Friday, March 24, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Etyek-Buda Szentesi Kadarka

The Etyek-Buda PDO has many unique characteristics regarding Hungarian wine regions. It is very small (1,652 hectares of vineyards) and the closest to Budapest -- located just over the Buda Hills and extending southwest to Lake Velence (Hungary’s second largest lake) near the former royal city Szekesfehervar and southwest to the slopes of the Gerecse hills.  The climate here is influenced not by one, but by three geographical features; the Alfold plains to the south, Lake Balaton to the west, and the mountain winds from the Carpathians to the north. These winds help make this one of the coldest climate regions in Hungary with an average temperature of 9.5° to 10.5° C (49° to 51° F).  The soils are predominately limestone and these rolling hills have historically been planted with international varieties used in sparkling wine production: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, even Sauvignon Blanc is used to produce Asti-like sparklers. Törley, Hungary’s largest sparkling wine producer, has been producing sparkling wine from Etyek-Buda grapes since 1882.  

Szentesi Pince is another producer utilizing grapes from this area and more importantly, József Szentesi has been instrumental in re-introducing older grape varieties lost during the phylloxera scourge in the late 19th century back to the region. In 1988, "after studying 19th-century viticultural and oenological works, he decided to plant 10 forgotten white and blue grape varieties. He requested canes from the Viticulture and Wine Research Institute of the University of Pécs and began propagating and planting the varieties around Lake Velence".  Today this endeavor has expanded to 30 grape varieties planted on 14 hectares of vines. According to the winery, and common sense suggests, that "experimenting with nearly 30 varieties is extremely challenging since in each vintage you have to hit the right harvest time exactly thirty times, you have to process thirty distinct grapes, and you have to deal with thirty different wines separately".

That being said, although the planting of Kadarka declined after the phylloxera epidemic, it is still grown in many parts of Hungary and remains a beloved and historically popular grape variety. The grape is temperamental and susceptible to grey rot difficult to fully ripen. It was most likely introduced to Hungary from the Balkans and is best known as one of the components of the Eger region's Bull's Blood blend.  From Eger, Kadarka wine can be dark, relatively tannic, and weighty. Not so from Etyek-Buda. 

I purchased the Szentesi Kadarka 2020 ($27.90) through the Taste Hungary wine club and their shipment of  Szentesi’s Grapes from the Past. This Kadarka is from old clone vines from the Nadap vineyard planted in 1988. József's low intervention approach meant a natural fermentation and after one year of aging in neutral oak, bottled unfiltered.   The result is an elegant light to medium-bodied wine with crisp red fruit, gentle and approachable tannins, and fresh acidity. 

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