A Limited Wine Festival for a Special Vintage

Drinks

Photo by Zsolt Szigetváry / Budapest Wine Festival

The Budapest Wine Festival, set in the resplendent grounds of Buda Castle, has always been something of a “back to school” event on the local wine calendar. Thankfully, it could go ahead this year, albeit with reduced capacity, bringing refreshing cheer to wine lovers amid balmy temperatures.

Photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/Budapest Wine Festival

This year’s 29th festival, dubbed as “Limited” by the organizers, who also humorously referred to its “very special vintage”, took up just one of the outer courtyards of the Buda Castle, but producers made the most of the reduced space with single stands often representing a whole region and quite effectively too, with a spread of representative wines to choose from.  

With a maximum of 400 guests and 100 staff on the site at any one time, and visits divided into two four-hour blocks, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening, there was plenty to keep the palate occupied for the duration of the session.  

“We had to do something this year,” Zoltán Zilai, the general director of Magyar Szőlő- és Borkultúra Nonprofit Kft., the company that organizes the wine festival, told me as we wandered around, taking in the bijou but beautiful festival that occupied Hunyadi udvar from September 10-13. (Incidentally, this year’s edition of the company’s Rosalia festival was earlier canceled due to COVID-19.)  

Magyar Szőlő- és Borkultúra is also the team behind Vinagora, Hungary’s only international wine competition, and it had a stand at the wine fair devoted to its medal-winning wines.  

‘Fresh and Cool’

It may taste like a copy-paste from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, the New World home of the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety, and likely involves the clever and very deliberate use of cultured yeasts, with pronounced gooseberry and cat pee aromas surging forth, but Paulus Borház’ “Fresh and Cool” Sauvignon Blanc 2019, from Mór, is cracking value at HUF 1,190 (from paulusborhaz.hu), and very crispy and thirst-quenching to boot, totally living up to the two English-language adjectives splashed across the label. It won a silver medal at Vinagora.

Pécs University’s Research Institute for Viticulture and Oenology is renowned for its work with lesser-known varieties, saving ancient grapes and developing new clones of Hungarian classics like Kadarka, but it also dabbles with French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.  

Its Summa Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, which won a gold medal at Vinagora, is classy and balanced with fabulously integrated oak, silky tannins, juicy black fruit and a nice touch of spiciness. Look out for this wine soon at pannonborbolt.hu under the long name of PTE Szőlészeti és Borászati Kutatóintézet. For an ultra-rare variety from the research organization, check out its Csókaszőlő 2019 (HUF 2,890).

Meanwhile, the Pannonhalma wine region, previously only well-known for the prestigious and ever-consistent Pannonhalmi Főpatság (archabbey) winery, continues to press on with a band of smaller producers who are also ably capturing the aromatic elegance and angular acidity of this region of just 650 hectares, making it Hungary’s second smallest.  

While Hungary is generally considered a bit warm for the Riesling grape (Rajnai rizling in Hungarian, literally Rhine Riesling, which differentiates it from the unrelated Olaszrizling), it is considered to be Pannonhalma’s calling card (good examples can also be found around Lake Balaton).  

Varietally Pure  

Barbaczi’s Rajnai rizling 2019, which comes from the village of Győrújbarát, is varietally pure with citrus fruit, especially lime, and Granny Smith apple oozing from the glass, and has Riesling’s zesty acidity in abundance. It’s too young for the classic petrol or paraffin note to have established itself yet – indeed it could even be considered a fault in such a youthful wine – but there’s that synthetic scent you get when you open a fresh tin of tennis balls that can be found in many good Rieslings, suggesting that an oily outcome awaits (HUF 1,990 from borkell.hu).

Petrol notes put in a solid appearance in two other Pannonhalma Rieslings: Balázs Hangyál’s Esperes 2015 and Cseri’s Rajnai rizling Selection 2015, both of which had plenty of petrol, but also importantly a good helping of fruit to give the wine a broad palate.  

The region is not only about Riesling, though. Barbacz Chardonnay 2019 (HUF 1,990), is a tad more aromatic than most Chardonnays, with a honeyed, floral note, with the grape variety’s linear acidity driving the wine forward smoothly and steadily on the palate.  

Pannonhalma is a magical place to tour with its rolling hills and wine cellars resembling hobbit-like dwellings from Middle Earth in the village of Nyúl, with the imposing hill-top archabbey of Pannonhalma visible for many miles around. Borpromo.hu runs tours for 8-10 people around the region’s main cellars starting from the nearby city of Győr, with the next occasion being November 6-8.

Not just a white wine and rosé region, it is also capable of excellent reds, such as those from Pannonhalmi Főpatság, especially the Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend of Infusio, which typically sells out soon after its release. The 2017 is still available from the winery for HUF 8,950 a bottle or HUF 18,500 for a magnum. Indeed, it is genuinely difficult to find older vintages of Hungarian wines, unless they happen to be Tokaji Aszú for example, which anyway takes years to come of age.  

Egri Bikavér is a wine style that could do with time for the different varieties that it is composed from to integrate and take the wine in its own unique direction. Often just as it’s getting interesting, it’s sold out. A nice problem to have for the wineries, but the test of most great wines is how they hold themselves together with the passing of time.

At the Eger stand, it was great to taste a 2012 Bikavér from Bence Dula, Egri Hegybíró Bora Egri Bikavér 2012. It’s a blend of Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Blauburger, and spent a whopping five years in old, large oak barrels,

Although it needs a good chance to breathe, it is now long and complex with spicy and mature tobacco notes, but still with a good dollop of black and red fruit, and is most probably just hitting its peak. It costs HUF 3,200 a bottle from Dulabor.hu

Photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/Budapest Wine Festival

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