Wine Tasting Season Reaching Full Swing

Drinks

With spring in the air and palates primed for new sensations after the winter slumber, the tasting season is well and truly underway in Budapest.

Vintners interact with tasters at this year’s Furmint February.

The grand tasting of Furmint February once again rocked the Hungarian Agricultural Museum to the rafters on February 7, with almost 90 wineries pouring more than 200 wines. It was followed the next day by another large tasting in Miskolc, a short hop from Tokaj. It was preceded by a press and trade Furmint tasting in London at 67 Pall Mall on January 30.

The London event was fully-subscribed and went very well, judging by posts from my London-based wine writer colleagues. Zsuzsa Toronyi, one of the event’s organizers, confirmed there will definitely be a follow-up tasting in the British capital next year.

Attendees to this year’s inaugural London tasting included Steven Spurrier, the organizer of the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting of 1976, which shook the wine world when Californian Cabs beat Bordeaux heavyweights in a blind tasting.

Spurrier, who has appeared in Hungary at the VinCE wine extravaganza (this year to be held April 25-27 in the Várkert Bazar, details of masterclasses yet to be announced), has been portrayed on screen by Alan Rickman. Spurrier has now turned his hand to making sparkling wine in Dorset, England, and released his memoirs, “Wine - a Way of Life”, last year.

For further Furmint action and a lot more, involving other Tokaj grapes like the sometimes sublime Hárslvelű, there’s the grand tasting of Tokaj Március, coming up on Saturday, March 23, at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, where almost 60 wineries will be showcasing their wares. New Tokaj wineries are shooting up like mushrooms, way beyond the regions strongholds of Mád and Tokaj town itself.

Emerging Name

Kvaszinger, from Olaszliszka, is an emerging name that impressed me at the Furmint February tasting. His single vineyard Hatalos Furmint 2017 comes from Szegilong, and was fermented and aged (for six months) in used oak barrels; it strikes a lovely balance between freshness with its zesty acidity, citrusy fruitiness and depth with its slightly creamy texture.

László Kvaszinger, a member of Tokaj Generation Y, an association of talented young vintners, is also winemaker at TR Művek and will be present, representing his own winery, at Tokaj Március. Dry Furmints, especially the single-vineyard bottlings, are getting rather expensive but this is great value at HUF 3,500 from Borbolt.hu.

The organizers of Furmint February also know how good Hárslevelű can be and are planning this year’s edition of Hárslevelűk Éjszakája for Thursday, May 30.

Meanwhile, winemakers from Eger and Szekszárd are set to lock horns at this year’s edition of the Eger-Szekszárd Bikavér párbaj (duel) in the Grand Ballroom of the Corinthia on Friday, February 22, with 34 producers in attendance, 17 from each region.

“It’s more of a Bikavér duet than a duel,” says Szekszárd winemaker Csaba Vesztergombi, about the upcoming tasting, though he does emphasize the individuality of the two regions.

“There are huge differences between Eger and Szekszárd despite Szekszárd only being some 130 km south of Eger,” he said, referring to soil and climatic factors. Cooler Eger is based on volcanic rhyolite tuff and brown forest soils plus some limestone, while warmer Szekszárd has loess and red clay with some pockets of limestone.  

From the Eger camp, Tibor Gál described Bikavér from Eger as fruitier, dynamic, mineral and leaner than the wider, broader and fuller-bodied style from Szekszárd. Gál’s vibrantly fruity Titi Egri Bikavér 2016 fits that bill to a tee with a nice deep ruby color, sour cherry, cherry, eucalyptus, mixed spices and a touch of an earthy note, with fine grained tannins and a tangy finish.

This is a blend of Kékfrankos, Kadarka, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Portugieser, harvested from the volcanic rhyolite tuff of the Síkhegy, Pajdos and Tornyos vineyards. It was spontaneously fermented in vats and aged for 11 months in Hungarian oak barrels (20% new oak), and is unfiltered and unfined. It costs HUF 3,250 from Bortársaság.

Key Wine Style

Bikavér is a key wine style for Hungary that enables local heroes Kékfrankos and Kadarka (the latter traditionally mainly in Szekszárd, but now increasingly in Eger also), to combine with the international grape brigade to delicious effect.

Many winemakers appear to have settled on a rough ratio of 50% from the two local grapes with Kékfrankos often at 45% and Kadarka at 5%. Kékfrankos provides the lean and focused backbone for most Bikavér, but it is fleshed out delightfully by fuller bodied and more intense grape varieties like Cabernet Franc (particularly good in Hungary), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others, although Zweigelt and Blauburger, both parented by Kékfrankos can put in an appearance.

Vintners from both regions tend to shun the use of the English translation for Bikavér (Bull’s Blood), due to the negative conations of much of the bottom shelf stuff put out during the communist era.

In the meantime, Hungary’s largest indoor tasting of the year, Borjour Magnum (now in its tenth year), which features 220 Hungarian winemakers/wineries serving more than 1,000 wines takes place at Millenáris tomorrow (February 16) from 3-9 p.m.

One major event that will not be happening in 2019, however, is the Great Tokaj Auction, as the winemakers take stock of what is a fine idea and a very pleasant event, but sadly one that doesn’t seem to have attracted that many bidders as yet.

Tickets for the Tokaj Március grand tasting at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest will cost HUF 11,900 on the day, see tokajimarcius.hu for more details.

Tickets for the Szekszárd Bikavér párbaj, also in the Corinthia, will cost HUF 6,000.

Borjour Magnum tickets at Millenáris will cost HUF 7,900, discover more at borjour.hu

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