Moonlighting at Home, With the Approval of the Boss

Drinks

Gábor Ádam left and Bálint Földi right, of Sabar winery.

Photo by Or Szűcs.

It is not unusual to find vintners for established labels who also make exciting wines under their own name, free of the constraints placed on them by the tastes and demands of their employer wineries. But here, Robert Smyth selects a series of enologists who appear to have found owners whose vision closely matches their own.

At a wine tasting recently, I was interested to note that the first two offerings were from winemakers better known for their full-time jobs at wineries elsewhere.

At the portfolio tasting organized at the N28 Wine and Kitchen earlier this month by BoReTT, which represents small boutique wineries across Hungary, the first wine came from Vivien Újvári, the chief winemaker for Barta Pince in Mád, in the Tokaj region, where she makes wines of delightful precision, tension and balance.

Újvári hails from the Badacsony region, where her ancestor János started making wine in the middle of the 19th century. Today, she and her family have 0.7 hectares of their own Olaszrizling and Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát in Hungarian), planted in 1955 on Szent György hegy.

Újvári Olaszrizling 2021 was pressed gently by a vertical press, with the must racked after 24 hours, then fermented under a controlled temperature in 1,000-liter barrels. After fermentation, it was racked again and aged on fine lees.

It has appealing candy, pear drop and elderberry aromas, with a textured lemon and apple, almost cider-like palate. The on-trade price is HUF 3,450 from BoReTT.

Ujvári previously worked at Villa Sandahl in Badacsony, and in New Zealand, before taking off to Tokaj, where she first worked for Degenfeld in the village of Tarcal. From her work at Barta, the traditional method sparkling Pezsgő 2017 (HUF 7,210) is made from 100% Furmint. It is taut, linear, and pleasantly dry on the finish.

Varietally Pure

The second wine at the BoReTT tasting was Zsolt Palkó’s Furmint 2020, which is elegant and varietally pure, with classic Furmint quince notes, petrol and oil, a bit like a Riesling. It also has something of an untamed, natural wine feel, and, indeed, the sulfur added is minimal, according to Palkó.

It was spontaneously fermented, mostly in oak barrels, with a small portion fermented in the tank, followed by the whole lot being aged in oak for eight to nine months.

“Furmint is well-suited to oak, which rounds out the wine and also complements it,” he told the Budapest Business Journal. The on-trade price is HUF 2,300 from BoRett.

Palkó has two hectares of his own on Badacsony Hill, although his day job is as chief winemaker at Villa Sandahl. From the 2021 vintage, his own Furmint will be grown organically, says Palkó, whose first vintage was in 2019. His vines are 10-12 years old.

Furmint is popping up all over the country as winemakers get on the vinous train fuelled by the success of dry wines made from the grape in the Tokaj region. A wave of planting has ensued across Hungary. In many cases, rather than being planted for the first time, Furmint is being re-established where it once thrived before the phylloxera louse that devastated European vineyards in the late-19th and early 20th centuries wiped it out.

Palkó notes that Furmint was present in Badacsony pre-phylloxera but that it wasn’t the main grape. On the 2021 vintage, Palkó is highly sanguine.

“The grapes are in a good condition. The Olaszrizling ripened earlier than usual and the acidity dropped off a little; the wine will have softer acidity,” he said. “The Furmint will also have slightly lower acidity than usual, which I’m happy with as the acidity in Furmint can be too high,” he said.

Another Badacsony vintner, Péter Váli, of Válibor in Badacsonyörs, told me recently that despite the generally hot summer with drought conditions in parts of the country, the mesoclimate of Badacsony is unique, with “rain falling at the right times throughout the summer.” He anticipates an outstanding vintage.

Incidentally, another former Villa Sandahl winemaker, Ambrus Bakó, is now winemaker at Petrányi Pince, in Csopak, heading west along the northern side of Lake Balaton, although he continues to make his own wine back in Badacsony.

He has been in good form recently, given the wines I tasted at the Budapest Wine Festival, including the Szita hegy Olaszrizling 2020. A spontaneously-fermented, refined spice bomb of a Syrah from 2019, with notes of violets, ripe raspberry, blackberry and blueberry and aged for seven months in French and Hungarian oak barrels, also impressed. It costs HUF 4,690 from petranyipince.hu.

Music and Wine

Back in Badacsony, the owner-winemaker team of Gábor Ádám and Bálint Földi at Sabar Borház not only like making wine together but also listening to music; the winery hosts blues evenings just below Sabar Hill.

Földi’s first vintage as winemaker for Sabar was in 2016. Ádám realizes the value of a talented winemaker and is such a chilled boss that he is fine with Földi’s offerings being sold alongside the Sabar label at his winery. Both sets of wine are well worth seeking out.

From Sárospatak over in the Tokaj wine region, Pajzos is currently marking its 30th anniversary. Part of the celebrations was an amazing recent tasting whereby a series of six puttonyos aszú wines, and one aszúeszencia, were tasted.

These progressed in time back to 1999, also known as the vintage of the 20th century. These superb wines were paired with locally made macarons. The winery is French-owned and managed, although Hungarian Árpád Kolozsváry-Kiss will soon take over the reins from Laurent Comas, a long-term resident in Hungary, who is set to embark on new challenges back in France.

At Pajzos, winemaker Ferenc Naár, and viticulturist Pál Espák, both make their own wines in nearby Hercegkút. Their wines are available by the glass at Sárospatak’s A Boros wine bar and are well worth trying.

Also, in Tokaj, Dénes Szarka, winemaker for the excellent Pelle Pince in Mád, is another who makes wines that shine in their own right, such as his Szarka Pince 6 puttonyos aszú, which was ranked Number One in the Winelovers 100 in 2021.

Siblings István and Edit Bai, who ply their daily trade at the Dereszla winery, also have their own small family cellar, Carpinus, whose estate wines show that Furmint can taste fine, fresh and frisky when vinified only in the tank.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of September 23, 2022.

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