expectations lately. Let’s find out how it all turned out on the east bank of the Danube.
Levendula Pincészet – Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008
The winemaking philosophy of Levendula is very different from the well-known Cabernet producers from the south and that’s clearly reflected in this wine. Also Levendula Cabernet Sauvignon is not a typical Cabernet as it lacks many of the “standard” features one would expect from varietal. After the “classic” Cabenet 2007 the 2008 has less chocolate but has more fruits starting from a vibrant, sharp and clean black-currant bouquet with a chocolate-woody-black peppered undertone to a stream of ripe cherry on the palate. Further on boiled apple and pear supported by powdery tannin and harsh acidity. A little bit rustic compared to the other wines to come but it’s the most fruity of the three.
Pannonhalmi Apátsági – Tricollis, 2008
This is a blend of Merlot (40%), Pinot Noir (40%) and Cabernet Franc (20%) but it could easily be sold as a Pinot Noir. It’s rather pale cherry-pinkish and has a very restrained nose of clove flavoured boiled apple with a vanilla accent. On the palate silky texture with very subtle acidity. A light entry turns into a gently fading length with beige caramel from the mid-palate. 13.5% alcohol feels a bit over the top for such a thin wine.
Bock – Ermitage, 2008
This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Fanc, Merlot, Syrah, Kékfrankos, Portugieser and Pinot Noir could be called Bikavér for it mixes these varietals in a way one wouldn’t suspect all these varietals were actually in it. It’s clearly Cabernet Sauvignon-based though with Merlot and Franc being also apparent. Altough having been aged for 14 months in large barrels and used small ones, with it’s dark brownish hue this looks more like an old-school Villányi Bordeaux cuvée rather than an experimental blend. Dense and highly concentrated material. Delightfully structured wine whose perfectly ripe (and a bit sweet), tasty tannins are a robust yet very fine underpinning that doesn’t require any airing to show its best. Perfectly linear flow from the entry to a rather short finish. Acidity could be fine-tuned here but tannin is the most prominent component of this wine and you can forget the rest. Altough being one dimensional and hence soon predictable, it’s worth to buy it just for the sake of tannin alone. A rare example of very smart use of oak.
All three wines are fairly priced. Tricollis and Levendula’s Cabernet are of the same league although very differrent in style, while Ermitage is different from both and more expensive but very reasonably priced at around EUR10.
A charming little house on a mini-estate of 2.5 hectares with south-western exposure above Balatonudvari is where up and coming Skrabski Fruzsina’s wines are made (by, or with the isgnificant aid of Zoltán Kurucz winemaker, for the record).
It’s a good reference winery for me because the small (if Skrabski’s estate is “mini-” then we can call it nano-) land I almost bought 2 years ago is just a few hundred meters away. The land I was bidding for was only 0.5 hectar with 8 rows in total, of which the 2 on the side closer to Tihany yielded tremendous Pinot Gris according to the seller, so much better than the next row 2 meters away! If that’s true then those few hundred meters could mean a whole world apart in terms of quality and style but still, it feels like this could have been my wine (were not it made of Olaszrizling, of course). Now you can imagine my excitement!
This Olaszrizling comes in a nice bottle and with a medium-pale lemon yellow color. Fresh nose with apple here. Tight, cool and fresh style on the palate too with a light minerally accent. Well balanced at this point. Unfortunately the wine seems structurally a bit unstable and all the aroma disappears as well after some exposure to air, quickly losing most of it’s charm.
With a little improvement in the cellar and in the vineyards, a bit better pricing and the continued availability of these nice bottles from the shelves of a well known retailer will certainly ensure success for the winery.
Price: HUF 1 700
The stunning view from the sheer slopes of Lovas’s Öreghegy alone is worth the almost off-road-like experience leading to the estate. It’s still about 4 hectares, two thirds owned by the winery and just like last June, are perfectly clean of weeds revealing the red sandstone soil sparkling in the sunset.
Until recently all the work in the estate from planting to bottling had been done by Ernő Jakab and his wife. Today they temporarily employ locals for some of the viticultural tasks and although owner Vági’s friends are a usuful help in harvesting, the work carried out by the Jakabs is enormous and also includes cutting back the lavendel bushes and some less enchanting exercises like washing the wine bottles (they come arguably clean but they cannot risk, so every single bottle is washed again).The labels are still missing from most bottles but that’s because of their constant fight with the graphic designer who while belatedly delivered the deisgns didn’t like them himself and refused to hand them over to the winery.
In the cellar, the stainless steel tanks and the small oak barrels look familiar (there’s not much else in the cellar except the press and the destemmer). Although they don’t mention it anywhere, their methods are more artisan than many wineries’ who are labelling themselves artisan winemakers. There’s very little intervention in the winemaking process and that sometimes results unexpected wines, or sherry in the case of Olaszrizling from 2009 which is still undergoing fermentation in a small steel tank. When Szürkebarát (better known as Pinot Griggio or Pinot Gris in the rest of the world) is left for 3 days in contact with its lee they call it schiller or rosé, depending on the color of the wine they get (it gave us a Szürkebarát rosé in 2008 and a schiller in 2009, as we shall see, but in fact it’s netiher this nor that, although it’s really closer to a schiller actually than to a white wine). According to one winemaker who visited the cellar their dill-flavoured Juhfark is also derived from a wine fault and since most people like it wihtout the dill aroma (which is gained through maturing in oak) today most of the Juhfark is aged in steel. I like the dill version better. I would guess that this is the wine region with the most Juhfark after Somló (although the amount is still low, both proportionally and in absolute terms). I noticed this at Balatonfüred woine festival too but these efforts, I regret to inform you, are seldom very successful (I was recommended Fodorvin’s Juhfark recently, itfailed to impress me).
Yields are high, in spite of the distance between rows (2.5m), 5 kilos of grape are the standard per vine. And we came to a very interesting point here. The white wines are harvested relatively early, mostly, resulting in thin, acidic, ultra-fresh Juhfark, Olaszrizling and Chardonnay (the latter is often aged in barrel, but not using new ones). Olaszrizling is sometimes harvested late, resulting in dry white wine rich in alcohol or semi-sweet wine, rich in residual sugar. In 2010, Levendula’s Olaszrizling Late Harvest from 2007 was awarded “Csúcsbor”, the highest recognition given by the judges of Pannon Bormustra (I wrote about this wine here). This move puts this wine (deservedly, no doubt) into the same league with big guns like Tornai’s Grófi selections and Figula’s Szilénusz, but for a fraction of the price (a thousand forints or so). Something to think about.
Cabernet Sauvignon, the only red varietal is always harvested relatively late, when grapes are properly ripe. This results in exceptionally good red wines in some years (like their first one in 2006) and simply good wines in the others, like in 2008 and 2009, although the latter’s still in barrels (but they’re on sale already, as we shall see).
Since I usually don’t publish my tasting notes taken in the cellar, I hereby share with you my notes of only bottle which I opened later. Other notes will follow.
Review: Szürkebarát, Schiller, 2008
It’s cherry red with faded salmon reflections or faded salmon with brassy reflections, depending on where you look at it from.
Raspberry on the nose with some burnt sugar but with an increasing presence of caramel and strawberry soon.
Small bodied, it tastes unripe cherry supported by slightly harsh acidity. Give it 30-40 minutes and it’ll become more integrated into a rather stony minerally character. That’s when it reaches 4 points or a bit more.
Score: 4+ points
Price: HUF 800, or similar
Ernő (we’re on the first name after the inevitable handshake) says he’d plant the whole area with red varietals if he could start it again. Vines are still young (mostly from 2001) so there’s little chance this would happen soon. It’s a pitty, I’d love to taste a Lovasi Merlot or a Cabernet Franc.
Whereas Balaton is the prime summer destination of Hungarian working class and a gangsters’ paradise, Balatonfüred is the last major city with some charm and also the starting point of a coastline of less than 50 kilometers actually worth visiting. I don’t know how they achieve that while being one of the most crowded places of the lake, but even the tourists are different here. You can walk on the most aristocratic promenade sipping your wine whilst spotting hundreds of women wearing their best dresses (cheap, of course, sometimes provocative but always clean, ironed, selected carefully and with no taste at all). They often walk calmly with their partner hand in hand, the men usually wearing a sandal (still often with socks). Charming, adorable. There are very few drunk people, mostly the youth, who are loud and drunk but the landscape is different. The buildings are, of course, the main source of elegance of this city, the old villas of the Monarchy’s bourjoisie and the similarly old commercial buildings. All of these are getting renovated and refurbished, villas turned museums and wine stores opening here and there. Only for a good meal you need to cross the lake otherwise you have to rely on the local kiosks’ offering (usual suspects: lángos, palacsinta) and, especially in the row of wine kiosks’, sausage and fish, the suspiciously tasty deep-fried Hekk (of which a larger portion with some potato and kovászos uborka costs as much on a paper plate than a 3-course menu at Budapest’s Gold Bistro, for two persons!).
Balaton is nostalgy to me and for many of us I suppose (why else would people go there?) and I love it. For an hour or two at least. It gives me an enormous pleasure to be there, to smell the burnt oil of the food kiosks’, to watch the lake with the sailing boats, the hills, the gangsters, now the hypsters too, the inevitable remembrances of the communism (every employer in the country form the 60s on owned one, or sometimes a dozen buildings granted to their employees fora week or two, especially to those who had children) but mainly the heros of communism, the working class, and I mean it in a very positive way.
The Balatonfüred wine festival is not a place for the yuppies to show-off and hence its charm. The wines are poor but who cares. They’re very well chilled (much better than at any other wine festival I’ve been at) and the people are relaxed and funny. A good reason to grab a glass of wine at one of the kiosks’ is that it’s the only place around Balaton where you’re not cheated, where the prices are more than reasonable, where a decent Fröccs comes cheaper than a mediocre, warm beer.
I wasn’t impressed with the wineries present but one: Koczor’s Sauvignon Blanc was so good I had to buy their most expensive bottle which, guess what, was very good too, for HUF 1 300 I think, an Olaszrizling from 2007 (!) of which I’ll post a review when I tasted it properly.
I can’t say much about the winery, Franz Weninger’s wines are everywhere and I still didn’t drink almost any of them.
This Kéfrankos has a very pale hue in the glass. It is very restrained on the nose with hints of chocolate mingled with sour cherry, and it’s a little bit woody-tannic. Very empty on the palate, suspiciously textured. It drinks well, tastes nothing.
Price: HUF 2 000
Footnote: in my clearing the summer stock I ran into a Figula Rosé 2008 which even at room temperature was still enjoyable, with a fresh character and full of raspberry. A pleasant surprise at the start of the heating season.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite grapes and I believe that Hungary would be able to produce good Sauvignon Blancs but so far little effort has been made to fill in a gap on the market left by a virtually non-existing supply of foreign wines, including SB. Where is Hungarian Sauvignon Blanc standing compared to its European and new world competitors? Do we stand a chance as long as quality is concerned, especially when price is taken into account? Is New Zealand really better than France? Should Hungary destroy all its SB plantations once and for all? Are we ever going to export Sauvignon Blanc?
We’ll not necessarily give an answer to these questions, perhaps we’ll be only scratching the surface but at least we’ll try: Peter from borwerk.de and I decided to try to taste as many Hungarian SBs as we can put our hands on and taste each of them in pair with a foreign Sauvignon Blanc. Here’s the first sprint’s result.
Domaine Des Corbillieres is a family winery from the Loire (Sologne wine region) near Blois, Tours and Chambord (boy, do I love the Loire castles!) with a long history and consisting today of 23 hectares of which 13 are Touraine Blanc Sauvignon. 2008 was excellent year in Touraine, on the South-bank of Loire. The Touraine 2005 was a Wine Advocate 90 points wine.
2007 was a year in Balaton described by many winemakers as “rather difficult” but the Figulas didn’t complain. So let’s see.
The tasting was blind but not for long. After the first sniff when our noses got near the glass there were no secrets any more.
The Touraine has pale lemon color with greenish reflections. Very intense nose, soft and gentle with lot of litchi, papaya and maracujá (passion fruit) aromas. On the palate very fresh and firm with lot of grip, metallic (and grapefruit flavored) acidity and perfectly integrated structure. Crisp, buoyant, young but elegant acidity with a salty accent, flowing into a virtually endless finish. Very zippy wine. Goodness, what a wine this is for the price of a small pizza. Score: 6+/7-
In my eyes it’s a real bargain not just for everyday drinking.
The sauvignon Blanc from Balatonfüred (Balatonszőlős, actually) has a slightly deeper hue and a it’s closed on the nose with green apple, salt cured and spiced Iberian ham (or pancetta?) and veggie soup notes, definitely more closed than the Touraine. Shows also little on the palate with some greenish freshness and veggie notes with a softer texture. Medium acidity but structurally much inferior to Touraine. Score: 4
The wines, believe it or not, are both priced at around HUF 1800 even with the recently week forint and shipment cost included (well, the Touraine was brought from Germany free of shipment cost, but still). I always feared that I’d been a little bit biased in favor of Figula which may have been the case but this blind tasting reveals I’m afraid what the real value of this wine is.
Touraine Corbillieres facts sheet andquotes from their website:
AGE OF VINE
-13 to 43 Years
TYPE OF SOIL
- Sand on a clay bed of the Sologne region.
-No chemical fertilizer, only organic matter, controlled production by a very strict debudding. Leaves thinned out.
-Steeping for 1 month with natural ferments, at a temperature of 16 – 18º, then left to lie until spring.
-Delicate and with a floral aroma, this wine is rich and fruity, well balanced and give a lasting freshness to the palate.
Goes well with Asparagus, fish and all shellfish
Serving temperature 10º.
Levendula Pince started as a winery in 2006 then called Vági Pince. In 2009 the estate consists of 2 hectares but they also have 1 hectare of “borrowed” land under cultivation which was “thrown at them” as the owner puts it. Lovas is a small village above Balatonfüred and this part of the outskirts of the village are particularly inaccessible by motorized 4-wheel vehicles. Once there, the view from the entrance of the cellar is stunning. Below us spreading are steep slopes planted with 5 different grapes in well-maintained rows running downhill on the rusty rocky soil so typical around Balaton. The top of the cellar and a rather big surrounding area is covered in Lavendel – hence the name of the winery. The place is beautiful and the owners and winemaker are very friendly people. We’re immediately offered bread with pork fat and fresh onion rings between apologies for not having prepared anything in the traditional oven of the estate (Kemence) but of course we didn’t book such things since we ended up here after having just fled from Söptei Pince, a quite disappointing place if you ask me. With only 15 minutes left before closing the winery we are immediately taken into the back-end of the recently built cellar and shown the 225l+ oak barrels and stainless steel tanks and 1 minute later our glass is full with Juhfark 2007. About two hours later we emerged from the cellar content and happy.
Note: the first three are barrel samples.
Juhfark 2007 is a barrel sample and as such, quite raw material. Pale hey hue. It has the most unusual dill aroma nose with Chardonnay grape notes and a hint of elderberry. On the palate dill mingle with gooseberry and other small green berry fruit elements with a green apple accent supported by abundant fresh, lively, slightly harsh acidity. Thin-bodied, light, quite acidic.
I am told by the winemaker that yields are high, they don’t really care about reducing it. The grapes were harvested in the beginning of October.
Score: 3+ points
Price: HUF 1 000 (but also available in 1,5 litre bottles at about HUF 1 500)
Chardonnay 2007 is very pale with celery and other greenish aromas on the nose, a little bit less intensely than Juhfark’s. Thick and similarly structured as Juhfark with a little bit less acidity, but still quite firm and grip.
Price: HUF 1 000
Olaszrizling 2007 is another very pale wine very similar to the previous two in every aspect, with the difference of acacia and unripe walnut aromas on the palate and a gooseberry-Traubi accent.
Score: 3+ points
Price: HUF 1 000
All three wines above are very acidic, overly, if you ask me and I only recommend them for acid fanatics.
Olaszrizling Késői Szüret 2007 is a late harvest but dry wine and clearly the premium white wine of Levendula Pince. A slightly darker but still quite pale hue in appearance. A nice, warm and even sweet nose with floral notes. It reminds me of Hétszőlő’s late harvested Kövérszőlő in this aspect. Light but full of floral notes. On the palate more polished with gentle acidity and sligly greenish tannin. Wood leaf, parsley and green vegetable notes. It only has 6g/L residual sugar but 15,2% alcohol. And it’s OK.
Price: HUF 1 500 (and best buy)
Cabernet Sauvingnon 2006 is medium dark ruby with an almost brownish rim.
On the palate dark chocolate supported by lively tannins and fresh acidity. Dense, concentrated and upper-medium bodied. This is a very decent effort from a region which is not famous for its red wines and from a winery not famous from low yields.
Price: HUF 1 500 (and it’s a best buy too, of course)