The steady putt of the riverboat’s engine put me at ease. It was my first time navigating a boat that didn’t have an outboard engine and I was nervous—all alone with the small craft’s wheel in my hands. I was in north-east Hungary, cruising along the Bodrog River in the famous Tokaj wine region. On the top deck, the other passengers—my wife Anita, the captain, his wife and Hajnalka Szabo and György Brezovcsik from the Füleky Winery—soaked up the early summer sun. The captain, a fit tanned man in his 60’s, handed over the wheel moments earlier. Soon, I was completely at ease captaining the boat. Thick cottonwood trees lined either side of the slow moving brown-green river, cool air blew into the open cabin and an egret swooped across the water ahead. Aside from the occasional pair of rowers sliding past in their sculls, we were all alone. Serene, beautiful and meditative—it was the perfect way to spend a June afternoon.
Before our river cruise, Hajnalka and György (we’ll call him Gyuri from here on) brought us up the Tokaj Hill for a tour of their Teleki vineyard. “This ensures the highest quality,” Hajnalka said, explaining why some of their grapevines are tied to single wooden posts instead of wire rows. “It allows us to plow with horses and for the vines to receive the most heat.” Here, in Hungary’s most prized terroir, Füleky grows Furmint grapes for their dry white wines and decadent Aszu dessert wines. From our vantage point, on the south-facing slope, we could see for miles across the surrounding flat landscape. The hill itself, an iconic symbol of Hungarian wine, was a green sea of rolling grapevines under the bright midday sun. Gyuri, Füleky ’s winemaker, was in his element as he inspected the new-green grape buds. “If the flowers have fallen off by June 10th, we’re off to a good start,” he said, seeming pleased.
Established in 1998, the Füleky Estate is named after György Füleky, founding member of the First Tokaj Wine Grower’s Society. With nearly 62 acres of vineyards in some of the region’s most historic appellations, Füleky is serious about their wine. Minutes from the Bodrog River in the town of Bodrogkeresztúr, one finds their recently renovated 18th century baroque mansion. The impressive structure was painstakingly restored in adherence with local laws regarding historical sites. While this larger, pale-yellow building dominates Füleky’s stone courtyard, it’s their other recent renovation that gets all the attention. Füleky acquired the property in 2006 in a ruined state. Incorporating an original medieval wall with modern stone and oak they’ve created a remarkable new building. This asymmetrically roofed winery was awarded ArchDaily.com’s Industrial Building of the Year in 2011. Initially I didn’t see what the hype was all about, but once my eyes caught the roofline, I became fascinated by its ship-like angularity.
Following our vineyard tour on Tokaj Hill and our boat ride along the Bodrog River, we arrived at the main event—the wine tasting. After 5 months in Hungary, I was beginning to acquire a real taste for good Furmint and couldn’t wait to try Füleky’s take on this classic Hungarian varietal.
On the steps of the mansion, overlooking the courtyard’s acacia and chestnut trees, Anita and I were served a simple yet delicious Hungarian stew as we tasted wine. Using a traditional cauldron, Gyuri had slow cooked pork trotters in a rich sauce of onions, peppers, tomatoes and paprika. Served over noodles made by Gyuri’s mother-in-law, the stew was a beautiful accompaniment to the wines. “Winemakers are usually good cooks,” Hajnalka told us. From this one experience, I have to agree.
Our tasting was elegantly presented and the wines outstanding, yet the atmosphere was decidedly relaxed as we experienced the best Füleky had to offer. Here are my tasting notes:
Tokaji Sargamuskotaly 2013: This was perfect in the afternoon heat. Fermented in stainless steel to maintain its clean floral notes. Light and dry, refreshing apricot notes with fiery acidity. Beautiful floral nose that doesn’t overwhelm. A little light for me but Anita liked it so much she brought a bottle home.
Tokaji Furmint 2012: An estate wine blended from Furmint vineyards in Mád , Szegi and Tarcal. 50% aged in oak barrels, 50% aged in stainless steel. I experienced honey, acacia and an acidity offset by mustiness. Floral and fruity, slightly sour on the nose. A very balanced, drinkable wine. As Hajnalka said, “This is a great everyday wine.”
Tokaji Kabar 2013: A semi-dry wine with an interesting story. At 30 years old, this is a new grape variety and is a blend of Hárslevelű and Bouvier. Originally and unimaginatively named Tarcal 10, Gyuri re-named this grape Kabar. One of its advantages is that the Kabar grape can be harvested early, giving the winemaker some security. Sweet acacia touches on the nose. High acidity, spice with a silky, sticky sweet finish.
Tokaj Furmint Mestervölgy 2013: Unlike the estate Furmint, this wine is made from grapes grown on Füleky’s loess-soiled Tarcal vineyard. More intense than the 2012 estate Furmint. An incredibly balanced and likable wine. Maybe my favorite of the lot.
Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest 2013: Made from overripe shriveled grapes creating a sweet, but balanced wine. A great introduction for those new to Hungarian dessert wines. Sticky sweet but with acidity and a hint of bitterness. I never understood what people meant when they said a wine had the taste or smell of “cut straw” or “cut grass”. Now I know. Delicious.
Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest 2012: Similar to the 2013 Pallas but with hints of butterscotch and ripe fruit. Long finish of residual sweetness.
Challenge International du Vin 2012: gold
Decanter World Wine 2011: silver
International Wine Challenge 2011: silver
The wine-style that put Tokaj on the map back in the 1700’s. Made from berries covered in noble mold and created using a highly specific process. I was never much into dessert wines when I first came to Hungary 10 years ago, but over time I’ve come to know and love them. Füleky’s 2007 Aszú might just be the best I’ve ever had. Intensely sweet but fiery on the nose. Apricots, acacia and that “fresh cut straw” dynamic I spoke of earlier. Pure bliss. This is what Tokaj is all about.
Füleky is doing great things. Their professionalism and attention to detail run seamlessly throughout the whole winemaking operation. Hajnalka spoke of their goal being “to create balanced and elegant wines.” I believe they have done just that, not only with their fantastic wines, but in their creation of a world-class winery. Their entire winemaking facility shows vision and a commitment to their craft.
None of this would be possible without Füleky ’s extraordinary people: Hajnalka Szabo is head of their marketing. She is an encyclopedia of wine knowledge and her insider tips on must-see attractions in Hungary are invaluable. Gyuri Brezovcsik, Füleky’s witty winemaker could be their secret weapon. He reminded me of a mad scientist: always experimenting with new things and tweaking his recipes to perfection. “He’s a really excellent winemaker,” Hajnalka said of Gyuri, whom she’s known for 20 years. “He was born here. He grew up making wine. It’s in his blood.” Wine here is not only a business or a hobby, around Tokaj—and at the Füleky Estate—wine is a way of life.
If You Go:
Address: Bodrogkeresztúr, Iskola köz 15, 3916
Phone:(47) 396 478
Local Restaurant Recommendations:
Local Accommodation Recommendations:
Bodrog River Tours: György Mihalyi- Phone: 06702129322 Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Article and photo credit: Colm FitzGerald
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