Saturday, September 8, 2018

Do You Know Your Hungarian Grape Varieties?

I thought I did, at least until this last trip to the Heart of Europe.   Like most European countries, Hungary has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods where indigenous or central European grapes have slowly matured and propagated to fit the climate.  And like all wine regions, international grape varieties have been imported, however in Hungary, this occurred in the past two centuries particularly in regions such as Villany. Yet it is the indigenous that I find most interesting particularly when you discover a new varietal such as Kéknyelű. Thus I decided to compile this compendium of Hungarian grape varieties that I have sampled over the years including some favorite producers.

Furmint (w)
Most known for its plantings in Tokaj (70% of vines) but also grown in Somló, Badacsony, Balatonfüred–Csopak, and Eger. Furmint is best known for being one of the three grape varieties used to make the sweet botrytised Tokaji Aszú wines that have been the wines of Kings for centuries. Lately dry Furmint has become increasingly popular displaying the and acidity inherent in the grape as well as the minerality of the growing region.  Patricius Winery, Fuleky, & Hétszölö in Tokaj; Apátsági Winery in Somló

Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) (r)
This grape is generally the primary grape variety in the Eger and Szekszárd Bikavér blends but is also well suited in the Villany and Sopron regions where the later has the largest plantings in the world. The dark skinned grape provides juicy fruit with noticeable acids and tannins. See Pfneiszl Winery in Sopron & Böjt winery in Eger.

Kadarka (r)
Before the Communist terror, this was Hungary's most famous red wine grape. However, due to its extreme late ripening, susceptibility to disease, and the need to control its vigour, the Communist regimes preferred other red grape varieties. It is still a common component to the Bikavér blends providing minimal tannins, but decent acidity, ripe red fruit flavours, and a spicy tail. There are also several wineries producing excellent 100% varietal Kadarka wines such as Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and the Heimann Winery Kadarka.

Hárslevelű (w) The other grape variety in Tokaj (18%) where it is a component of Aszú wines and planted throughout Hungary usually creating off-dry wines. Translates to "linden leaf" and expect floral aromas and a more elegant wine with texture and spice.  Fekete Winery in Somló; Demeter Zoltán Winery in Tokay

Portugieser (Kékoportó) (r)
Most popular when produced in Villány, Hungary’s most southerly and hottest wine region, but also a component in Bikavér wines. The previous name Kékoportó was disallowed due to EU regulations because of the inclusion of port in the name. When produced as a 100% varietal wine it is meant to drink young with its ruby red fruity, texture, and easy drinking style. Nyolcas Bor in Eger;

Olaszrizling (Welschriesling, Graševina in Croatia, Laški Rizling in Slovenia) (w)
The most widely planted grape in the Carpathian basin and introduced into Hungary earlier in the 20th century. Does particularly well around Lake Balaton, Somló, and Eger and it's full body is compatible with oak aging to alleviate its unique bitter almond character.  Gere Attila Winery in Villany; Káli-Kövek Winery in Badacsony.

Királyleányka (w)
Translates to little princess, Királyleányka originated in Transylvania and this hybrid of Leányka and Kövérszőlő was introduced into Hungary in the 1970s.  Although now grown throughout Hungary, it is popular in the Egri Csillag blends from Eger.  It is a delicate wine,  slightly aromatic with fresh acids.  Böjt winery & Bolyki Pinceszet in Eger

Kéknyelű (w)
Unlike most of the grapes that start with “kek” (which translates as “blue” in Hungarian), Kéknyelű translates as “blue stalk.” This grape was once widely planted but almost disappeared during the Communist era as it was replaced due to its limited yields and temperament.  It is now found almost exclusively on the north shores of Lake Balaton, where it produces elegant wines with creamy structure and subtle acidity. Think Viognier with minerality as in the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017.

Juhfark (w)
Grown almost exclusively in the small volcanic hill of Somló and to a lesser extent in Balatonfüred, the name refers to a sheep’s tail as the long cylindrical shape of the bunches resemble that object.  Exceptional examples contain racy minerals with high acids that follow a green apple and sometimes smokey profile.   Fekete Winery in Somló; Kreinbacher Birtok in Somló

Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) (w)
This grape is included in the list because of it's Hungarian name that translates to "grey monk"  - most likely a result of monks bringing the wine to the volcanic soils surrounding Lake Balaton. A modern version from VáliBor in Badacsonyors is rather tasty.

Irsai Olivér (w)
Developed in the 1930s by crossing the Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba grapes as an early ripening, Muscat-like grape with juicy tropical fruit characters. Grown in Kunság, Mátra, Balaton, Etyek–Buda, Neszmély, Sopron. Szõke Mátyás Winery in Matra; Nyakas Pince in Etyek-Buda

Tramini (Gewürztraminer) (w)
Gewürztraminer or Tramini in Hungarian is grown in cooler sites in the Pannonhalma wine region. as well as north of Lake Balaton.  The wines display the characteristic aromas and spicy nature of the grape.  Apátsági Pincészet Pannonhalmi Tramini

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