If you are looking to freshen up your wine list with wines from off Hungary’s beaten track then here we ask three MWs, Peter McCombie, Elizabeth Gabay and Caroline Gilby, to pick out a winery each they believe deserves wider recognition. Producers that each in their own way have their own story to tell about the new winemaking talent that is emerging across Hungary.
It is one thing wanting to import more ambitious wines from emerging regions but where do you start? Thankfully there are a number of wine consultants, noticeably Masters of Wine, working with emerging countries who are doing a lot of the ground work and helping identify the styles, the wines and the wineries they believe deserve closer attention from the trade as a whole.
First to share his insights is Peter McCombie MW who picks out two wineries from the Eger and Villányi wine regions:
Ostoros – New kids on the Block of Eger
Bull’s Blood, aka Egri Bikaver, is a name that for some might trigger memories of cheap student drinking. These days Eger in northern Hungary has more to offer the inquisitive drinker. Its cool climate and diverse soils produce aromatic red and white wines with freshness and drinkability. Family-owned Ostoros is the largest producer in the area. Owner, Soltész Gergő, says the climate and soils are proving to be a winning combination, allowing them to produce a wide selection of outstanding price-quality wines.
Egri Csillag is a new style of white blend, that must contain local ‘Carpathian Basin’ grapes, usually partnered with international varieties.
Ostoros’ 2016 is appealing, grapey and fruity, but dry. It is very quaffable and lingers in the mouth.
Soltesz Egri Bikaver 2015 offers fresh, primary, dark, earthy fruit aromas, then youthful, soft tannins; it’s gluggable and chillable too, when the sun shines.
Bock’s Amarone style of Villányi?
József Bock is a solidly built, jovial man who was one of the pioneers of the resurgence of Villányi wines. The Bock range of wines includes a number of authentic expressions of Hungarian varietals like Hárslevelű, Kadarka and Kekfrankos and a savoury single vineyard Syrah, but the real excitement comes at the top end of the range.
Here are ultra premium wines made from the Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both as varietals and blends. Bock places special emphasis on vineyard site. The top wines tend to be picked late, sometimes into early November, resulting in are powerful wines that sometimes have more in common with Amarone than the Medoc.
Elizabeth Gabay MW remains in Villany to look at what the cellars and wine of Gere have to offer.
Attila Gere: Villányi’s wine legend
It is hard to imagine today, when looking at the impressive cellars of Attila Gere and tasting his wine, how this enterprise started.
The 1980s was a decade of slowly emerging family vineyards in the Villány region. Gere and his wife received as a wedding gift in 1978 a small vineyard called Csillagvölgy (Star Valley); in 1986 he sold his wine in bottles and by the early 1990’s, when communism was collapsing, he was in the right place at the right time and the Attila Gere Winery was established. This generation of Hungarian wine pioneers are forceful characters, who battled communism and its collapse to create successful wine businesses. Some, including Gere, have become legends in their own lifetime.
Today Gere, runs a thriving 50ha vineyard, with a state of the art cellar, using a blend of technology and traditional methods and two luxury spa hotels, the Ermitage and Crocus, with gourmet restaurants in the town of Villány, his daughter Andrea working with him.
The wine region of Villány lies on Hungary’s southern border with Croatia. Its south facing slopes benefit from long, hot summers, making it the hottest wine-producing region in Hungary. This hot climate has resulted in the wines of Villány becoming famous for its big New World style Bordeaux blends, such as Gere’s top cuvée, Kopar, which comes from the Kopár hill, home to the regions’ best vineyards. A Bordeaux blend, full of big ripe, opulent fruit, Kopar has become an Hungarian wine icon.
His 100% Merlot Solus, is full of perfumed black fruit and powerful structure. Recognising the potential of Cabernet Franc from Villány, he has worked with Austrian producer Franz Weninger since 1992 to make powerful and intense Cabernet Franc wines. The chance to do a barrel tasting showed the range of flavours of the different terroirs and oaks which go in to creating these powerful wines.
His latest venture has been to team up with an investor to produce an entry level range of varietal wines, including the delightfully aromatic Irsai Oliver and Cserszegi Fűszeres wines under the label Gere & Schubert.
Attila Gere has consistently proved, over the past three decades, that he is full of drive and energy in producing wine in his beloved Villány, and the proof is in the glass.
The success of Cabernet Franc has led to this variety being branded as Villány Franc, and the region also hosts an annual international Cabernet Franc conference in November.
Caroline Gilbey MW explains why Zsirai is such an interesting producer to know, particularly as it makes wines in different parts of the country, including cellars in the Tokaj terrain in Mád, Palkonya in Villány, and on the southern slope of the Somló terrain in Somlóvásárhely.
Sisters Petra and Kata Zsirai inherited this winery from their father Csaba Zsirai in 2011. He was driven by his passion for preserving Hungarian traditions and bought his first vineyards in 2005, as a break from his office job. The sisters now run 15 hectares around Mád and own a small winery in a renovated historic house from the 1700s. Petra and Kata aim to follow their father’s vision for purity, and for protecting nature. They share a passion for Hungarian grapes and are also believers in reviving almost-forgotten Tokaji styles such as Fordítás. Kata was awarded the title of Hungary’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2018.