Hot in Hungary

Travels in Wine / Hungary

Hot in Hungary


Sebastian Payne MW Sebastian Payne MW

Buyers Sebastian Payne MW and Freddy Bulmer cool off on Lake Balaton, find favourite furmints in Tokaj, spicy whites in Somló and a unique pre-phylloxera grape in Villány.

Tokaji – Hungary’s most famous wine

Vintages, when the great sweet wines that created Tokaj’s reputation can be made, do not occur every year. There was a run of good years in 2007, 2008 and 2009, then a series when conditions were not right. 2010 and 2014 were too wet. 2011 and 2012 were too dry. But 2013 was perfect so decent quantities were made and we will offer some favourites in autumn 2018, to drink or better keep for up to 30 years and beyond. A recent welcome development has been the improvement in quality, (balance, elegance, finesse) of the best dry Tokaji furmints, showing offer this signature grape’s distinctive vivid, spicy, vigorous character. The finest vineyards surround the small town of Mad.

Freddy on top of Tokaj
Freddy on top of Tokaj

Somló on the shores of Lake Balaton

Admiring the view over Lake Balaton before a tasting of wines from the slightly drier part of the region
Admiring the view over Lake Balaton before a
tasting of wines from the slightly drier part of the region

On the northern shore of Lake Balaton (central Europe’s largest lake) there are a series of conical hills of volcanic origin. About 70 kms to the northwest, the largest of these stands out all on its own at Somló (pronounced shomlo). Basalt-based soil here produces Hungary’s finest full dry whites from olasz rizling and juhfark grapes. We think Karoly Kolonic’s small estate makes outstanding examples, spicy, fiery, full of flavour and capable of developing well over a decade. Standing out alone from the surrounding plain, vines on the hill benefit from a breeze that keeps bunches healthy.

Károly Kolonics, owner and winemaker of Kolonics winery
Károly Kolonics, owner and winemaker of Kolonics winery

The wide difference in temperature between day and night encourages slow ripening and bouquet in the wines. Lake Balaton is now the summer playground for the people of Budapest for swimming, sailing and relaxing and there is a host of small wineries providing refreshment. The best of a mixed bunch make attractive fresh-tasting olasz rizling and a few of them make outstanding dry white from the much rarer kéknyelu (blue stalk) grapes.

Hotting up in Villány

An interesting tasting at Gere winery in Villány
An interesting tasting at Gere winery in Villány

Villány in rolling hills south of the country near Croatia is Hungary’s warmest vine-growing region. The small town itself makes an attractive holiday destination. Two wineries, switched on Gere and traditional Bock, were the first to make a reputation after Communism. They opted for full-bodied sun-ripened reds, initially with considerable oak influence, though Gere in particular now uses barrel ageing more precisely with a lighter touch. Cabernet franc is the signature grape here, as a single variety, or in a blend with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. But syrah, kékfrankos and the unique pre-phylloxera fekete jar dovany make intriguing appearances too.

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