While Hungary offers plenty of bang for the buck when it comes to white wine, the production of which the climate and other factors generally favor, it is much more of a challenge to find delicious, easy-drinking reds – the likes of which are so ubiquitous from more southern European climes.
Hungarian red wine is often over-priced due to factors such as the popularity of red wine and its relative lack of supply vis-à-vis white wine in Hungary: local production is roughly two-thirds white to one-third red. There are also a lot of red wines in Hungary still made in the spirit of throwing as much of everything into the pot as possible. Not only do grapes continue to be harvested as late as possible in order to achieve the maximum concentration, which leads to jaminess, a lack of varietal character or a sense of place in the wine, there can also be too much tannin, alcohol and oak involved in the heady and overly expensive mix. Finally, a growing band of producers are understanding that less can be more, focusing more on finesse and elegance over power and intensity. Sometimes the most enjoyable wines can be those that are especially light, fruity and airy, and are not made to be cellared but are rather to be enjoyed in their youthful prime – when the primary fruit and freshness are at their peak.
Here are two excellent value reds currently on the market that pack lots of juicy fruit and zest into the bottle at a severely underrepresented price point.
The aim with this wine was to make a “juicy, easy-drinking Szekszárd wine”, according to Zoltán Heimann, Jr. It is a blend of approximately one-third each of Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Heimann, who makes the wine in tandem with his mother Ágnes, said that while “no fancy grapes”’ went into SXRD 2015, they were fresh, from a good quality crop and with lower alcohol levels. The grapes come partly from the family’s own young vineyards (Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and partly from bought in grapes from the cooler area of Báta.
It also contains around 7% of the Heimanns’ own Sagrantino, the über tannic Umbrian grape that makes Sagrantino de Montefalco, which was used to bring some tartness, especially to the aftertaste, as well as to ramp up the tannin structure that might otherwise have turned out a tad too thin. Incidentally, the Heimanns planted Sagrantino in Szekszárd on the recommendation of the late, great Tibor Gál, who served as chief winemaker at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Bolgheri and consulted in other parts of Italy.
SXRD was aged in large, used casks to preserve the fruit and to minimize the influence of oak. “The name is intended to be approachable and something that people are willing to drink on an average Thursday night, somewhat young and hipster, but still undeniably Heimann, as well as a way to help foreigners to pronounce Szekszárd,” says Heimann. Regarding the latter point, foreigners will no doubt appreciate the help but may still struggle due to the lack of a vowel.
The vibrant acidity and red fruit of the Kékfrankos is nicely built on by more red fruit from the Merlot and black fruit from the Cabernet Franc and Sagrantino. It also has delicious peppery quality that spices the fruit up and enough tannin to give it some grip and mouthfeel without spoiling its lightness of touch.
HUF 2,200 from Bortársaság (bortarsasag.hu/en)
A 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc harvested from the end of the September to the beginning of October from the warm but not hot western-facing Kokas vineyard on the southern side of Lake Balaton. Cabernet Sauvignon is a tricky grape to ripen in Hungary – and indeed in Bordeaux – which is why it often blended with other grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There isn’t any hint of under-ripeness in this wine, with none of those stalky green tannins but pure juicy fruit and delightfully soft tannins that are almost New World in texture. I doubt if it’s a case of the Franc, which ripens earlier than the Sauvignon, carrying the more famous Cabernet, having been impressed in the past with how soft and juicy this winery’s Sauvignon can be. This wine also stops well short of being overripe and jammy.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes were vinified separately, aged in used 225-liter barrels for 24 months, and later blended. While it may sound like a long time to be aged in oak for a lighter wine, the wood is very well integrated and doesn’t mask any of the pungent and juicy fruit of the forest-cum-blackberry notes. This wine weighs in as medium to medium plus bodied, and is very balanced with the alcohol at 13.5%. This is a real go-to wine for when you’ve been invited somewhere for dinner and don’t need to show how much you’ve spent but want something that you and your hosts will happily sip.
HUF 2,000 from In Vino Veritas (Dohány u. 58).