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Wines to Smooth International Relations

Hungarian wine, which is getting better and more colorful all the time as local winemakers become increasingly savvy and the vines get older, is an important asset when it comes projecting a positive image internationally. While it may not quite be a diplomatic tool, it can certainly facilitate good feeling when international dignitaries meet, just as it can help to get a humble house party started.

Two initiatives, one by the Hungarian government and one by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are seeking to put Hungary’s best foot forward and the wines selected really capture the essence of both the grapes that made them and the place of growth, and are also fully available to the public.

Az Országház Bora 2017 (Parliament Wine 2017) saw a total of eight category winning wines selected out of 81 entrants, hailing from 13 regions, blind-tasted by a team of local wine experts. The triumphant wine in the Olaszrizling category, Krisztinus’s 2015, proved that excellent Olaszrizling from Balaton doesn’t have to come from more complex volcanic and mixed soils of the northern side. This one comes from the supposedly simple loess soils from the southern side of the lake. Some may question whether Olaszrizling, Hungary’s most planted white wine grape, warrants a special category, but the quality surge of recent years certainly justifies it.

The balanced 2015 vintage was also a very good one for dry Furmint, with a wine from the Furmint stronghold of the Tokaj region by Dobogó being named a Parliament wine. The “best of the rest category” for whites from other indigenous varieties was won by Kolonics Juhfark 2015 from Somló. This grape is almost exclusive to Somló and has a reputation for being searingly acidic, but when everything comes together it makes wine of serious weight and individuality. This wine is full-bodied with distinctive rhubarb, banana and sage notes with an oily texture and a salty, bone-dry finish with a refreshing sour twist. While I used to find something of an unclean note in some Kolonics wines, alongside considerable promise, Károly Kolonics has really cleaned up his act (and cellar) without losing any of that raw intensity.

Moving onto the reds, Szekszárd’s Takler was made Parliament’s Kadarka representative. In my experience, feather light Kadarka can be a hard sell to foreigners unless they are wine professionals who appreciate its subtle nuances. Takler Kadarka 2015 makes a solid choice as it has a fair bit of concentration but also has something of the grape’s spiciness and playful red fruit.

Szekszárd Superpower

Fritz, an upcoming Szekszárd superpower located next to Takler on Decs hegy, south of the town of Szekszárd, claimed the Parliament gong for both Kékfrankos and Bikavér (Bull’s Blood). Fritz Kékfrankos 2012 is, for me, a little rustic with a touch of that barnyard character and also quite oaky, but has good weight and ripeness. It has quite a lot of black fruit notes, which the grape can pick up in warmer climes and vintages, as opposed to the more usual red fruit. Fritz Bikavér 2014 was much more appealing, with lots of Rhône-like red fruit, delicious spiciness, firm structure, good body and nice balance. It comes from a very difficult vintage but, so often, challenging vintages result in more sensitive elegance, even though the alcohol is still fairly prominent in this one (14%).

While it may not be a Hungarian grape, many consider the originally French Cabernet Franc to have found a home from home in Hungarian terroir, especially in the southern region of Villány, and Heumann’s huge but harmonious 2012 Villányi Franc more than justifies the grape having its own category.

Tokaj makes many of the world’s best sweet wines and Parliament’s wine, Grand Tokaj’s Aszú 6 puttonyos 2013, is pristinely pure, modern and fruit-forward, having a lightness of touch but plenty of layers. It marks the huge progress that Tokaj’s largest producer has made under the direction of winemaker Károly Áts, formerly of Royal Tokaji fame.

Áts also makes his own wine and his sweet Áts Cuvée 2014 is one of the wines chosen by Hungary’s foreign ministry to be presented at embassies and Balassi Institutes from Havanna to The Hague. Local experts assessed 260 wines and whittled them down to 26. Kolonics’ Furmint 2015 is one of the standout wines and was judged to be Grand Superior, which means that it will be served at the key embassies and institutions in the United States, Ankara, Beijing, Bern, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, London, Moscow and Tokyo. Rich and full-bodied, oily and waxy with a savory and flinty nose and palate this Furmint captures the unique characteristics of Somló, Hungary’s smallest wine region but quite simply home to some of Hungary’s biggest wines.

Another Somló featuring on the Grand Superior list, Kreinbacher’s Brut Classic NV, a traditional method sparkling wine made from 85% Furmint and 15% Chardonnay, is just the stuff to get the diplomatic party started. From nearby Badacsony, which also has black volcanic basalt soil but is influenced considerably by Lake Balaton, by which it lies, the bargain Gilvesy Bohém 2015 also makes Grand Superior, as do Luka Kékfrankos 2015 from Sopron, Gere-Weninger Cabernet Franc Selection 2012 and Heumann Terra Tartaro from Villány, and Tokaj’s Szamorodni 2012 from Kikelet and 6 puttonyos 206 from Patricius.

Krisztinus’s Olaszrizling 2015

Part fermented in steel tanks, part in small Hungarian oak barrels. It has that vegetal touch typical of Olaszrizling, pear and green apple, zesty acidity to draw out the flavors and give a fresh feel, lively fruit and medium-bodied, very round finish with no sharp edges.

HUF 2,490 from the winery.

Dobogó Furmint 2015

A little nutty with a hint of pear, quince, green herbs, lemon zest, candied lemon and especially hazelnut, linear and long with lively acidity. From three top vineyards. Sulphur added only at bottling. As Furmint is not an aromatic grape, 10% of the wine was fermented and aged in new oak, which comes across in a smidgen of vanilla.

HUF 3,490 from borbolt.hu