Summer a Great Excuse to Head to Balaton for Bor

Drinks

As ever, Lake Balaton is on many Hungarian and expat agendas in August. Not only does the “Hungarian sea” provide relief from the sweltering summer heat; the wine regions in the area are positively brimming with vinous treats for wine lovers.

On the southern side of the lake, the Balatonboglár region with its predominantly loess soils, and warm climate can produce both white and red wines that are ripe, structured and round.  

Dani Konyári believes firmly in the class and panache of Bordeaux varieties to make the best and most sophisticated red wine possible, but my pick from the cellar is a Kékfrankos, because it has the winery’s stamp all over it and also shows just what you can do with indigenous varieties.  

Konyári Piritye Kékfrankos 2015 (HUF 7,250 from Bortársaság) oozes Konyári’s classic intensity with pristine purity of fruit and beautifully integrated oak. This was named among the Top Wines of Excellence in “The Hungarian Wines of Excellence” (Borkiválóságok) books for 2018/2019 and is a wine to silence those who doubt that Kékfrankos is capable of making top-notch, layered red wine of substance and backbone.  

The Konyári winery is in very good hands following the death of János Konyári in 2017, who had been making the wine in tandem with his skilled son Dani for years. János also oversaw winemaking at the larger Ikon winery, where his younger daughter, Bori Konyári, and her husband, Emil Kvák, are now calling the winemaking shots.  

Ikon is a source of very good value single varietal wines, such as Riesling (Rajnai rizling in Hungarian) for HUF 1,850 (Bortársaság). The single varietal range culminates in the always impressive Cabernet Franc Evangelista (the 2016 is priced at HUF 4,750).  

The couple also have their own small winery called Késa, which works four hectares. Késa Riesling 2018 (HUF 4,150) is nicely crafted – half barrel and half tank fermented with the whole wine aged for a month in new barrels. The riper Riesling from the sun-kissed southern side of the lake can handle the oak, which gives it good depth and makes a wine that is representative of the region.

Sterling Form

Ottó Légli was one of the first names to come through from Balatonboglár and his wines are in sterling form. His single-vineyard Gesztenyés Rajnai Rizling 2017 actually comes from limestone soils from the Gesztenyés vineyard in Szőlősgyörök. This was spontaneously fermented in tanks, then aged in five-hectoliter barrels for a year. It’s varietally pure, well-structured and linear.

Légli is also notable for his Olaszrizling (the pan-Central European grape that’s not related to Riesling), especially his bottling from the Banyászó vineyard. He also makes one of the best value Furmints around – one that really captures the grape’s varietal quince-like character and zestiness for a very friendly price (the 2016 costs HUF 2,150).  

Loess can be an excellent conveyer of a grape’s varietal characteristics and this wine, which comes from grapes grown on János-hegy, was made solely in the tank to allow the fruitiness to come to the fore. Furmint, earlier named Szigeti around the lake and elsewhere, was once widely planted and is being re-established on both shores.  

Ottó’s brother Géza also makes very nice wine under the Kislaki name. A third Légli brother, Attila, a ceramics/porcelain manufacturer is getting in on the winemaking act by producing amphora that I’m increasingly seeing in cellars around Hungary.

While Furmint and Riesling are widely considered noble varieties, streaks ahead of Olaszrizling for most people, quality offerings of the latter grape are being made in the Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonfelvidék and Badacsony areas, on the northern side of the lake. These wines are right up there amongst the country’s best whites.

Figula’s Száka Olaszrizling 2017 from Balatonfüred-Csopak was 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.  

Complex Youth

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. The barrels enabled 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 not so often in the complex mixed soils and moderated climate of northern Balaton. 

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 Bartok Béla út 64 in Budapest’s 11th district.

For several years now, Szent Donát has delighted us with its Kékfrankos called Magma, which comes from grapes from the special mesoclimate and volcanic soils of the Tihany peninsula that juts out into Lake Balaton and provides prime conditions for making red wine. The Szent Donát Magma 2017 (HUF 4,150 from artizanshop.hu) lives up to its polished predecessors, yet with a welcome bit more body and substance.  

Gyula Szabó of the Káli kövek winery buys in Kékfrankos grapes from various growers and in 2017 had the opportunity to purchase grapes from two sites – one from Badacsony’s Szent György hegy that was an ‘impulsive buy’ according to Szabó, while the other, from Dörgicse, was the outcome of the winery’s search for Kékfrankos.  

Szabó almost blended the two together but in the end decided to bottle them separately; a smart move, as these wines nicely reflect the grape’s ability to be an articulator of terroir.

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