Olaszrizling Will go to the Ball

Drinks

Once considered a relative pauper among local grape varieties, certain Hungarian winemakers have been showing that, when taken seriously and grown in the best vineyards, Olaszrizling can produce wines that deserve their place on the table with the country’s finest whites.

So much so that Figula’s Száka Olaszrizling 2017 is taking its place alongside a dry Furmint by Tokaj doyen István Szepsy for some of the courses to be dished up at this year’s Magyar Borok Bálja (Ball of Hungarian Wines).  

Száka Olaszrizling 2017, from the Balatonfüred-Csopak region on the northern side of Lake Balaton, is set to be paired with a crab and Mangalica brawn dish at the Magyar Borok Bálja, which will be held at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on February 16.  

The grapes for the wine (priced at around HUF 3,990) were harvested on September 23 as small, concentrated clusters from nine-year-old vines from the mineral-rich Száka vineyard, three kilometers from the lake in Balatonszőlős.

This wine flies in the face of the assumption that young vines aren’t capable of yielding complex wines. The fermentation was started spontaneously with no added yeast in steel tanks, then finished in 1,000 liter used Hungarian oak barrels, where it was aged for six and a half months.  

The oak doesn’t impede on the wine whatsoever, which exudes citrus fruit and green herb notes, but has served to enable the developing wine to take in small amounts of oxygen through the porous oak, which builds the complexity and structure. The acidity of 5.7 g/l tingles nicely on the tongue and gives the kind of steely structure one would more readily associate with the likes of Furmint, delivering impressive length and zestiness.  

Often the acidity of Olaszrizling drops off quickly as the grapes are left out on the wine in the pursuit of full ripeness but that thankfully didn’t happen here.

Other exciting Olasz offerings from Csopak come from the Szent Donát, Jásdi and Homola wineries. The Száka 2017 is available at the Figula winery in Balatonfüred and at the Figula Borsarok at Bartók Béla út 64 in Budapest’s District XI.  

Coaxing Complexity

For a review of Figula’s excellent Öreghegy Olaszrizling 2015, from old vines, check out this column in the previous issue. It is impressive how the likes of Mihály Figula are able to both coax complexity out of the Olaszrizling grape and convey the essence of the places of growth through single vineyard wines. Indeed, winemakers prize the Furmint grape for its ability to be an articulator of terroir, but Olaszrizling also appears to be up to the terroir task.  

István Szepsy, who greets visitors to his cellar in the Tokaj hotspot of Mád by showing a collection of varied volcanic rocks plucked from his vineyards to convey the power of the soil, will be represented by the single vineyard Szent Tamás Furmint 2016, which comes from old bush vines from the very mixed volcanic soils of the prized Mád vineyard.  

In all, 100 wines can be imbibed at the Magyar Borok Bálja, including three sparkling wines (from Garamvári) and five wines that go with the menu. Many of the wines feature in the “100 legjobb Magyar bor 2018” (“100 Best Hungarian Wines 2018”).  

Incidentally, the top eight wines, and nine out of the first ten were all sweet, botrytized Tokaji Aszú offerings, with top spot going to Grand Tokaj for its 6 puttonyos 2013.  

Various packages are available for the Magyar Borok Bálja (www.borbal.hu), which is being organized by the Winelovers team. Amid lots of entertainment, winemakers will be on hand to present their wines to the guests.

Furmint February

For a huge amount of Furmints, especially dry ones, head to the grand tasting of Furmint February at the Hungarian Agricultural Museum on February 7, where almost 90 wineries will be pouring over 200 wines (entry cost: HUF 12,500). A press tasting related to Furmint February featured two of Tokaj’s newer producers, Juliet Viktor from Mád and Préselő from Erdőbénye, who will both be pouring their wares at the grand tasting.

Juliet Viktor is owned by Wizz Air co-founder and CEO József Váradi, and it has plots in prime vineyards around Mád. “Juliet Victor” is a moniker from his own initials while also referring to the phonetic alphabet used in aviation: “J” for Juliet and “V” for Victor.

“Flying makes the world better by creating a condition for happiness. Juliet Victor was born to help us enjoy happiness – this makes my personal story round and complete,” says Váradi. The winemaker is Zsolt Vincze. The early releases are promising, clean and pure expressions of Furmint and Mád terroir. I wonder if they will start selling Juliet Viktor wine on Wizz Air flights.

Préselő has a plot in Erdőbénye’s exciting Rány vineyard, which is three or four degrees colder than Mád, standing it in good stead with global warming which the owner/winemaker Zsolt Nagy says is already helping bring more ripeness.

The wines from here often have exhilarating acidity and a Chablis-like, cool-climate chillingly fresh factor, as does Préselő’s Rány 2015 (HUF 5,500 from Bor-Box). It is nutty and briny with the crispy green apple notes typical of wines from this northern vineyard, but it also has good body and ripeness. It was spontaneously fermented and aged in a four-hectoliter barrels from the local Zemplén hills.

“We want the barrel for micro-oxygenation, not for oak influence,” says Nagy.

The pre-tasting was held at the Kálvária Pince, which is a very well stocked wine cellar in Budakalász, which is a good place for vinous events in a village setting, just a short 16 km hop north from Budapest – and indeed closer than Etyek.

Highlights from the 2018 Ball of Hungarian Wines.

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