Hungarian Wine Tasting Review by Christine Havens

Frank discusses the finer points of Hungarian wines. Courtesy of Christine Havens.
Frank discusses the finer points of Hungarian wines – Courtesy of Christine Havens.

Recently Frank Dietrich led an in depth tasting of Hungarian wines at Soif wine bar in Santa Cruz, CA. The wines represented many of the major appellations and indigenous grapes of the regions. Wine writer Christine Havens attended this event and has graciously permitted us to share her blog post, in which she provides detailed notes of the wines tasted as well as a little of her own connection to Hungary. You can view the original post, and all of Christine’s other reviews on her site.

Hungarian Wine Tasting at Soif Wine Bar & Merchants by Christine Havens.

My mother is Hungarian. My father was mostly English with some other nationalities thrown in, like most Americans, his family tree included a pinch of German and a nip of Irish. My dad never talked about his heritage, but my mother has always been fiercely proud of her ancestry. I suppose that’s why I’ve always identified as Hungarian, the country with some of the world’s most beautiful women and a famously high rate of depression, pessimism and overall gloominess.

After my grandparents had passed, photos of my great grandparents emerged from dusty albums stored and long forgotten in their basement. My predecessors grew vines in their backyard and even made wine during prohibition. I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that, but it felt significant to learn that wine is intertwined with my history, my DNA.

Of course, like most American wine consumers, I know very little about Hungarian wines, so when a Hungarian wine tasting was advertised at Soif, I made a point to attend.

The wines were presented by the Blue Danube Wine Company; a distributor focused on representing top quality wines from Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. To my great surprise, several other Hungarians showed up for the tasting. Seated together, we sipped, shared stories and compared notes.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

Olaszliszka Tokaj Hárslevelu 2013: A collaborative effort between ten winemakers united in their mission to reinstate the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka, Olaszliszka Tokaj Hárslevelu 2013 was a favorite at yesterday’s Hungarian wine tasting. Notes of kerosene, apricot kernel, and dried mint. On the palate, it’s slightly sweet and extraordinarily silky with discreet lees and traces of lemon oil and pear. $26.00 | Sample

Bott Csontos Furmint 2012: There is a charming story behind Bott winery. Managed by husband and wife team, Judit and József Bodó, they’re still using their first barrel they received as a wedding gift. Frank Dietrich esplained, a wine barrel is a traditional wedding gift in Hungary. The 2012 Csontos Furmint hails from a region that is rich in clay and volcanic soils. Seated on the edge of the Zemplèn forest, the vineyard is a mere 1.5 hectares and still plowed by horses. Ethereal and delicate nose of orange blossom, white hand soap, and spearmint. Limpid and golden-robed in the glass, it’s lavishly silky and shot through with citrus and mineral notes. 14.0% ABV $33.00 | Sample

Fekete Béla Somló Juhfark 2011: From an obscure, nearly extinct grape variety, Juhfark translated literally means “sheep’s tail” so named because tightly clustered bunches have a distinctive curve at the tip. Found only in the Somló region of Hungary, this non-aromatic variety is typically aged in large oak barriques. Preserved lemon, cling peaches, chamomile, and white flowers round out the nose. It’s a broad-shouldered white with a coursing vein of acidity, along with a mineral upwelling that showcases an ashy, volcanic soil type. There are over 400 volcanoes in Hungary, certainly the whites have a sort of unity to them, in terms of fruit expression and texture, I found myself wondering if the similarity is due to a soil type and climate. $28.00 | Sample

Eszterbauer Nagyapám Szekszárd Kadarka 2013: Yet another relatively unknown grape, Kadarka traces it’s origins to the Szekszárd region of Hungry. For me, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Blaufränkisch, which, interestingly also originates from Szekszárd. Ruby-hued and aromatic, ebullient notes of red fruit, roses and subtle spice tumble forth. It’s equally generous on the palate with low tannins, balanced by a nice pop of acidity that gives lift to pie cherries, raspberries and a carefree pinch of tobacco. 13.0% ABV $21.00 | Sample

J & J Eger Hegy Dűlő Kékfrankos 2009: Kékfrankos is better known as Blaufränkisch, which is certainly gaining in popularity in Burgenland. This Hungarian offering from J&J Eger is the work of two men named Janos, and it shines. It is also the one wine I purchased from the tasting, not only because I enjoyed it, but because the it was suggested as a great pairing with venison or boar—the pairing pushed me over the edge. Evocative notes of violets, flowers, black cherries, forest underbrush lead into fine, mouth-coating tannins in this voluptuous red. I opened this a few days after to tasting to pair it with venison and cherry sausages from d’Artagnan. $26.00 | Sample

Gere Attila Kopár Villányi Cuvée 2009: Interesting to find an international blend of 50% Cabernet Franc; 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the top cuvée from Gere Attilla, I was intrigued to read that the soil composition in the vineyards is primarily windblown loess, the same soil type that was in my former vineyard. It’s big-boned and densely packed with violets and sweet black cherries, blackberries, vanilla and toast. Easy-drinking, the tannins are ripe and inviting. It’s a modern, fruit-forward style. $60.00 | Sample

The Fuleky Pallas Tokaji 2012 is a modern, late harvest Tokaji whose grapes have not been affected by botrytis (or Noble Rot). While enjoyable, I found myself wanting more complexity from both the nose and palate. It has light floral accents tinged with spiced pear and honey, and a moderate level of acidity. It’s quite silky on the palate. I wasn’t bowled over by this dessert wine, especially considering its price. $25.00 | Sample

All in all, an excellent and informative tasting, one of the many reasons why I love visiting Soif. I’ll have more to write about this small but well-provisioned wine shop and bar in the coming months.

View the original post here.