In a rare moment of not being late and or lost en route to a winery, we had the fortune to eat and drink our way through the Central Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) in Budapest this past spring. Built in 1897 and comprised of three enormous levels (10,000 sq meters), it looks like a combination of a train station and a massive Church devoted to everything I want to eat and drink. It’s one of the finest markets in Europe. Taking into account that all of our new Blue Danube Wine arrivals from Austria and Hungary were grown within 2-3 hours drive from the market, I’d like to use the adage of what grows together goes together to introduce them.
Starting in the basement level, it’s readily apparent that you’re entering ground zero for fermented fruits and vegetables. Pickle art is definitely a thing, and many venders grow their own produce. Much like a Viennese Heuriger grows and makes its own wines, the co-fermented field blends like Peter Bernreiter’s 2014 Gemischter Satz, 2014 Grüner Veltliner and 2014 Heuriger Liter all have the brightness and aromatics for furthering fermented consumption. A little further West along the Danube is the small town of Oberfucha where Geyerhof has been making wine here for over 400 years. Specializing in single vineyard wines, the 2014 Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig and 2014 Riesling Sprinzenberg are both intensely mineral and focused. These are not from the grassy Sauvignon Blanc end of the Grüner spectrum. These are serious and yet effortless wines to drink.
Only a 15-20 minute drive from the Market, Törley has been making sparkling wines since 1882. Using native grapes like Királyleányka (an aromatic Muscat like grape) along with Grüner, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they make both a Charmat method Törley Gala and a transfer method Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut built for all things pickled. The Gala is also a killer base for aperitifs and cocktails or for washing down a garlic riddled Lángos.
In addition to seasonal fruits and vegetables, the ground level is where you’ll find all of the specialty producers. Starting with paprika, whether it be sweet, mild, hot, as a cream, as a paste, or as dried pepperoncini, is a diverse Hungarian staple. No matter what the application, slightly chilled light reds handle the sweet smoke and spice when traditionally cooked with fat and oils. The cured and smoked meats infused with Paprika go without saying.
Along the Austrian border in Sopron, the 2012 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) is Gamay like in weight with spice and tea balancing fruit. About an hour north in Gols, the 2011 Juris St Laurent is thicker skinned, smoky and primal. Ideal for a heavier dishes. If you cross Kékfrankos with St Laurent the child is Zweigelt, and the 2014 Familie Maier liter is one of the best values in the portfolio. Estate fruit aged in Acacia barrels, it’s bright, unique and just plain crown-capped delicious. 90 minutes south of Budapest, the 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and 2013 Sógor Kadarka both have spice, fruit and a mineral vein ideal for soups and stews. Further south near the Croatian Border, the 2014 Gere Portugieser, 2013 Vylyan Portugieser, and 2009 Vylyan Pinot Noir all enjoy limestone based soils and great exposures. Slightly darker and concentrated than the rest but still suited to a light chill. A great compliment to grapes like Lagrein, Schioppettino or a cool climate Cabernet Franc.
It would be sacrilege not to mention the creamy goose and duck liver, Magalica pig fat, and ornate pastries synonymous with Hungary, but that will have to wait until the new wines from Somló and Tokaj arrive.
Until then, I hope this lends some context to the wines and inspires a trip to this remarkable market. If you do go, please look up Taste Hungary and schedule a market tour. It’s easily one of the most informative food and drink induced comas in Central Europe.
Try our Austro-Hungarian 6-pack to sample a few of these wines.