Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Villány: Hungary's Bordeaux

A recent #winechat session on Cabernet Franc reminded me of several nice wines from this grape that I had tasted from a relatively unknown wine producing area in central Europe. I'm referring to the Villány region in southwestern Hungary, who's climate affords the luxury of growing several well known Bordeaux, Rhone, and Burgundy grape varieties. And why not; the region lies at the same degree of latitude as the northern part of the Bordeaux wine-region. Plus Northern mountains protect the area from cold northerly winds, while the southern ranges help establish a micro-climate where the number of sunny hours is the highest in the country.

Grape cultivation in Villány probably originated with the Celts, and continued with the Romans as an inscription on a Roman-era altar stone discovered in the hillside of Szársomlyó documents 50 hectares of vine stock plantings. The Magyars continued this practice and, in his deed of foundation of the Szársomlyó Castle, King Béla IV mentions vineyards on the outskirts of Harsány. However, during the Turkish wars, the vineyards suffered terribly; and were rehabilitated when Serb and German settlers moved into the area. At the same time these settlers introduced Hungarians to new grape varieties (Kadarka and Portugieser) as well as new winemaking and storage techniques. Villány wines soon were exported throughout Europe and the Americas and the region thrived until the phylloxera arrived in the late 1800s. Just like the rest of Europe, Hungary's vineyards suffered almost complete devastation. As over half the the vineyards perished; a local grower, Zsigmond Teleki, established an experimental stockyard in Villány to test varieties of rootstock - both American and domestic. He eventually created several rootstocks that were used to reconstruction vineyards, in Villány, Hungary, and throughout Europe. With this reconstruction, Bordeaux varieties, as well as Syrah and Pinot Noir, were planted in this temperate climate.

Over the past several years, we have had the opportunity to taste many of these Villány wines, and in particular wines from Zsigmond Teleki's Château Teleki Winery - now made by Csányi Winery. These were single varietal Bordeaux style wines - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot - seeming to match New World market for single varietals with Old World earthy styles. Besides Bordeaux styled wines, the Vylyan Winery produces an excellent Pinot Noir, which might be our favorite wine from the region. And finally, Heumann Winery, produces two Bordeaux style blends which are smooth classic Bordeaux cuvees, with light tannins and balanced acidity. The winery also produces a very impressive Kékfrankos as well as a Chardonnay (full bodied with apricot flavors and a slight nutty finish). Perhaps the only version of Hungarian Chardonnay available.

Wines from Villány are still scarce in the United States. But check with your local wine shop or Blue Danube Wine, they are worth the search. Photos courtesy of visitbudapest.com.

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