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.
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.
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)