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Olaszrizling continues on upward spiral

The tenth month of the year really did really live up to the “Olaszrizling Október” moniker. Following in the wake of its centerpiece event, the Grand Olaszrizling Tasting covered in the previous issue, a group of winemakers from Csopak, a sub-region of Balatonfüred-Csopak, united under the high quality oriented Codex initiative, turned out in the capital on October 13 at the ETAP wine bar to impress with distinctive offerings from the 2015 vintage.

The certified 100% Olaszrizling vines of Csopak in Veszprém county, close to Lake Balaton.

The wines brought further evidence to the table that this supposed journeyman of a grape is capable of making unique wines with a strong sense of place, and put emphasis on individual vineyards – taking the grape to an exciting new level in the process. 

After the annus horribilis of the 2014 vintage, in which some small quantities of very good wines were nevertheless made by certain savvy winemakers, 2015 provided ideal conditions for making dry whites across much of Hungary. This enabled Csopak’s vintners to bring out a series of sophisticated single vineyard offerings, rather than having to juggle grapes from various plots to balance out different levels of ripeness from different terroirs and combine them into one wine.

The complex cocktail of red Permian sandstone, rendzina, Triasic period limestone, dolomite and marl soils that characterize the Balatonfüred-Csopak region, along with Lake Balaton’s moderating influence, enable the Olaszrizling grape to retain the kind of acidity required to make the wine lively and exciting, as the grapes ripen sufficiently to gain plenty of concentration. It’s a similar case further west along the same north Balaton shore for Olaszrizling originating from the volcanic basalt soils of Badacsony and Balaton-felvidék (where limestone also comes into play), which makes the wine regions of northern Balaton a powerhouse for the Olaszrizling grape. While there is much ongoing debate about the use of the term minerality when describing wine, I personally feel it’s too much of a push to say we are directly tasting the minerals from the soil. Having said that, I’m convinced that these kinds of soils bring structure-building acidity that also brings out all manner of complex flavors in the wine.

At the Codex tasting (a Codex wine has to be 100% Olaszrizling), Petrányi’s Csopak 2015 from Szitahegy was partly oaked and comes from limestone and marl soil and had some of that vegetal and floral character that’s typical of Olaszrizling but also grape soda and honey notes on the palate to bring it individuality. Homola Hajnóczy 2015 had a good dollop of oak, but there was also juicy lime, baked apple and celery, followed by a chalky finish. For an impetuous few this was too oaky, but it rewarded patience and a few swirls of the glass helped to rouse the abundant fruit. Homola’s wines are made by Tokaj talent Attila Homonna, who is also cooperating with Burgenland legend Roland Velich, of Weingut Moric fame. Never the shrinking violet, Homonna was also brave enough to make a wine from the Hajnóczy vineyard from 2014, although this was quite austere with razor sharp acidity and a distinct lack of fruit.

The world of Hungarian wine is throwing up increasingly pleasant surprises, and so did the Codex tasting. From the pint-sized Fekete Pince, which has a single hectare of vines, Hegyalja 2015 was pineapply and petroly, striking a delicious balance between waxy texture and fruitiness. It costs a remarkably good HUF 1,800 a bottle, but you’ll have to go to the cellar to get it, according to lawyer/winemaker/ owner Zsolt Fekete.

The wine that put Csopak on the map many moons ago was Csopaki Rizling from the Jásdi winery. 2015 sees this estate blend of Olaszrizling back at its best value; a real bargain at around HUF 1,700 and a great introduction to the grape. Of Jásdi’s single vineyard Olaszrizlings, Siralomvágó 2013, from dolomite soils, impressed more than the 2015 Lőczedombi 2015, from Permian sandstone – the former being soft and juicy, oozing yellow apple and ripe pear and peach, while the latter was a little too austere in its current form, though it may well change with some ageing.

The rising (or possibly now established) star of Csopak is Szent Donát. The 60-year-old vines of the very steep Kishegy vineyard, with its marl, limestone and loess soil, yielded a floral, nutty and edgy wine in 2015. However, the winery’s Slikker 2015, which hails from red clay soil, really stood out with its green herbs, yellow apple and considerable length. This vineyard is planted with vines of 30 years of age, but is not as steep as Kishegy. However, perhaps the most striking wine from Szent Donát was actually a red from what is a pretty much red-free wine region. Magma Kékfrankos 2015 was elegantly floral with potpourri aromas, focused acidity, smooth tannins and delicious red fruit.

Alongside the progress shown over in Csopak, the other side of this region has also had a stellar vintage with the Olaszrizling grape. Figula also sensed the potential of 2015 and has come out with six fine single vineyard bottlings from the Sáfránykert, Öreghegy, Gella, Lőczedomb (in Csopak), Szarka and Sóskút vineyards. All seriously impressed when I tasted them blind, with the last two a notch higher than the rest. Furthermore, they all have their own characteristics and a strong sense of identity, and as such are more than just very good wines. Indeed, they articulate their place of growth in a similar way that the best dry Furmints from Tokaj do. This is something that István Jásdi has long maintained and on tasting the wines mentioned in this article, I would have to agree with him wholeheartedly. Note that pan-Central European Olaszrizling has for long been the most widely planted white grape in Hungary, but über trendy Furmint is catching up fast.

From Balatonszőlős, officially part of the Balatonfüred sub-region, Béla és Bandi only released their second single varietal offering from 2015; prior to 2014, they only used the grape in blends. The 2015 is very nice and has a bit of that almond note that can sometimes be picked up on Olaszrizling, along with juicy apple and pear, plus a floral touch. Another good one from Balatonszőlos is Gellavilla’s 2015.