A Choice Between Olaszrizling or Juhfark This October

Drinks

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October is already upon us, which in local tasting terms means Olaszrizling Október, a month in which emphasis is placed on this widely-planted local white-wine grape.

Hungarian grapes awaiting harvest.

Olaszrizling is one of the most significant grapes and can be found in almost all Hungarian wine regions (with the notable exception of Tokaj), according to Winelovers, the people behind the major tasting at the Corinthia Hotel in Budapest on October 12 that will be the highlight of Olaszrizling Október.  

They say that one of the grape’s qualities is that its restrained aromas enable the qualities of the place of growth to express themselves (a trait also associated with the more coveted Furmint grape, of Tokaj fame), particularly on the northern side of Lake Balaton and Egerszólat. I would also add Somló to that list.  

While an orgy of Olaszrizling (almost 70 winemakers/wineries and 200 wines at one event) may sound like an overdose of vin ordinaire, given that much of the wine made from the grape is still pretty average, when handled with care, Olaszrizling can occupy its place among the hierarchy of Hungarian grapes, and even occasionally outperform the likes of Furmint.  

Olaszrizling is not at all related to Riesling (known as Rajnai rizling in Hungarian), some of the wines at the tasting will actually be made from the latter.  

This hardly serves to clear up the confusion surrounding the two grapes. Plain ‘Rizling’ on a Hungarian label usually indicates that the wine is made of Olaszrizling, but it is not always so, as I have found; it could even be a blend of the two .  

My go-to Olaszrizling is probably Káli kövek’s Rezeda, from the Káli-medence (Basin) in the Balatonfelvidék wine region. The 2018 comes from Fekete-hegy (literally Black Hill, a reference to the black volcanic basalt soil), in Hegyestű.  

Spontaneous

It was spontaneously fermented, and has a current of lemony acidity running through it, followed by a savory finish. While you can hardly feel the oak, it is there nevertheless, giving the wine an extra dimension to the floral and fruit notes, particularly pear and green apple. It is also very good value at HUF 2,790 from Bortársaság. Káli kövek will be one of the (many) producers present at the big Olaszrizling event.

The Olaszrizling grape most likely originated from northern Italy (Olasz meaning Italian in Hungarian), where it can be found in regions such as Friuli, Collio and Trentino as Riesling Italico.  

Central Europe has become the stronghold of the grape, hardly surprising when you recall that some those northern Italian regions have historically been part of Central Europe via the Habsburg Empire. Indeed, the grape sometimes keeps its Austrian moniker of Welschriesling in Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol or South Tyrol.  

This same grape makes some fine wines known as Graševina in Croatia; often dry but sometimes sweet and sumptuous. In Slovenia, it goes by the name Laški Rizling, while in the Czech Republic and Slovakia it’s Ryzlink vlašský. It also pops up in Romania as Riesling Italian.

Olaszrizling performs very well in a cool vintage, according to László Andrási, winemaker at Somló Kincse. Somló Kincse means “Somló treasure” and Andrási has planted a veritable treasure chest of Hungarian varieties, some of which (such as Gohér and Piros Bakator) disappeared after the phylloxera louse devastated the bulk of vineyards in Hungary and Europe.

He has even brought Kéknyelű, the grape that these days is mainly found in Badacsony, back to Somló.  

Wine Culture

The signature grape of Somló, Hungary’s smallest region but a giant in terms of the expressive whites it produces and for its place in the upper echelons of Hungarian wine culture, is Juhfark.  

This ultra-high acidity grape is as about as indigenous as grapes get (it is rarely found outside of Somló), and can make very serious wines when full ripeness is achieved to temper the searing acidity.  

Sixteen Somló wineries will be pouring 25 Juhfarks at Somlói Juhfark Ünnep 2019, a walkaround tasting, also on October 12, at the Tornai winery, on Somló Hill. The upcoming and impressive Kőfejtő Pince, as well as the classy Kolonics Pincészet, will be present at both events.

Kőfejtő pince’s Péter Tóth is one of a trio of very talented young producers, along with Bálint Barcza (Barcza Pincészet), and Tamás Kis (Somlói Vándor Pince), all of whom will be presenting their individual wines at Somlói Juhfark Ünnep, who teamed up to form the Bazaltkör Egyesület, releasing Bazaltkör Juhfark 2017 last fall.  

There are still a few bottles of that debut vintage left. The trio put together their finest Juhfark musts that came from grapes from their best plots. The wine is a blend of three different barrels of Juhfark, one from each winemaker, with each barrel possessing different characteristics.  

The wines were fermented and aged in the barrels for seven months. The wine is savory, long and complex with notes of ginger and eastern spices. It costs HUF 4,500 directly from the producers.

There will not be a 2018 Bazaltkör wine released. However, Kis told the Budapest Business Journal this week that the 2019 vintage is, overall, looking stellar. The 2019 Bazaltkör will be released next spring. Kis also said that Juhfark is the one variety on Somló Hill that needs to be vinified in oak, which serves to temper its sharp acidity.

Over in Tokaj, Erika Rácz from Tokaj Sanzon described the vintage there as challenging due to hailstones having damaged grapes and made them vulnerable to fungal diseases, which called for rigorous selection on the sorting table.

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