Egri Bikavér Producers Declare 2021 an Outstanding Vintage

Drinks

Wine cellars with barrels of Bikavér near Eger.

Photo by Richard Semik / Shutterstock.com.

Eger’s winemakers are so excited about the 2021 vintage of its famous red Bikavér blend that they called the press, trade and selected wine lovers out to Eger to taste barrel samples, long before these wines will be available forpurchase.

The Egri Bikavér En Primeur (wine futures) tasting took place on October 22 in the atmospheric Bolyki Pincészet, which is dramatically situated in and around an old mine inthe city of Eger itself.

“Something magical happened in this vintage,” said winemaker Lajos Gál. “The cool April was followed by a period of hot weather. June was cooler, which was welcome, before it warmed up for the rest of the summer when it was also dry, but fortunately, there was water in the soil.”

The dryness prevented mildew (especially downy mildew) from forming, leading to very healthy and concentrated grapes. Lajos Gál’s Sík-hegy Egri Bikavér Grand Superior 2021 is made of 50% Kékfrankos, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Kadarka. This is the first time that Cabernet Franc and Kadarka have been harvested from Sík-hegy.

Just a few percent of aromatic Kadarka can make its presence felt and bring new nuances to the final wine. In its fledgling form, the barrel sample of the 2021 was still a little rough around the edges, with the alcohol, acidity and tannins still to round out, but it revealed a linear structure and exciting notes like blood orange and a certain gamey character.

Lajos Gál’s Sík-hegy Egri Bikavér Grand Superior 2018 was awarded best Bikavér in the 2022 edition of the Eger region’s wine competition. It costs HUF 7,770 from wineloverswebshop.hu. 2018 is also considered an excellent vintage for Bikavér, while 2019 was cooler, leading to taut, leaner wines.

In this year’s local competition, Lajos Gál’s Kántor-tag Egerszóláti Olaszrizling Grand Superior 2021 was named the best white wine, and his Kamra-völgy Egri Csillag Grand Superior 2021 took home the medal for the best Egri Csillag (the region’s white blend). These are excellent results for this gem of a small cellar, which has just four hectares of its own vines.

“Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Bikavér,” declared Lajos Gál to the crowd, placing the Hungarian wine alongside great reds beginning with the letter ‘B’ from Italy and France.

Worth the Wait

According to the law on Egri Bikavér, the wines cannot be released before November 1 in the year following the vintage. While they can legally be released this month, the truth is that many of the producers will wait much longer, especially in the Superior and Grand Superior categories.

“In 2021, we were able to harvest at great ripeness, it was as a sunny harvest, and there was no rush, so we could do what we wanted, when we wanted,” said St Andrea’s György Lőrincz Jr., adding that the result is elegant wines with floral aromas.

In contrast, in the 2020 vintage, St. Andrea made only one Bikavér, the ever-dependable Áldás (literally meaning “blessing”) Bikavér Superior.

“In 2020, we got 100 ml of rain in the first week of October, which watered down the concentration in the fruit,” he said.

The 2020 Aldás is a mega blend of seven different grape varieties, harvested at meager yields in this challenging vintage, with Kékfrankos as the core and the next most significant contributions made by Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The fact that the big single vineyard wines were not made in 2020 also meant that the grapes from the top sites made it into the Áldás. It was fermented in open vats, then aged in both 300- and 500-liter oak barrels. It has a vibrant purple-ruby color, exudes juicy red and black fruit, and is also peppery and spicy, with lovely acidity. It is good value at HUF 4,450 from Bortársaság.

The father and son György Lőrincz team are excellent at conveying the characteristics of different places of growth on an individual vineyard level. This is already apparent in the 2021 single vineyard bottlings. St Andrea Hangács 2021 comes from the Hangács vineyard, located in Demjén, where St Andrea has 17 of its 45 hectares. The 2021 vintage has a purple color and is medium-bodied and earthy with a complex hint of mushroom.

St Andrea’s Nagy Eged 2021 comes from the limestone soil from the lower part of Eger’s defining hill. It is a much fruitier specimen than the previous wine, with abundant black and red fruit (especially blackberries and strawberries). I agree with Lőrincz Jr. when he remarks that “you can almost bite into the fruit.”

Different Strokes

It is also reasonably full-bodied, with an elegant and silky texture. “We have to think in different ways in the different vineyards to find balance,” he says.

I’ve gotten this far in this article without mentioning the English name of Bikavér, “Bull’s Blood,” the use of which appears to have become taboo these days in Eger. Winemaker Tibor Gál Jr. told me that the word “Bikavér” is the way forward, even on foreign markets, as “Bull’s Blood” evokes negative connotations of the mass-produced wine of the former system.

He was once highly skeptical about the potential of Bikavér to convey the qualities of the Eger wine region and its vineyards but admits his position has since changed.

“Five years ago, I didn’t really believe in Bikavér. Now, I feel it’s the only direction we should go in. It’s the only unique story we can use to get on the map again,” he told me. “I believe in the Old World way of showing the different faces of vineyards.”

However, he says it has taken a new approach to make Bikavér exciting. “I found Bikavér too retro, too rustic, too old and out of touch. It needed to be contemporary and fresh, which has been achieved through blending earlier, less time aging in oak and more time in the bottle,” Gál Jr. explains.

His 2021 Pajados Grand Superior is already delicious and is every bit the contemporary style he is trying to achieve, with its juicy blackberry and sour cherry fruit and fresh, buzzing, refreshing acidity.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 18, 2022.

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