Hungary Wine Notes — 10/11/2008
Of all the countries in ‘Eastern Europe’, Hungary is the one with the richest wine history, however, it emerged from the Communist era with it’s industry bankrupt, wineries derelict, vineyards in a mess and reputation forgotten.
Amazingly within a couple of years and in primitive conditions, small independent growers were turning out some really superb reds. Flying winemakers were put into several of the former state wineries and managed to make decent aromatic whites. And the real success story was Tokaji. It had been written off. If you tasted most Communist era Tokaji, you would wonder what all the fuss was all about.
Tokaji and in particular Tokaji Aszu Essencia, a drink surrounded by legend – an elixir so prized by the Tsars of Russia that they maintained a detachment of Cossacks solely for the purpose of escorting convoys of the precious liquid from Hungary to the royal cellars at St Petersburg. Reputed to last at least 300 years, it must surely have been thought of as an elixir of eternal youth.
Tokaji Aszu is an extremely sweet wine which does not necessarily taste sweet, acidity and oxidation prevent this. The aroma builds up over 5 years, acquiring nuances of caramel, toffee, mint and vanilla. Tokaji assumes a raisiny richness between 5 – 15 years and the bouquet increases in complexity, (but a Sherry-like acetaldehyde is normally noticeable). Neither it nor the oxidation should take over completely. (It has to be said that oxidation often did, leaving a very flat result).
A Tokaji over 30 years of age is an amazingly fresh and beautifully balanced wine: liquorous in texture; full of soft and ripe fruit flavours; and with a lingering finish that has the richness of honey.
The new style Tokaji made by small estates and companies owned by French and British investors, when young shows far more fruit, (marmalade, lanolin, peach and raisin flavours) and far more botrytis. Old timers, who remember the great pre-war Tokaji when these were young, say that the ‘new style’ wines resemble these.
The last 15 years have witnessed a blossoming of fine wine and revitalised regions:
In the far south Villani has proved that it can produce sensational, dark and brooding reds. These are made from Cabernet and local varieties such as Kekfrancos and Kekoporto.
In the north around Eger, good reds have been made by several excellent winemakers. (The bulk ‘Bull’s blood’ here ranges from bad to appaling). The future though may rest with whites. Chardonnay is impressive and some authorities have said that the Sauvignon blanc will be great and between Sancerre and New Zealand in style.
The latest area to show signs of renaissance is Lake Balaton. Traditionally this was the second region after Tokaji, but wine here was uninspiring stuff for East German tourists, or supermarket varietal wine from a local (good) co-op. However I recently tasted a great Pinot Gris from Badacsony with a wonderful, fiery mineral flavour.