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Basalt Badacsony Rocks the Balaton

With its volcanic basalt soils, stunning landscape, distinctive indigenous grapes, choice lakeside setting on Lake Balaton’s northern shores and talented winemakers, Badacsony is a hot vinous destination at any time of year, let alone this summer. 

A certain complex saline feel is characteristic of Badacsony whites, which are made all the more impressive, complete and delicious to drink by virtue of the generous fruit they often manage to capture alongside their “minerality”. Whether you can directly taste the minerals of the soil in the wine is a hotly contested subject in the wine world. Nevertheless, the basalt soils retain heat nicely, which further enhances ripeness, while they also contribute the vibrant acidity that delivers length on the palate. Then there is prized limestone in places, as well as brown forest soils and loess.

The grapes usually benefit from the lake’s moderating and cooling influence that helps to preserve acidity, although grapes grown too close to the water can suffer from sunburn. The grapes are grown on the slopes of a number of hills, each with its own distinctive mesoclimate.

Válibor in Badacsonyörs now has cozy accommodation to add to its exciting range of wines. It is here that you can encounter what is probably the finest example of wine made from the Budai Zöld grape, whose primary purpose is to pollinate the noble indigenous Kéknyelű grape. However, in Péter Váli’s hands it can become exciting and his 2016 is up to the usual high standard.

Light and Airy 

As ever, it is invitingly light and airy, with a mouth-watering and distinctive combination of zesty citrus and white flower notes, with that salty touch on the finish, which can even be present in many light, reductively made Badacsony wines. Válibor’s Budai Zöld is made reductively in the tank with the use of cultured yeasts, not his usually preferred indigenous yeasts, to keep the freshness and fruitiness.

Wines from the Kéknyelű grape itself reward patience and need time for the sharp acidity to soften and also for more intense flavors to develop and transform what is very often a quite neutral wine in its youth into something with layers of complexity. In this, it is quite like Semillon from Australia’s Hunter Valley. Válibor’s 2015 has the body, acidity and fruit to develop into something very special and is already tasting nicely, but I found Málik Pince’s 2013 starting to pick up real character with a nice oily texture and nutty flavors alongside mouth-watering sour fruit and a savory finish.

Zoltán Malik is a real maverick of the Badacsony wine scene, championing such rare grapes as Bakator and Zeusz. His spontaneously fermented wines are typically restrained on the nose, but lengthy and complex on the palate. They are more about the place of the growth with the grape variety in the background, although there are nice nuances between his wines which he makes as single varietal bottlings.

An important Badacsony development is the emergence of the Rózsakő variety, a crossing of Budai Zöld and Kéknyelű, which also serves to pollinate the latter, as does the aforementioned Budai Zöld. Although this crossing was created by Ferenc Király in  1957,  and is believed to make better wine than Budai Zöld, it has only really been on the shelves for a couple of vintages. 

Spicy Notes

Szászi Rózsakő 2016 follows up quite nicely on the outstanding 2015, with firm body, as well as floral and spicy notes, but I found it a little on the closed side at this spring’s big Badacsony tasting. The 2015 vintage was so good for whites that Endre Szászi made his first Kabócás Olaszrizling since 2006. This rich take on Olaszrizling actually comes from a plot on Szigliget which is not officially registered as a vineyard. Sabar’s 2015 single vineyard is also a stunner.

Badacsony is also a local powerhouse for the unrelated Riesling. While it is futile trying to compare wines from here with the great Riesling of Germany, the best – such as those from Szeremley, Gilvesy and Bence (these latter two both on Szent György hegy), and Villa Tolnay on Csobánc hegy, do capture the grape’s taught, linear structure with a local savory touch and lots of ripe, juicy stone and tropical fruit. Experimental Villa Tolnay also excels with Austria’s exciting Grüner Veltliner grape, known in Hungary as Zöldveltelini.

Furmint is also on the rise in Badacsony and Gilvesy’s Próbaüzem 2015 is worthy of being placed on the same table as top dry Tokaj. There is hardly any Hárslevelű in Badacsony, which is a pity given the sheer quality of Nyári Pince’s 2015. Good reds include delightfully subtle Pinot Noirs from Bence and Válibor.

Two wines to watch out for:

Gilvesy Bohém Cuvée 2016 Balaton 

A bargain blend of Olaszrizling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling, mostly made in the tank via controlled fermentation with a small amount fermented spontaneously in oak. All aged on the lees with stirring carried out to whip up a delicious creamy touch and good mouthfeel that goes so well with the zesty fresh citrus and stone fruit. Currently on offer for HUF 1,650 from Bortársaság (usually HUF 1,950).

Válibor’s Szürkebarat (Pinot Gris) 2015 

With its onion skin cum orange color, what you could easily mistake it for a rosé is in fact a white wine made with prolonged skin contact of two days, which brings out some of the color of the skins. Pinot Gris is a mutant of Pinot Noir and produces greyish-blueish fruit but is considered a white wine grape, and is the same as Pinot Grigio. This full-bodied, round, rich wine impressively expresses the grape’s intense peachy character, along with caramel and buttery touches from the oak that support the fruit, but importantly do not override it. Szürkebarát, an international grape but one with a long local presence, was in danger of being pushed aside by the growing band of noble natives, but this wine shows it can still have a place. HUF 2,790 from Radovin.