Hungarian Reds Ramp it Up


The “Hungarian Wines of Excellence” (Borkiválóságok) books for 2018/2019 have recently been published and the results are pretty insightful, implying that Hungarian red wines are no longer playing second fiddle to whites.

In the white wine book, 270 wines have been named as Wines of Excellence, from 656 entrants. Of those 270 dry and sweet white wines, nine were named as Top Wines of Excellence (the same as last year): eight are from Tokaj and one from Balaton.  

Tokaj Aszú is among the greatest sweet wines of the world, if not the greatest, and five were judged to be Top Wines of Excellence: Barta’s Öreg Király dűlő 6 puttonyos 2013, Bodrog Borműhely’s 6 putt 2013, Chateau Dereszla’s 5 putt 2010, Dobogó 6 putt 2010 and Pelle Pince’s 6 putt 2013.  

Pint-sized (3.6 hectares) Pelle’s wines are made by Dénes Szarka who has his own, even smaller winery with 2.5 hectares of vines. He has a Midas touch with sweet wines, in which there’s always balance between richness and freshness, and his own sweet Tokaj Cuvée 2016, a blend of Furmint, Hárslevelű and Sárgamuskotály, also made it as a Top Wine of Excellence. That leaves just three dry wines that captured top gong.  

Oremus’ Mandolás Furmint was once a big oaky beast but the Spanish-owned winery based in Tolcsva has fine-tuned its winemaking over the years and this wine is now consistently balanced, layered and complex with Furmint’s quince and almond notes coming nicely through, enhanced with a brushing of oak. Rather than going for single vineyard wines, Oremus has long made an estate Furmint with the aim of achieving a balanced expression of its vineyards. The 2016 Mandolás offers plenty of bang for the buck and costs HUF 3,850 from Bortársaság.  

Elusive Character

The other dry Tokaj to achieve the top award is Tokaji Furmint Sec 2015 from Királyudvar (HUF 5,300 from, which applies biodynamic grape growing to make wines of great purity and vibrancy, but with real consistency, too. Again, this wine is about balance and also captures Furmint’s trademark but often elusive quince character. Those who say Furmint lacks fruit – as I have done on occasion – should look at these two fine specimens.

Noble Furmint is far superior to the humble Olaszrizling grape, right? Well, the only other dry white to make it as a Top Wine of Excellence was made from this pan-Central European workhorse of grape. The wine in question, Aranyom 2017 from Balatonboglár’s relatively unknown Szabó & Fia, impressed the jury for its “seductive and complex aromas”, and being “explicit and unique”. It is a real bargain that will sit in the HUF 1,500-3,000 category and should be out soon.

In the Red and Rosé book, 643 wines (468 reds and 175 rosés) were submitted from 20 regions with 295 making it as Wines of Excellence, a total of 222 reds and 59 rosés. “It is a remarkably high number considering that Hungarian wines are still dominated by white wines,” states the red wine book. An all-time high of 14 have been named as Top Wines of Excellence, all red, representing the regions of Villány, Szekszárd, Balatonboglár and Eger.

A very strong performance was put in by the local grape Kékfrankos; despite being Hungary’s most planted grape, it has long played a backseat role to more fancied international grapes. That is until Hungarian vintners realized that indigenous varieties are where it’s at. It makes medium- rather than full-bodied wines and the alcohol level rarely pushes past 13.5%, yet it lacks nothing in terms of depth.

Classic Intensity

It is also interesting to see that the five single-varietal Kékfrankos reds to be named Top Wines of Excellence came from a variety of regions. Konyári Piritye Kékfrankos 2015 from the Balatonboglár wine region on the south side of Central Europe’s largest lake, oozes Konyári’s classic intensity with pristine purity of fruit and beautifully integrated oak.

Soltész Premium Kékfrankos 2015, which is the top range of the large Eger producer Ostorosbor, showed that big can be beautiful. Szent Gaál Szekszárdi Kékfrankos 2016 marks a return to form for the Tolna-based winery. From Villány, the Csányi winery, the region’s biggest producer, showed that it is not just about bottom-shelf wines with an impressive wine from its premium range, Teleki Selection Villányi Kékfrankos 2015. Vylyan’s Kékfrankos 2015 stands up very well when tasted alongside the winery’s other international varietal offerings. The riper style from down in Villány is certainly for those who may find wines from the grape lacking in body and weight.

Two other wines were blends that contain a high proportion of Kékfrankos: Egri Korona Borház Cabernet Sauvignon – Kékfrankos Barrique Selection and Adrián Bősz Bikavér 2012.

Of the Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Franc put in the strongest showing with five wines claiming the top gong. Two came from Villány: Cabernet Franc 2016 from the barely known Bognár and Vylyan Mandolás Cabernet Franc 2012. (Vylyan also achieved the top prize for its Syrah 2013). From Szekszárd, Cabernet Franc 2015 by Ákos Sümegi, made it a Wines of Excellence to remember for newcomers. Takler’s basic Cabernet Franc has always been a real go-to red and the 2016 (HUF 3,090 from Bortársaság) is another Top Wine of Excellence. The other two top reds are from Villány: Attila Gere’s Cabernet Sauvigon Barrique 2013 and Jeckl’s Il Primo Vörös 2013, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The Wines of Excellence should be pure and correctly made, satisfying the general expectations of a quality wine. They should have at least medium or high aromatic intensity, depending on the given grape. Positive attributes (for instance complexity or well-proportioned structure) should be present beyond evident primary fruitiness. A Top Wine of Excellence should be complex and perfectly balanced and have refinement, sophistication, elegance and a positively long finish. The ageing potential should also exceed the average. The wines were blind tasted over six days by five committees of wine experts in the first round and then by four committees in the second round.

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