Olaszrizling, Gamay Noir, Succession and More

Drinks

Eger vineyard landscape by Menno van der Haven / Shuuterstock.com

As the weather heats up, wine columnist Robert Smyth discusses quality white wine offerings from Olaszrizling and rose from Gamay Noir, a French wine more usually associated with Beaujolais.

One of the standout wines at the Eger wine region tasting, held at Société Budapest on April 26, was an Olaszrizling from Eger: Lajos Gál’s Kántor-tag Egerszóláti Olaszrizling Grand Superior 2021. It was fermented in oak barrels and then aged in them for two months. Positively oozing pineapple and tropical fruit, it is also full-bodied, oily and waxy, layered and complex, with integrated oak and the alcohol level of 14.87% not sticking out.

This wine is everything one could wish for from the supposedly humble Olaszrizling, which on its day and in the right place of growth can every bit match the more fashionable Furmint grape.

Imagine my disappointment on catching up with Gál in Eger recently, while heading to Egerszólát to judge in this year’s edition of the Aranytőke borszemle wine competition, when he told me that the 2021 is the last of this wine as he has sold his plot in Kántor-tag, which has predominantly volcanic rhyolite tuff soil. The winemaker, 68, has decided to spend more time with his grandchildren and scale down somewhat on the winemaking.

However, continuity appears to be assured, as he has sold his plot to someone after his own heart: Attila Dobos, who makes wines under the new Eger Soul label, to be launched on the market soon.

On arriving at the Egerszólát Közösségi Ház (Egerszólát Community Center) the day before it hosted the Aranytőke borszemle tasting, as buckets of sawdust were being placed by each tasting desk, I was handed a glass of welcome wine, which just so happened to be from Eger Soul: “Ceres” Olaszrizling from Egerszólát.

It was delicious, if a tad on the oaky side, being vinified in new oak and then aged there for four months; it is typical for a young winery to have to use a new oak barrel.

Farewell Victory

The winner of the Aranytőke borszemle 2020 in the main, Olaszrizling category was none other than Lajos Gál’s Kántor-tag Egerszóláti Olaszrizling Grand Superior 2021; a nice way to sign off. It will cost HUF 10,000 from the cellar (gallajos.hu) once it has been labeled.

For most, rosé is a wine that must be consumed within a year of the grapes being picked. Indeed, there are many such fresh and fruity rosés made in Hungary, especially from the Kékfrankos grape, whose vibrant red fruit is ideal for the purpose.

It was, therefore, an amazing experience to taste four vintages of one special rosé at the Rosalia wine festival last weekend in Pest’s City Park. Not only is the fact that four vintages are available simultaneously a rarity, but the fact the rosé is made from the Gamay grape (Gamay Noir, to give it its full name) in Hungary is also pretty special.

This French grape, which hails from Burgundy and is most widely associated with Beaujolais, is used only to make rosé at Nagygombos Borászat in the Mátra Hills.

The long-named Nagygombos Borászat Barta Anna Gamay Noir Rosé is vinified both in stainless steel and oak, aged for six months, with the oak bringing considerable texture and spicy flavors. Indeed, it is more like an oaked white wine in terms of texture.

The grapes come from two parts of Nagygombos’ gorgeous, contiguous 90 hectares of vines: part from sandstone soils up on the hill and the remainder from below, where the earth is composed of loess and clay, with a high limestone content. (Nagygombos is not located in that part of the Mátra region where the soils are volcanic.) The wine is made only from free-run juice, with two to four hours of skin contact before pressing.

Varietal Character

The youngest vintage, the Barta Anna Gamay Noir Rosé 2021, has a bright, pretty pink color and captures considerable varietal character with primary red fruit notes of strawberry and raspberry, with a whiff of black pepper, with a lot of body for a rosé.

The 2020 is a deeper pink color, with a plummy note, rounder and more elegant than the first. The 2019 has a salmon color, with notes of dried fruit like raisins and apricot, and has developed nicely.

The oldest, the 2018, is promising on the nose with rose hip jam and a hint of sun-dried tomato, the latter perhaps suggesting this wine could be past its best. That is confirmed on the slightly tired and flat palate, in which the acidity has tailed off with the passing of time.

This is not a big problem for the cellar; there are just 100 bottles left, some will undoubtedly find beauty in the 2018, and it could be a nice component in a four-wine vertical tasting. These wines, with the exception of the 2018, are of great value at HUF 2,100. Nagygombos/Anna Barta wines are available from artizanshop.hu. Although the 2021 isn’t there yet, it will be available soon.

While it is not unusual to make rosé out of Gamay Noir in Beaujolais, red wine made by semi-carbonic maceration is more typical. When I asked why they don’t do so at Nagygombos, I was told that they have tried, but it just didn’t have enough excitement about it.

Nagygombos is owned by Anna Barta’s father Károly Barta, who also owns the top-end Tokaj cellar Barta Pince, in Mád. There, the extremely elegant, taut, and linear wines are made by Vivien Ujvári (ujvari.wineshop.hu), who also has a hectare of her vines in Badacsony. The wine from there is as complex, textured, and layered as you’d expect from her. When she is not making wine in Tokaj, she can be found tending a hectare of her own vines in Badacsony.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 17, 2022.

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