This wonderful wine region along Lake Balaton is a lovely place to visit and a fantastic place for vintages.
With its volcanic basalt soils, attractive landscape, distinctive indigenous grapes, choice lakeside setting on Lake Balaton’s northern shores, and exciting winemakers, Badacsony is a hot vinous destination at any time of year. Indeed, the Balaton sub-region of Badacsony is so much more than an attractive holiday destination; it possesses ideal conditions for making complex white wines and now some impressive reds.
Lake Balaton itself serves to moderate extremes in weather, while also reflecting sun off the lake onto the vines to ripen the grapes, which helps to bring very nice fruitiness. The basalt soils also retain heat nicely, which further enhances ripeness, and is also likely to be behind the wine’s typically savory character, often described as minerality, while they also contribute the vibrant acidity that delivers length on the palate. This combination of fruitiness and saltiness helps makes wine that can be complex and slip down a treat. Indeed, even many light, reductively made Badacsony wines often have a nice complex salty note to them. Central Europe’s largest lake also cools things down at night, helping to preserve acidity and freshness in the wines. Here are some of the most exciting wines and winemakers to look out for.
The white Budai Zöld grape’s primary purpose is to pollinate the noble indigenous Kéknyelű grape but Válibor’s Péter Váli (Major utca 46, Badacsonyörs, www.valibor.hu) has a great knack of making stylish, unique wine from it. He even managed this in the tricky 2014 vintage when he put out another sophisticated floral and citrusy wine with crispy acidity. Válibor’s Kéknyelű is also among the region’s most impressive and structured offerings of the grape that is probably the star of the local show. It produces wine that can be on the neutral side when young, but it can reveal serious depth on cellaring for a few years. Until recently it hadn’t been living up to its star billing, which possibly had something to do with the wines not being given time to show their true colors. Szeremley, for one, lays down its Kéknyelű long enough to pick up serious intensity, as well as a nutty and oily complexity. The 2009 vintage is currently on the shelves.
Szeremley, which played a huge pioneering role in the development of Badacsony as a wine and gastro destination also likes to give its full-bodied Riesling (Rajnai rizling in Hungary) the years it needs to pick up those classic petrol notes before bringing it to the table. The 2008 and 1997 were a real joy to taste. For a light and refreshing number from Szeremley, the Muscat Ottonel oozes grape soda and peachy zestiness while the Olaszrizling is great value. The Szeremley Borház Restaurant (Kisfaludy S. utca 5) in the town of Badacsony is a top spot to dine and try Szeremley wines.
Badacsony has become one of the hotspots for Riesling in Hungary and Villa Sandahl (Római út 203/1, Badacsony, www.villasandahl.com) makes very high standard but also pricey Rieslings using yeast from the Riesling powerhouse region of Alsace. Swedish owner Crister Sandahl believes that Riesling is the only grape that ripens late enough to stay long enough on the vines to accumulate enough flavor richness.
For more bang for the buck, Villa Tolnay (Csobánchegy 24, Gyulakeszi) really captures Riesling’s characteristic green apple, peach, and zesty acidity, with a spicy local touch. Here, also look out for Zöldveltelini, which is the same grape as Austria’s über cool and stylish Grüner Veltliner. I tasted Villa Tolnay’s Zöldveltelini for the first time a few years ago on the back of sampling many of Austria’s finest and Villa Tolnay’s was definitely in the right ballpark. The Olaszrizling here is also one of the best in the region, indeed the country, with the winery claiming the top two places in Olaszrizling October’s blind tasting in 2013. Note that Tavasz at Villa Tolnay refers to wine that has been reductively made (i.e. no barrel, just tank). Wines from this Swiss-owned winery are some of the best value in the country. Winemaker László Nagy is also co-owner of the Sabar winery (Sabari szőlő 2, Káptalantóti, www.sabar.hu), which has been turning out very good value wine for a few years now. It recently upped the stakes with its Olaszrizling “Mórocz” 2013, which was fermented and aged in Austrian Stockinger oak barrels, which helped the excellent juice be fermented into a complex, beautifully textured and balanced big white with pineapple, pear and stony notes.
Another top Olaszrizling is Laposa Borbirtok’s 4 hegy Olaszrizling; a blend of Hungary’s most widely planted white grape coming from four hills (Badacsony, Csobánc, and Szent György-hegy in the Badacsony region, as well as from Somló hegy), it is made in the barrel and tank. This is the standout and most complex wine from Laposa Borbirtok (Római út 197, Badacsonytomaj, www.bazaltbor.hu) – which is not to be confused with Laposa Pincészet, which lies almost directly downhill, the difference being a result of the family’s bust up with its investors. For a lighter take on Olaszrizling, check out the zesty and good value Friss (Fresh), which in 2014 was made of 100% Olaszrizling. Furmint is now in the Laposa line up and is varietally pure. It originates from cuttings from the prize source of Tokaj maestro István Szepsy’s vineyard.
Oak comes seriously into play with Olaszrizling over at the 2HA (www.2ha.hu) winery on Szent György hegy, where owner Csaba Török says the grapes are so good that they can more than stand up to oak and be taken further. He applies oak ageing with care and reduces the amount of newer oak in inferior vintages when the juice is less concentrated. He and his winemaker normally get it right, making Olaszizling of unparalleled opulence. By the way, 2HA is also making some very nice red wines, especially the Syrah. A real rarity (in Hungary at least) is the wine labeled Tabunello, which is made from Chianti’s Sangiovese grape, and the result is suitably earthy. Another very good red wine producer is Csobánci Bormanufaktúra (Balassi utca 3, Tapolca-Diszel, www.csobanccooperation.eu) out by Csobánc hegy. Look out for the well-structured and richly flavored Gilgames Syrah-Merlot blend.
Just above 2HA, you’ll spot the strikingly designed black and white colored Gilvesy Pincészet, which has now joined my top flight with some stunning Rieslings, as well an exciting Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which tastes of both the grape and the terroir.
Close by in Hegymagas, Endre Szászi (Mókus krt., www.szaszipince.hu) makes Olaszrizlings from both Szent György hegy and Szigliget Olaszrizlings. The Szent György hegy wine comes from soil containing more basalt and is lean and focused, while the Szigliget wine is riper and more floral, coming from more mixed soils and getting more heat reflected back from the lake.
One of the region’s most exciting young winemakers is Ambrus Bakó (Erdős u. 23, Badacsonytomaj), who doesn’t actually own any of his own vineyards. In 2014, he decided to make a single blend from the grapes of the growers he buys in from the difficult vintage of 2014, in which disease in the vineyards was rife, to make a buoyantly healthy blend.
For the best of the old school, check out Malik (Tatay Sándor út 6, Badacsony, email@example.com), which uses the most traditional of winemaking methods to make rich and oily Kéknyelű, Bakator, Budai Zöld and Zeus.