Sometime ago, we drew your attention to this region of Volcano Gods and now we return to delve deeper and celebrate success. We are pleased to report that Istvan Spiegelberg has won the prestigious Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014 award. “His latest releases, particularly this late-harvest juhfark, are catapulting him into the realm of Hungary’s greatest vintners.” noted Wine & Spirits Magazine referring to the 95-point rated 2010 Juhfark Szent Ilona.
Somló is celebrated for its volcanic past and distinctive mineral-laced wines. The region is almost exclusively white wine territory with a long tradition of extended barrel aging. This lends an oxidative quality to the wines which aids in their ability to improve with bottle aging and stay fresh longer than the average white wine once opened.
These are voluptuous, full-bodied whites enjoyed with dishes we may normally reserve for red wine, like red meats. Another tell-tell sign of wines from this region is riper fruits coupled with high acidity and smoky minerality. The five authorized grapes of Somló are Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Tramini. Istvan Spiegelberg and Fekete Bela are our “dynamic duo” of producers in Somló, keeping traditions alive and garnering attention outside of Hungary.
Istvan Spiegelberg, former DJ and BMW test driver, founded his eponymous winery in 1993. Making wine was just a hobby for Istvan at the beginning but now his wines are considered cult collectibles. He farms just 3 hectares of vines, mostly by himself, and employs minimal intervention in the winery, crafting wines at his image: unconventional and stylish. We asked Spiegelberg to tell us more about Juhfark and his award-winning wine and this is what he had to say:
Juhfark used to be grown, not just in Somló, but also in Tokaj. The varietal has a naturally high sugar content and is susceptible to rot, making it difficult to grow. Due to this, the grape was prohibited during Communism, a regime that favored high yields with minimal difficulty to produce bulk wine. Only a few in Somló, notably Fekete Bela, continued to grow Juhfark and even prevailed against the ban. Thanks to the work of Fekete Bela and others, the grape was revived and gained notoriety. Juhfark represents “Hungarianism” and is something very interwoven into the culture as a unique representation of the place.
“It’s only every 10 years that you have a good vintage with Juhfark.”
Concerning the 2010 vintage, Spiegelberg went on to explain that this was one of the most difficult vintages due to heavy rain. The relentless rains made most winemakers very anxious, leading them to harvest before the grapes achieved ripeness. He lost a significant amount to rot. October 2nd was the date he decided to harvest and what he ended up with were small yields of shriveled, yet healthy grapes. The sugars had concentrated which produced a semi-dry wine. In the end, just 220 used barriques were filled with the rich, high alcohol wine that is now known as one of Spiegelberg’s best.
While Istvan Spiegelberg represents a new guard of Somló winemaking, Fekete Bela is very much the traditionalist. Approaching 90 years of age, “The Grand Old Man of Somló” still tends his 4 hectares of vines himself. Bela purchased his vineyards over 30 years ago, allowing him plenty of time to become intimately connected to his vineyard and understand its true expression. The vines are dry farmed with little to no synthetic treatments. Grapes are picked when they are fully ripe, even if Fekete’s neighbors start picking much earlier. After a long successful career including several Decanter awards and high ratings in wine publications such as Wine & Spirits, Fekete and his wife Bori have decided that 2013 would be their last vintage. This is the perfect season to enjoy his unique Hárslevelű, Juhfark, and Olaszrizling.
Visit our current inventory of Somló wines here.