Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Etyek-Buda Szentesi Tihany Kék

Since I purchased six Szentesi Pince wines from the Taste Hungary wine club Szentesi’s Grapes from the Past shipment we will be moving rapidly from Kadarka to the other forgotten Hungarian grape varieties -- repeating many of the same geographic and winery information.

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".

Tihany Kék is one of these forgotten grapes and according to Taste Hungary, "there is, perhaps, just one other winemaker in Hungary (which means, also, in the whole world), who grows the Tihany Kék variety. Of all the ancient Hungarian grape varieties that winemaker József Szentesi has resurrected, this is one of the most exciting. Tihany Kék once was amongst the most popular varieties in Hungary, until phylloxera hit in the late 1800s and caused many varieties to disappear. Szentesi has given this variety a chance to survive, after planting vines from cuttings he discovered in a research institute." Tihanyi Kék is a mid-ripening variety, which makes a light wine with good structure. It has a unique spiciness and is not comparable to any other grape.

The Szentesi Tihany Kék 2020 ($29.90) is from vines that Szentesi planted in 1988, on soil that is partly volcanic, with loess, granite, limestone, andesite, and quartz. It is also produced using natural fermentation, 4 months of oak aging, and bottled unfiltered.   This is a light-bodied wine, full of red fruit flavors combined with an interesting mixture of spices and vegetal features. I totally catch the slight Worcester sauce finish. 

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