A Lighter Villány Begins to Venture Forth

Drinks

Villány, for so long the darling of Hungarian red winemaking, has seen cheeky upstarts like the fruit-forward Szekszárd threatening its crown. How will it respond?

Pretentious wine critics like myself are forever bashing the big, muscular wines of Villány for being too old school – overly alcoholic, overripe, over-extracted and too tannic, but as long as people like them that way, then who are we to tell people what they should drink?  

It was evident at the Villányi Aranykóstoló tasting, held at the Stefánia Palota in Budapest on October 12, that bigger is still better for many, with lots of people lapping up wines like Bock Magnifico 2011, and loving it. Indeed, it is not just Hungarians who like a robust style – I guide Americans through the region and many are very impressed by the power of the wines and the prices, which they find offer plenty of bang for the buck, with the wines generally much cheaper than their equivalents from Napa Valley.  

However, the aforementioned Magnifico (100% Merlot) does cost a handsome HUF 19,500 (from Bortársaság), and even up to HUF 17,900 from Bock’s own webshop. Incidentally, when I drop in at Bock, I can’t resist a glass of its light but flavorsome Kadarka 2016 (HUF 2,950 from Bortársaság) with its rosehip notes and zesty palate – which shows that this Villány heavyweight can go down a couple of weight divisions and still make wines with suitable aplomb.

At the Villányi Aranykóstoló tasting, I found the kind of the elegantly restrained style that I crave in Péter Bakonyi’s wines. His Cabernet Franc Makár 2016 from the Villány sub-region of Siklós had the kind of tension, freshness and balance that I find missing in many Villány wines, while it was still sufficiently concentrated. It also had that leafy note characteristic of Cab Franc, as well as layers of black fruit with just a touch of oak. It feels that the grapes were picked before they got too ripe.  

The larger part was aged in used French barrels while the smaller part saw no oak at all and was aged in tanks for eight months. This combination of oak and stainless steel really works and helps the grape put its best foot forward. Now that’s what I call great value at HUF 3,950 from Bortársaság. When Michael Broadbent, the British wine critic, writer and auctioneer visited Villány, he proclaimed that Cabernet Franc had found its natural home there and the region has created the Villányi Franc brand accordingly, but I do not often find the grape’s characteristics in the wines. I most certainly found this one to be varietally pure, however.

Open-minded Vintner

Bakonyi, a young and open-minded winemaker, also showed a pre-release sample of his Kékfrankos 2017, which was made only in the tank, enabling the freshness and fruitiness to come to the fore. It also has enough depth without the oak. It is expected to cost under HUF 3,000 a bottle when it hits the shelves and, if so, will again be cracking value.

Despite long having lurked in the shadows in Villány, Kékfrankos, Hungary’s number one grape in terms of land under vine, is now making some very nice wine down there. Another good one comes from Vylyan.   

Bakonyi is also the viticulturist for Jackfall, which is one of the 13 wineries involved in Villányi REDy, a new brand initiative of light and fruity wine (starting with the 2017 vintage) specifically tailored to appeal to Generation Y, as an alternative to the more robust, full-bodied, tannic wines for which Villány is noted. I’m sure there are many from Generation X, as well as from the Baby Boomers and even beyond who will appreciate wines that slip down with ease, or as they say in the trade these days – wines with good drinkability.  

The REDy wines are blends based on a backbone of the Portugieser grape, which is Villány’s early-ripening, high-yielding cash-cow of a grape that allows winemakers to get wines on the market shortly following the vintage.  

In REDy, the 50% or more of Portugieser is fleshed out with the likes of Blauburger, Zweigelt, Kékfrankos and Kadarka. Blauburger and Zweigelt can be considered almost local – both being parented by the Austro-Hungarian Blaufränkish (Kékfrankos) grape and crossed in Austria in the early 1920s by Professor Fritz Zweigelt at the Teaching and Research Center for Viticulture and Horticulture (LFZ) in Klosterneuburg, close to Vienna. Blaufränkish was crossed with Portugieser to create Blauburger and with St. Laurent to bring Zweigelt into existence – the latter being infinitely more successful – supplanting Blaufränkish to become Austria’s most planted red wine grape today.

Jackfall and Heumann’s REDy Kollab 2017, which was featured in the Budapest Business Journal issue 16 (September 7-20), is the result of a cooperation between the two Villány wineries, and was the pick of the bunch for me among the wines that I sampled (although I didn’t get to try Vylan’s offering). Kollab is a blend of 51% Portugieser (provided by Jackfall), 35% Kekfrankos and 14% Kadarka (both grown by Heumann), vinified only in the tank (like most REDy wines).  

Maczkó Pincészet’s REDy 2017 was also impressive – 60% Portugieser, 30% Blauburger and 10% Cabernet Franc, with just the Cabernet Franc spending some time in oak (four-to-five months). The REDy wines were overall of a good standard with a common theme of freshness, fruitiness and spiciness running through them. Other wineries to offer REDy wines are: Bíborka Pincészet, Bock Pincészet, Csányi Pincészet, Gere Tamás és Zsolt Pincészete, Mokos Pincészet, Ősi Pincészet, Polgár Pincészet, Szemes Pincészet, Tiffán Ede és Zsolt Pincészete, and Vylyan Szőlőbirtok és Pincészet.

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