What Style are you Drinking This Spring?
The spring tasting of Mitiszol? (literally, “What are you drinking?”) was a bijou event held at Haris Park on April 11 with organic, biodynamic and natural winemakers, and sometimes a combination of all three, serving their wares.
From Mád in the Tokaj region, Pelle Pince had the organic bubbly flowing, with two wines made in contrasting styles from very different methods. Frizzi Gyöngyözőbor 2021 utilizes what is sometimes disparagingly known as the pompe bicyclette method (bicycle pump, if you could not guess), whereby the carbon dioxide is added at bottling.
It is predominantly made from the Hárslevelű grape (90%), and this “white wine with bubbles in it” style nicely preserves the variety’s honeyed, floral and fruity character without getting in the way. It is also good value at a discounted price of HUF 2,039 from www.chefmarket.hu. Chef Market is the owner of the Mitiszol? brand, having acquired it from Terroir Club.
Pelle’s Tokaji Pezsgő 2018 was made by the traditional method, as Champagne and other more complex sparklers are. The second fermentation occurred at József Szentesi’s sparkling wine cellar in Budaörs, where it spent 36 months on the lees that interacted with the developing wine, imparting creamy notes with a touch of yeast and brioche. It is very Furmint-like with complex quince, pear and freshly-squeezed lemon on the nose and palate and a scintillatingly sour kick. It costs HUF 4,999 from chefmarket.hu.
Moving deep down south to Villány but remaining with sparkling wine, the Wassman winery has a Pét-Nat, amusingly named Blancs de Franc. This is a play on Blanc de Blancs, or White from Whites, the French viniculture term for Champagne made entirely from white grapes. In fact, the Wassman wine is a Blancs de Noir, the phrase for a white wine sparkler made from black grapes; in this case, the Cabernet Franc grape, hence the name.
The ultra-trendy Pét-Nat is short for pétillant naturel, a method whereby natural bubbles are retained when the still-fermenting wine is bottled. It usually contains the sediment, which renders the wine cloudy in the glass (cloudier as you pour more out of the bottle) – although some producers of the style remove the sediment by disgorging.
Wassmann decided not to disgorge in 2020 but did so in 2021; making the choice depends on the amount of sediment and wine crystals present. The 2021 looks and tastes like pear juice with a cidery edge. It is different and delicious.
Ancient and Trendy
While it may sound new and groundbreaking, Pét-Nat uses the méthode ancestrale (ancestral method), the oldest means of making sparkling wine of all, and predates the traditional method used to make, for example, Champagne (though in that region, méthode traditionnelle is known as méthode champenoise).
Pét-Nat wines may lack the precision, poise, persistence and complexity of Champagne, but they tastily tap into the past, getting back to basics, and present a very natural, technology-free approach. Indeed, it should be no surprise that the style has been described as “Hipster bubbles.”
Susann Hanauer works with partner Ralf Wassmann at the eponymously-named Wassmann winery in Villány. They have never used the term “natural” to describe their wines, but when I half asked, half stated, “Your wines are natural, aren’t they?” she replied: “This is what we’ve been doing all along.”
Since last visiting the German couple in the pre-COVID era, the natural wine movement has exploded, both locally and internationally, causing clamor and confusion. On tasting their range of wines, a cleanliness that is not always present in natural wines is evident. Being clean does not always equate to success in the natural wine world.
“One distributor turned our wines down because he said they were too clean and not funky enough,” Hanauer recalls.
Wassmann’s Otto Muscat Ottonel Narancsbor 2020 is an orange wine perfect for spring and summer imbibing. These amber wines are made from white grapes kept on their skins during fermentation, as red wines are, resulting in a heavier style of wine than white, replete with tannins.
Otto 2020 is made from two harvests (the first on August 27 and the second on September 25), with the grapes being fermented on their skins for eight and 12 days, respectively. The couple bought the grapes in from Csaba Malatinszky, a pioneer of organic winemaking in Villány, who recommended the two harvests as the acidity tends to drop off quickly.
That is no surprise in a sub-Mediterranean region like Villány and with a grape variety of modest acidity in the first place. The resultant wine is floral, fruity, and really refreshing with light alcohol of 9.5%, and costs HUF 3,799 from chefmarket.hu.
Nothing Taken Away
Wassmann’s Mundia 2018, a blend of Kékfrankos and Cabernet Franc, has “nothing added and nothing taken away,” Hanauer says. It has had no sulfur added and was bottled without filtering or fining. It oozes sour cherry and green herb notes and costs HUF 4,499
At its core, the natural wine movement is about returning to vinifying grapes the way they used to be handled before the advent of technology and synthetic herbicides/pesticides came onto the scene and revolutionized wine. More and more wineries are going back to basics, adopting a minimum interventionist approach to winemaking, neither adding nor taking away from the wine.
Not adding to the wine implies spontaneous fermentation from the yeasts inherent on the grapes and in the cellar and the use of no additives other perhaps than a bit of sulfur to prevent the wine from spoiling. However, hardcore natural winemakers often eschew even the use of this naturally-occurring chemical, as in the previous example.
Larger wineries generally cannot afford to take such risks with their wines and have to focus on pumping out a faultless, uniform product to satisfy the demands of shareholders, owners, consumers and distributors alike. Smaller producers, on the other hand, have more freedom to experiment.
The Kristinus Borbirtok in the Balatonboglár wine region bucks this trend and is an example of a larger winery successfully pursuing a natural approach.
“It [the transition to biodynamic grape growing and natural winemaking] doesn’t happen overnight. You have to know your individual vineyards,” says Ádám Kurucz, Kristinus’ sales manager. Its Liquid Sundowner 2020 orange wine (HUF 6,999) is a good example; tasty and balanced, with pear and quince on the nose and palate.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 6, 2022.
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