Sebastian Payne, MW

I met Csilla Szegedi for the first time this year. She is the recently arrived young winemaker at Hilltop winery overlooking the Danube at Neszmély, an hour’s drive west of Budapest. A local girl from Komaron down the road with several years of international winemaking experience, she is clearly very good at her job and understandably passionately enthusiastic about the quality of the wines in the Hilltop cellar.

2009 was an excellent vintage in this part of the world. The overall standard of regular inexpensive wine here is admirable and some vats of tighter-pruned old vines are a revelation. Luckily for me she speaks English fluently, German and French too if I had wanted. She spent a year at university in Helsinki so her Finnish is fluent as well. Yes, there are similarities in the construction of Finnish and Hungarian and they have a common root unique to themselves, but they are otherwise quite different apparently. Csilla is going to learn Italian soon. It won’t take her long.

Hilltop is a beautifully designed winery, fitting perfectly into the hill into which its cellars are partly buried, conveniently surrounded by its vineyards. Éva Keresztury, its creator and guiding force, explained that good schooling was one of the positive legacies of the communist regime in Hungary. Shortage of cash and components also tended to make people resourceful. If something broke, you had to learn how to mend it or patch it up. You couldn’t just go and buy a replacement, let alone hire a consultant to tell you which one to buy. Hungary has exciting individual grape varieties and some very talented individuals.

Wines and people to watch, admire and enjoy.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Wine Buyer

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