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South Balaton Producers Hail Stellar Vintage

Producers from South Balaton were out in force in the capital on November 6 debuting wines from the 2017 vintage and the results were highly encouraging.

Winemakers on the southern banks of Lake Balaton are hailing a vintage crop of wines for 2017. Photo by Furmint Photo.

“The harvest completed a beautiful year in the South Balaton wine region and we are all truly satisfied with the results,” said Ferenc Bujdosó, president of the Balatonboglár Winegrowers’ Association, and winemaker at the eponymous Bujdosó Winery. He added that all that was needed was a little bit of care and labor to have good wines bottled from 2017.
“It was a great vintage for 13 of our 15 grape varieties; minimal spraying was needed thanks to the dry conditions,” proclaimed Péter Baranyai, chief winemaker at Garamvári Szőlőbirtok.
The two grape varieties that struggled were Kadarka and Cabernet Sauvignon, he said. 
Thanks to the early ripening, the wines are expressive, full bodied and taste great, according to József Pócz, winemaker of the Pócz Winery. “Lake Balaton helps to moderate weather extremes in our wine region, so we didn’t have to worry about losing acidity,” he said.
“Everything needed to be harvested at the same time; I will have to boost my cooling technology in the future,” remarked László Veszprémi from Veszprémi Pince. He added that the winter that preceded an otherwise very strong vintage was problematic and had a negative impact on yields. 
“Little rain or snow fell in the winter for the vines to draw on much-needed water reserves in the dry summer, while the grapes didn’t like the cold,” Veszprémi said. On the flip side, neither did the pests that the cold killed off, leading to fewer problems later. Veszprémi saw a 20% reduction in his average yields, while 2016 was 20% up on average. 
Many of the wines on offer were from the early-ripening Irsai Olivér, a grape which is often dismissed out of hand by wine snobs. In fact, I recall the look of disdain on the sommelier’s face asking for an Irsai at a certain noted Budapest wine bar on behalf of interested American tasters. This crossing of Csabagyöngye and Pozsonyi fehér, created by Pál Kocsis in 1930, is a vibrantly aromatic grape that appeals to many consumers with its floral, fruity, muscaty nose. 

Fragrant, Fruity and Fresh

Irsai can reveal it all on the first whiff but let you down when you get to what can be a disappointingly flabby palate, which can be over in a second with no acidity to flesh out the length. However, when the balance is better with good acidity to match the aromatic attack, it can be fragrant, fruity and fresh, as were the examples from Garamvári and Veszprémi. 
Leaving South Balaton for a moment, the well-known Nyakas Pince from Zsambék in the Etyek-Buda region does one of the best Irsai Olivérs around and the 2017 has a bit more substance about it than usual.  
Irsai is one of the parents (the other being Red Traminer) of Cserszegi fűszeres, crossed by  Károly Bakonyi in 1960, and often has the acidity that Irsai so often lacks, as well as an exciting spiciness. Garamvári is set to come out with its first Cserszegi, which is from the current vintage. Tasted as a tank sample at the South Balaton tasting, it showed great promise but still needed a little time to settle. The winery’s first Furmint is also on the way, also from this vintage.
The Hungarian wine scene was shaken last year with the loss of János Konyári to cancer. He not only made some excellent wine at his own Konyári family cellar but also oversaw winemaking at the great-value Ikon Winery, both from South Balaton. 
At the family winery, he had been making wine in tandem with his highly capable and experienced son Dániel for years. The Konyári Márton Napi Újbor 2017, a nouveau style wine, a Rosé 2017 tank sample, and a Chardonnay 2017, which are part of the winery’s entry-level range, were all looking very good.
Meanwhile, Dani’s sister Borbála is now in charge of winemaking at the larger Ikon winery. Tank samples of the 2017 editions of the Ikon Chardonnay and Rosé were both clean and correct, plus that wee bit more. The still cloudy Chardonnay was very citrusy with good acidity, while the rosé exuded fresh raspberry and bubblegum aromas, with lots of soft and juicy fruit on the smooth and round palate. Borbála also makes wines for Késa, her very own family winery.
The renowned South Balaton producer Ottó Légli was not present at the tasting, but is set to unleash the next vintage of his traditional method sparkler. Légli Pezsgő Méthode Traditionnelle Brut 2015 is a blend of Riesling and Furmint and has lively fruit (peach, pear and green apple) and the slightest hint of petrol on the nose with fine bubbles and ideal acidity, which both help to make the otherwise fruity palate long and extremely elegant on the finish.

Two exciting young wines from South Balaton:

Konyári Márton Napi Újbor 2017
Floral and light, soft and fruity with lots of peach, faultless and surprisingly good for a light nouveau wine made to hit the market on St. Martin’s Day on November 11. Blend of Olaszrizling and Sauvignon Blanc. The funky drawing of the goose on the label comes courtesy of Dani’s daughter. HUF 1,690 from Bortársaság,Garamvári Irsai Olivér 2017
Fresh floral and fruity aromas with hints of citrus fruit, lychee, pear drop and grape soda, yet also pleasantly restrained. Vibrant and clean as a whistle with good body for the grape and a welcome twist of bitterness on the finish. Not much in the way of acidity but nevertheless a good representative of the grape and a good choice for those who don’t like their wines sharp.