With more new wineries shooting up like mushrooms in Hungary, knowing where to start when visiting wine country can be daunting. Here are a couple of wine bars cum shops to whet the appetite.
While the town of Sárospatak may not be the epicenter of the Tokaj wine region, it is nevertheless becoming a significant town in its own right, with wines from this northern part of the most famous Hungarian wine region typically having a cooler edge than those from around the better-known area slightly to the south.
The cool and easy-going A Boros wine bar (Rákóczi utca 21, Sárospatak) is the ideal place to get to grips with the local wines, many of which hail from vineyards around the town, such as those made by Pajzos, Tomi Vincze, Harsányi and Portius, or from around the nearby towns. These include: Olaszliszka, represented by the highly promising Kvaszinger; Tolcscva by Spanish-owned Oremus and Czemicki; and Erdőbénye by Karádi-Berger and Béres. The wines also come from the other parts of Tokaj, such as Mád with names like the legendary István Szepsy, Royal Tokaji, Höldvölgy and St. Tamás. The dry wines are available in 1.5 deciliter measures, as well as by the bottle, but they will also serve half measures if you ask, which enables you to sample a broader range. A Boros also serves food.
Over in Somló, the Somlói borok boltja is a treasure trove of local gems, which can be sampled inside, or out on the terrace with a view. It is run by Éva Cartwright (call ahead on +36 30 338 8993 to set up a tasting appointment), a tireless promoter of Somló and other volcanic wines. You can still also find one of the last wines made and bottled by the much-loved Béla Fekete, who though now in his 90s is still actively involved in helping out the new owners of his former winery. His dry Hárslevelű 2008 is wonderful, with pronounced notes of apricot, ginger, honey and melon to complement its impressive texture and structure.
At the other end of the age spectrum, it was here that I got a sneak preview of a community wine from three exciting young winemakers, Péter Tóth, Bálint Barcza and Tomi Kis, which will be available for tasting at the shop in a month’s time. The wine is a blend of three different barrels of Juhfark, one from each winemaker, with the barrels coming from the Trust Hungary cooperage and each barrel possessing different characteristics. The alliance of the three young winemakers is called the Basalt kör. Kis’ own Juhfark 2016 is quite deep yellow, with rhubarb, pineapple and banana, intense aromas and full-bodied, just like the very well-built former Judo champion himself. For something a little gentler check out his Olaszrizling 2017, which nevertheless possesses impressive body and weight for the grape. Kis works organically, albeit uncertified.
Kis was also spotted by the internationally-renowned Austrian winemaker Roland Velich, who, after falling in love with Somló, teamed up with the young gun to make wine under the label of NR 2 as part of Velich’s Hidden Treasures series. You can feel the savvy touch of Velich in the bold 2016 NR2: buttery and white Burgundy-like with the kind of pronounced acidity associated with the Chardonnay of Chablis, from the northern part of Burgundy. The 2016 is sold out but the 2017 is on the way. Just bottled, it is currently a little young and wild, but should be in great shape with a little more time. It is a blend of Furmint and Hárslevelű.
Deciding not to release its premium red wine from the challenging 2014 vintage under its usual moniker of Nagy-Eged-hegy, St. Andrea’s father-and-son winemaking team of György Lőrincz Sr. and György Lőrincz Jr. are releasing this wine as Igazán Egri Bikavér Grand Superior 2014. It has the high acidity that characterizes this cool and damp vintage but is nevertheless a very exciting, superbly structured and very complex wine with ripe black and red fruit, cassis and pencil shaving notes, after giving it a chance to breathe. It will cost around HUF 14,000 on the shelf, as opposed to the usual HUF 26,000 for a bottle of Nagy-Eged-hegy and is a chance to savor the hill’s limestone action at a lower price.