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Hungary Increasingly a Wine Tourism Destination

The VinCE Budapest Wine Show (“wine show” actually being the best way to describe the vinous jamboree) moved into a new venue at the Várkert Bazár and was as buzzing as usual with an exciting line-up of masterclasses spread over three days from April 5-7.

As part of the “Secrets and Legends of Hungarian Wine” masterclass, in which I also participated, Tokaj expert Gergely Somogyi, who is publisher of the highly informative English language website Tokaj Today, introduced a barrel sample of a red wine made by the Basilicus winery from the Purscin grape. It grew in the Tokaj region up until it was wiped out by the phylloxera louse around the turn of the 20th century.  

Basilicus’ winemaker András Kanczler planted 1,200 Purcsin vines in Tarcal’s Mestervölgy vineyard in 2013 and made the first red wine from these in 2017. It was fermented with commercial yeast in a 500-liter simple plastic vat under a plastic film cover to keep the carbon dioxide above the cap and thus retain most of the primary aromas through preventing oxidation. This was then transferred to a steel tank and is as such unoaked. It had the gross lees racked off multiple times but has only clarified once so far, though is set to be micro-filtered once just prior to bottling, explained Somogyi.

It will go into 0.5-liter Burgundy-style bottles in a few weeks’ time and will be released in May or June. Just 250 liters of the wine have been produced, but this is a rarity well worth having. The wine is light in tannin but vibrant and spicy, and was nicely compared to Italian grape Dolcetto, which comes from Piemonte, by one audience member. The wine is a welcome new/old addition to the Tokaj palette, although it will have to be sold as a Zemplén wine.  

Red Standout

Kanczler wanted to try Purcsin because it used to be one of the few important red grapes in the Tokaj region. It was probably used widely for the small quantities of red wines Tokaj growers used to produce for local consumption, opined Somogyi.

He also noted that a book entitled “Magyarország Borászati Térképe”, which the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture published in 1884 when it knew that phylloxera was coming and realized the need for replanting, recommended nine white grapes and seven reds for planting in Tokaj. Purcsin is the only local red it recommended, and it was my take-away from VinCE Budapest 2018.

The following week, Budapest played host to the 10th International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) on April 10-11, which brought together 307 international industry professionals representing 29 different countries. Wine tourism appears to be growing rapidly in Hungary with tour operators, such as Taste Hungary and Wine a’More growing rapidly.

Incidentally, Taste Hungary scooped the Best Wine Tour Operator award at VinCE Budapest. I also have to declare an interest in working as a guide for the outfit, and it is striking to see how impressed and seduced (mainly American) visitors are by Hungarian wine country – a landscape laced with a heady blend of tradition and modernity, for want of sounding like a line out of a marketing manual.  

While Hungary and its wine regions still have a long way to go to rival the likes of France, Italy and Spain when it comes to the delivery of wine and all the things that go with it, things are getting better all the time. On my last trip to Tokaj, I was taken aback by a new statue of Christ in Tarcal. Whether you believe in Him or not, the views of the countryside are impressive – as they are from the Terézia Chapel, which itself was reopened only a couple of years back. A few more fine-dining restaurants wouldn’t go amiss, Tokaj!

High Class Residents

Up in Eger, the Szépasszony-völgy (the name translates as “valley of the beautiful woman”) is starting to become a valley of beautiful wine as more high-class residents, such as St. Andrea and Tibor Gál move in – realizing the vast potential of this much-maligned circle of cellars. What was once a place to avoid for genuine wine enthusiasts due to its shoddy wines is fast becoming a place to embrace. For example, Csaba Demeter’s cellar is as cool as the mercurial man himself. Eger has it all as a wine tourism destination, with thermal resorts, both red and white wine made to a good level, and a baroque beauty of a town – with the bullish and ever better Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) leading its charge.  

The backbone of Bikavér is provided by the Kékfrankos grape, whose single varietal wines will be poured by producers from Eger and 14 other regions at the Winelovers Kékfrankos Április Grand tasting at Danubius Hotel Gellért on Saturday (April 21), from 2 p.m.

More than 50 wineries will be pouring from more than 100 wines. A Top Ten list compiled from the results of a blind tasting involving a number of experts placed Etyeki Kúria’s Kékfrankos 2015 in first place, from Sopron, followed by two from Villány: Günzer Zoltán, Kékfrankos Prémium 2012, and Csányi Pincészet, Teleki Selection Villányi Kékfrankos 2015, in second and third place respectively. Another Csányi Teleki Selection Villányi Kékfrankos claimed tenth spot.  

“Kékfrankos is one of our most important varieties, and more than 50% of all the Kékfrankos in the world can be found in Hungary [the grape is called Blaufränkisch in Austria]. It’s not just fruitiness and spiciness that it captures, but it also shows the place of growth very well; now is the time to put more emphasis on the latter,” said Kristian Kielmayer, a member of the panel.  

The jury also tasted 13 Bikavérs and the excellent value Tüske Pince Szekszárdi Bikavér 2016 (expect to pay around HUF 2,000), which is light and airy with juicy pomegranate and spicy notes, came in first.