Monday, September 14, 2015

Hungarian Wine at the Junibor Wine Festival in Budapest

Hungary is where I first became interested in wine, sipping dry Furmint and semi-dry Olaszrizling at the Budapest Great Market Hall followed by Kadarka and Kekfrankos on trips to Eger and Sopron. During my recent trip to Budapest I looked forward to revisiting the world of Hungarian wine; but never imagined that I would stumble upon the Junibor Wine Festival held at St. Stephen's Basilica. The festival featured wines from the Hungarian Young Winemakers' Association and represented all the major Hungarian wine regions from Sopron in the west to Tokaj to the east. Although the winemakers are relatively young, most of the wineries were from well established family wineries where the next generation was asserting their influence.

Our presence at the Basilica was not a co-incidence. I had been in contact with Birgit Pfneisl, the highly regarded winemaker at Pfneiszl Organic Estate. I had become acquainted with that winery's Kekfrankos through the Blue Danube Wine Company. When Birgit had mentioned that she was in Budapest at the Basilica wine bar, I incorrectly assumed she was pouring at the Divino wine bar - not at a festival. The winery is located adjacent to the Austrian border in the northeast where Birgit is both the vineyard manager and winemaker and her sister Katrin marketing and sales. I discovered that the sisters speak German to each other which makes sense as they were both born in Austria. Their grandparents fled Hungary when the Communists gained control and had to cede the family land to the government. While in Austria, their Father and uncles started Weingut Pfneisl. In 1993 the family recovered their lost land in Hungary and renovated the property with the sisters responsible for the wine making operation.  But Birgit gained plenty of wine making experience having interned in the U.S., Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile before returning to Hungary. These wine making areas are represented in her fabulous Távoli Világ wine - a blend of Shiraz, Carmenere, Malbec, Zinfandel, Sangiovese. In addition to this wine, Birgit poured her Merlot, Tango, and the "Köszönet I Thank you" Kekfrankos. This last is spectacular, jammy black fruit melding into a complex blend of fruit, chocolate, spice, and creamy dirt.

After sampling the Pfneiszl wines, the festival presented ample opportunities to sample Hungarian grape varieties as well as traditional international varieties. There was more Kekfrankos, Egri Bikavir blends, dry and semi-dry Olaszrizling, Portugieser, and Furmint. But one of the most unique was the Hungarian Királyleányka, which originated in Transylvania and now mostly grown in Eger. The  Hernyák Birtok Etyek Királyleányka possessed a strong floral aroma followed by a crisp citrus and mineral flavor profile and noticeable acids. Another unique wine was the Gál Tibor FÚZIÓ 2012, a blend of Viognier, Riesling, and Traminer, which was aged 15 months in oak. This is an elegant wine, one I returned to for a second glass. Part citrus, part stone fruit, some spice, some vanilla; completely enjoyable.

Finally, I have to mention the dry Furmint. Yes, the Tokaji dessert wines get most of the attention, but I am particularly drawn to the dry version. The first to note was the 2012 Estate Furmint from Erzsébet Pince, which I had tasted previously on our trip at various restaurants. I was also familiar with the winery from a WineStudio tasting last year.  This wine combines flavors of stone fruit and minerals with crisp acids - a very nice wine. But one to actively seek is the Tokaji Padi-hegy Furmint 2012 from Árvay Családi Pincészet. The wine's saline minerality seizes your attention, then subsides to delicious stone fruits and crisp acids. I still haven't found a source to purchase this wine, but hopefully Blue Danube will pick up one day. Cheers to Hungarian wine.
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