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Tapping Into the German new Wave in Villány

While Swabian German settlers played a huge role in establishing quality winemaking in Villány centuries ago and their descendants, such as Gere and Bock, still rule the roost today, there’s a new wave of German settlers bringing new energy to Hungary’s most famous red wine region. In fact, a couple of them are showing that Villány can also produce high quality white wines.

Horst Hummel splits his time between Berlin, where he is a lawyer, and Villány where he transforms into a vintner who pushes the boundaries big time. Hummel, whose great grandfather was a winemaker in what is now northern Serbia, has a thing for Hárslevelű. 

He first tasted wine made from the grape from the famous Bock winery, which incidentally is almost opposite the charmingly old world building that houses Weingut Hummel on Batthyány utca, and was blown away by the potential of the grape. “I tried to make a fresh, reductive wine from it, but then I realized that Hárslevelű was made for skin contact. It is a red wine among the whites,” he says.

While so-called ‘orange wines’ are gaining huge traction on the international stage and are very much the flavor of the month, Hummel is staggered at how few Hungarian white grapes are vinified via skin contact.

Hummel’s Bernsteiner Hárslevelű 2015 is made with five days skin contact, so could be described as ‘orange light’ – as skin contact can last for weeks, though everything tends to labelled under the same umbrella. It is bottled with just 30 mg/l of sulfur and fermented and aged in Burgundian barrique barrels.

For Fanatics 

The only difference between this and the Hárslevelű 2015 is that the Bernsteiner is made in oak while the regular only sees stainless steel. Both are must tries for Hárs fanatics. Hummel ramped up the skin contact for his Góré Hárslevelű 2015 (see review below).

The German vintner, who fell in love with Villány when he walked through the streets and smelt the fermenting wine in the air, adds that before the phylloxera louse devastated vineyards in the late 19th century, it was Furmint that was the number one grape in Siklós, which was Villány’s traditionally white wine (but now increasingly red-oriented) sub region. 

Susann Hanauer studied law at the same German university (Tübingen) as Hummel but they didn’t meet, despite being there at the same time (she started as he was winding down) until their paths crossed in Villány when she and her husband Ralf Wassmann, a trained winemaker who worked for years as a beverage scientist, went to the region to pursue their dream of owning a winery. The couple own and run the Wassman winery and are fully biodynamic (certified by Demeter). They were initially intrigued by legendary wine writer Hugh Johnson’s comments that the best Portugieser is to be found in Villány. The couple even have a traditional method Portugieser, which came into being not through the couple’s intention but rather through the intervention of Mother Nature.

“There was a lot of rain at the beginning of September; the water went into the berries as the skins were split. We had to pick immediately,” recalls Wassman. Morizz 2014 Rosé Brut Nature is 100% Portugieser and has a tasty touch of yeastiness to compliment the sour cherry notes, while the bubbles are good and persistent.

Scintillating Stuff

I was eagerly waiting to try Wassmann’s red Portugieser, but the scintillating stuff has been so popular it has already sold out. Usually considered a simple, straightforward grape that makes light, quaffable reds that hit the market just weeks after harvest and plug the gap while the big boy red grapes get their vinous act together, the Wassmanns have shown that all grapes are capable of greatness when given sufficient tender loving care.

Their great friend, Hummel, is also a deft exponent of the Portugieser art, and it is a great experience to taste his range. Both Hummel and Wassman wines are available at the Terroir Club.

Some of the best crafted and most exciting red wines from Villány come from the German-Swiss owned Heumann winery, which is located in Siklós, though they have a tasting cellar on Villány’s high street. Erhard Heumann, who describes himself as “Bavarian and not German”, says that the higher limestone content in the soils around Siklós lends vibrant acidity to bring freshness to the concentrated wines.

Hummel Góré Hárslevelű 2015 

Kept on the skins for a whopping three weeks, it has intense aromas of crème brûlée, dried apricot, orange peel, coffee, honey, and ginger. The concentration continues on the palate without the slightest trace of bitterness from the prolonged skin contact, although the tannins from the maceration bring delicious mouthfeel. Full-bodied with incredible length and complexity, lots of everything without anything nasty sticking out. A master among orange wines anywhere, and very much a benchmark example for the fledgling Hungarian orange wine movement.

HUF 7,000 Ft from Terroir Club, HUF 7,650 from Bortársásag.

Wassmann Olaszrizling 2014 

Varietally pure with some complexity to boot. Subtly floral and fragrant on the nose with lemon zest, apple and pear aromas, with a touch of hazelnut. Only made in stainless steel and while not particularly muscular in terms of body, it does have a pleasantly waxy texture. It is also delightfully airy and slips down a treat, though it also has surprising length. Soft and smooth on the palate with the acidity nicely integrated with the fruit (a lot of 2014 wines suffered from sharp acidity and under-ripeness). Very low sulfur of 24 mg/l but it is showing no signs of the kind of bruised-apple like oxidation you often encounter on low-sulfur wines.

HUF 2,030 from Terroir Club (reduced from Ft 2,899) BEST BUY