Pannon Producers Power Ahead Into 2020


The annual Pannon Karácsony (Christmas) tasting saw many of Hungary’s big names hit the capital on December 18, with each of the 33 members pouring a pair of wines at the event hosted at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. As usual, there were plenty of fine wines to be had and news to catch up on, as the Pannon Bormíves Céh (Wine Guild) celebrated its 20th year.

It is good to see that the Bussay cellar, from the lesser-visited Zala wine region, located just southwest of Lake Balaton, is doing well and making very nice wine, some five years after the passing of its founder, László Bussay. He was an important figure in the post-transition development of Hungarian wine, as well as serving as a local doctor in villages in Zala County.  

The wines are now made by his eldest daughter, Dóra Bussay, in tandem with her husband, the highly talented Somló vintner Tamás Kis, who also makes his own wines under the name of Somló Vándor. Kis told me that the pair take all the winemaking decisions together when making Bussay wine.  

“Variety is the spice of life,” Kis says when I ask him what it’s like making wine in two places. “Zala and Somló are very different terroirs, but both are extremely unique. In Zala we can work with reds, which is very good fun for me. Zala is more about round, deep, fatty flavors, while Somló is more mineral driven,” Kis adds.  

I first encountered the well-built, former judo champion when he was working for the prestigious St. Andrea winery from Eger. Incidentally, St. Andrea’s current winemaker György Lőrincz, is now serving as president of the Pannon Wine Guild.

Bussay’s Mura Fehér Házasítás 2018 (HUF 2,950 from Bortársaság) is a blend of 50% Olaszrizling, 25% Riesling and 25% Pinot Gris, and was named after the River Mura that moderates the climate in Zala’s vineyards, from which hills in Croatia and Slovenia can be seen in the distance.

It comes from a sunny plateau comprising thick clay and calcareous loess, along with pebbles deposited by the river. It was spontaneously fermented and aged in old, 1,000-liter barrels, as well as tanks.

Rustic but Honest

This wine is slightly rustic, but in a nice way and is very clean and honest; it speaks of its place of growth and it feels very much handmade, with a nice touch of controlled oxidation from the barrels bringing complexity and depth.

What the previous wine may have lacked in elegance was more than made up by Bussay Charmes Pinot Noir 2017 (HUF 3,950 from Bortársaság), which comes from a hillside of deep clay overlooking the River Mura, which, again provides a moderating influence.

It was fermented in open vats, then aged for a year in old barrels. It comes from a Burgundian clone (Dijon 777) with cherry, red fruit compote, and earthy aromas and flavors, and a nice pinch of spiciness that gives a local touch to this otherwise varietally pure and rather Burgundian Pinot Noir.

It is light- to medium-bodied with restrained tannins, but deep in flavor and has good length. Pinot Noir was the first black grape to be planted by the family. The Bussay winery works 5.5 hectares of vines overall.

This year’s László Bussay memorial award was presented at the Pannon Christmas tasting to Pál Rókusfalvy, who makes his own wine and has a restaurant in Etyek. He has done much to promote that town, as well as cooperation with other wine regions, whereby winemakers from elsewhere are invited to show their wares at the Etyek wine festivals.

Meanwhile, Szekszárd’s Heimann winery is going to launch a new brand in March called Heimann és fiai (sons), which Zoltán Heimann Jr. sees as an opportunity to develop stylistically with the Kadarka and Kékfrankos grape varieties.

“Kékfrankos has always been a kind of a side story; this is good opportunity to step up in terms of wine style,” he tells the Budapest Business Journal.

Three of the four Kékfrankos wines will be from a single vineyard, which is an exciting development and it will be very interesting for wine lovers to see how Kékfrankos can be an adept articulator of terroir. More on those closer to their release.

Two Options

Meanwhile, the new range will also feature two Kadarkas: one that is a blend across a number of vineyards and simply called Szekszárd; and one which is from a single vineyard, the Porkoláb-völgy (völgy means “valley”).

Both wines were spontaneously fermented in whole bunches, which Heimann Jr. says can add more layers and length to the wine (though less color) and are unfined and only roughly filtered.

The Porkoláb was aged in clay amphora, which has a neutral effect on the wine’s character (unlike oak) but it does allow the wine to get more oxygen than with stainless steel.

This wine is made of the three most promising clones (P115, P123 and P131) planted in the vineyard, which were developed in tandem with the Pécs Research Institute. Altogether, the Heimann winery has eight clones of Kadarka now planted in its vineyards, including the original P9.

“This rebranding is also aimed for export [the labels feature descriptions in English, creatively presented]. Kadarka is our most exported wine and the ones made in large barrels have been the most successful,” says Heimann Jr., whose Facebook moniker is Kadarka Man.

Accordingly, the two new Kadarkas have not seen any oak, which Heimann Jr. feels can block out varietal character ; that’s something I couldn’t agree more with.

The Heimann Szekszárd Kadarka 2018 (which will cost around HUF 3,200) is raspberry colored with pale intensity and aromas of the same fruit, as well as rosehip and red pepper. It’s light and airy on the palate with feather-light tannins and a spicy twist on the finish.

The Porkoláb-völgy 2018 (around HUF 6,000) is more floral, with red peepers and complex aromas of anise, lace and red berries, and with more weight. Both nicely capture the essence of the variety.

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