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Hungarian Wines Pulling in the Points

Hungarian wines performed admirably at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), with four Magyar entries achieving the much-coveted Platinum medals, the category that sits above gold, and each achieving 97 points from the DWWA panel.

The state-of-the-art Kreinbacher’s Somló winery.

Two of those platinum medals went to wines from Tokaj. The Mád-based St. Tamás winery made it an impressive five platinums in three years with its Mád Late Harvest 2016. This wine always manages to do precisely what the Late Harvest category should, capturing lots of delicious fresh fruitiness in a very drinkable style without feeling very sweet thanks to its zesty acidity that balances the sugar. It’s a blend of 70% Furmint, 25% Hárslevelű and 5% Sárgamuskotály (Yellow Muscat or Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains). DWAA commented: “Lovely expression and complexity on the nose, including notes of quince, acacia and ripe pineapple. The palate delivers powerful flavors of marmalade and vanilla spice, with a silky texture and interwoven fine, pure acids. Long, fresh and demonstrates finesse.”

While much of the focus at Sauska Tokaj is on dry wine, the team showed that it is right up there when it comes to making botrytized Aszú wines, scooping a platinum medal for Sauska Aszú 6 puttonyos 2013, a wine considered by DWWA as “off the charts with its pulsating aromas and flavors!” This wine (HUF 18,500 from Bortársaság) is a rare single varietal Furmint Aszú. While Tokaji Aszú is usually a blend of Furmint (typically the most dominant partner, providing a steely and linear backbone) with other grapes permitted from the region, especially Hárslevelű, providing some extra juicy and luscious flesh, Furmint can have the goods to go it alone in top vintages, such as in 2013. It was also fermented in French barrels, rather than the usual local Zemplén oak.

Incidentally, Sauska also has a prominent winery in Villány, the predominantly red wine region in Hungary’s south-western corner. Sauska has been a key player in the quest for quality Kadarka, contributing to clonal experiments with the thin-skinned and tricky to cultivate red grape, and has been rewarded with a bronze medal and 88 points at DWAA 2018 for its 2015 Kadarka (HUF 4,950 from Bortársaság). Villány is not normally associated with Kadarka, but Sauska has managed to retain the grape’s exciting rose hip, raspberry and mixed spice notes in a bigger, rounder style that reflects its warm place of growth.

While the Late Harvest and botrytized wines of Tokaj are unquestionably among the world’s best, a dry wine from the region claimed one of Hungary’s four gold medals – the other three, from Gábor Orosz, Gróf Degenfeld and Zombory Pince being sweets. The dry wine – Holdvölgy Vision 2016 – with 95 points provides further proof that white blends work wonders in the dry category, striking just the right balance between freshness and complexity.

“A playful nose of pear, peach, flowers and spicy undertones. Generous on the palate with beautiful lemon and lime, a light sprinkling of thyme and a pinch of sage. Concentrated. Persistent. Wonderful,” said DWWA. This is a blend of 40% Furmint, 40% Hárslevelű and 20% Kabar, the latter being a crossing of Hárslevelű and Bouvier.

Another great dry white blend from Tokaj is Gizella’s Szil-völgy Furmint-Hárslevelű. Note that it was actually a Kabar (Péter Pincészet’s 2016) that came out of the blue to claim top spot in Tokaji Március’ Top Ten, a list compiled from the results of a blind tasting involving a number of local experts here in Budapest. Gizella’s Szil-völgy Furmint-Hárslevelű 2016 came in second in that particular taste off.

The Furmint grape is proving itself very versatile in making everything from dry to sweet, and increasingly sparkling wine, as shown by Kreinbacher’s Prestige NV (HUF 5,500 from Bortársaság), which also bagged a platinum medal with a little help from that sparkling wine super grape of Chardonnay – the blend being 85% Furmint and 15% Chardonnay.

The accolade is just reward for Kreinbacher’s remarkable attention to detail in the making of traditional method sparkling wines. No expense has been spared, both in financial and sweat equity terms, and the results are spectacular. Not only did Kreinbacher bring in Coquard presses and Champagne yeast from France, it also called in the Champenoise savoir faire in the form of Christian Forget, winemaker of Champagne Paul Bara.

“A wonderfully complex nose of green apple, vibrant citrus, floral and quince tones. The palate carries a healthy dose of acidity through to the finish, with lovely intensity and finesse,” opined the DWWA panel.

Three of Kreinbacher’s sparkling wines will be featured at the Pezsgő Június Nagykóstoló (pezsgojunius.hu), in a mini course hosted by wine expert Ivett Vancsik. Pezsgő Június Nagykóstoló will held at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on June 16 from 2 p.m. and will feature 200 sparkling wines (not just Hungarian; there will be many foreign bubblies in the mix), as well as 120 Champagnes. Kreinbacher’s sparklers were not entered for the Top Ten, which was won by Garamvári Szőlőbirtok Furmint Brut 2015.

There are several sparklers made by the huge Törley Pezsgőpincészet in the Pezsgő Június Top Ten, including the great value Hungária Pinot Blanc Brut Jubileum Edition, which is made by the more cost effective transfer method. It shared eighth position with François President Brut 2014, also a Törley brand, which also took a bronze at DWWA. Several still wines made by Törley also received gongs.

The oft dissed Olaszrizling grape also made it into one of Hungary’s platinum medal-winning wines at DWWA – Figula’s Köves 2016, a blend of 60% Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) and 40% Olaszrizling. Both grapes can achieve excellent results on the northern side of Lake Balaton.

“A big, bold style. Rich and long with textures of honey, spice and racy acidity. This is an expressive wine that definitely stands out and delivers,” said DWWA. Figula is also a great exponent in showing the complexity that the Olaszrizling can deliver in single vineyard wines. 

France won the most Best in Show medals at DWWA, followed by Italy, in the category that sits above platinum.