Are you sure?

Wine: Classy Kékrankos comes of age

Hungary’s most widely planted red is finally showing its true colors.

Following last month’s Kékfrankos Most! tasting held at the Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge hotel, there was a tangible feeling left on the palate that Hungary’s most widely planted red wine grape is finally making classy wines up and down the land.

The quality bar of this once maligned bulk wine workhorse is consistently being raised as Hungarian vintners realize the importance of having a local flagship grape. And a damned good grape this is.

Pelzberg comes from the often-overlooked southern Hungarian region of Tolna and the Grál Winery. The winery’s far from cheap Pelzberg Kékfrankos Válogatás 2012 came out of the blue to win the recent Kékfrankos blind tasting organized by Borászportál Bormagazin, winning over the jury with its freshness, fruitiness, elegance and balance; properties that have all too often been missing from Hungarian red wines made from the grape.

The grape also makes for a killer rosé thanks to its refreshingly high acidity and the lively strawberry and raspberry notes it oozes when picked early. 2014 looks set to see some big rosés hit the shelves as some of the fruit in this tricky vintage was viewed by vintners as not being good enough for red but fine for good rosé. This appeared to be the case with organic Gajdos from Eger whose 2014 was mouth filling and very satisfying with juicy cherry notes. Another good one from 2014 came from fellow Eger producer János Boyki, with tutti frutti and watermelon aromas and flavors.

These two producers also impressed with their reds; the former’s 2009 packing in a wide range of floral, red fruit and forest floor notes. Despite being quite intense, this wine tipped the scales at a welcomingly restrained 13.5% alcohol. It’s also nice to find some older vintages of Kékfrankos knocking around, which are hard to come by as not much gets set aside. However, this is a grape, which picks up considerable complexity as it ages. 

Serious complexity 

Also in the north eastern region of Eger, the exciting young winemaker Marcell Bukolyi has the knack of getting that bit more out of Kékfrankos than is usual and the barrel sample from 2013 from the limestone of Nagy Eged Hill looks set to become another fine wine. His 2009 was picking up serious complexity with a nice tobacco note emerging alongside the juicy forest fruit.

Sometimes Kékfrankos is at its best forming the backbone of flagship blends, such as Bikavér in both Eger and Szekszárd. Eger’s St. Andrea only uses the grape these days for Bikavér and to very good effect. Merengő 2011 is currently coming into its own with a striking range of youthful to more mature flavors from sour cherry, raspberry, blackcurrant to eucalyptus and black pepper to burnt leaves.

From Sopron, which dangerously dubs itself as the “Capital of Kékfrankos” despite the fact that many of its offerings can be thin and tart, Garger impressed with Kék, which had fruit, spice and a nice chunky touch of tannin to give the wine grip. It is worth noting that some of the most consistently impressive Kékfankos in Hungary comes from biodynamic Austrian winemaker Franz Weninger who plies his trade on both sides of the border. Etyeki Kúria also has vineyards in Sopron and its debut single varietal Kékfrankos offering from the 2013 vintage is a nice addition to its stellar portfolio.

Down in the warmer southern climes of Villány, where the grape exudes more black fruit notes than elsewhere, Sauska and Heumann showed the fuller face of the variety with impressively muscular efforts that were held together by the grape’s trademark lively acidity.