If you’re familiar with the wines of Hungary, it’s more likely their whites and fabled sweet wines than their reds. After all, this is the country whose north-eastern Tokaj region gave us one of history’s most celebrated wines, beloved of Louis XIV and Catherine the Great: the sweet nectar known as Tokaji Aszú with its evocative apricot notes and brilliant natural acidity. Aszú denotes grapes that have shrivelled and concentrated on the vine due to botrytis, the ‘noble rot’ that once thrived in the region’s cool humidity. However, a dwindling demand for dessert wines and less reliable botrytis in today’s warmer, drier vintages have encouraged ambitious Tokaj winemakers to experiment with a dry wine from the region’s ancient Furmint variety, to popular and powerful effect.
ou’ll find decent examples for under €20 (Chateau Dereszla in Mitchell & Son, or Disznókó in O’Brien’s) but if you can spend more, things get even more interesting — and offer real value relative to top Burgundy wines. Today’s dry Furmint from Dobogó comes from the first growth vineyard, Úrágya; look also in the likes of Blackrock Cellar and The Corkscrew for waxy and mineral expressions from the Szent Tamás vineyard, officially classified as first growth in the 1730s under royal decree to delimit these top vineyards and protect them from poor-quality pretenders (beating Bordeaux’s demarcation by well over a century).
Our wine of the week has an even older back story, and is a great introduction to the reds of this intriguingly diverse wine country. That diversity expresses itself in over 200 grape varieties grown throughout 22 wine regions, boasting very varied terroir and traditions. Today’s red wine from Eger, southwest of Tokaj towards Budapest, draws on two local legends. One of these is the late Tibor Gál, formerly head winemaker at Tuscany’s Ornellaia before bringing home his super Tuscan know-how after the fall of Communism. His son now runs the winery, and produces this fascinating modern expression of the traditional wine style known as Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger.
The original legend behind this local blend dates to the 1522 Siege of Eger, when the ability of ill-armed locals to hold out against a rampaging Ottoman army was explained away by embarrassed generals as being down to a diet of bulls’ blood. The robust wine style has evolved into a blend led by Kekfrankos (Blaufrankish) seasoned with various French varieties and the indigenous Kadarka grape.
In the hopes that I’ve piqued your curiosity to look east for your next wine adventure, I’ve also included a single-varietal Kadarka from Szekszárd, and two whites from Hungary’s neighbours in the Czech Republic and Romania.
Wines of the week
Gál Tibor Egri Bikavér Superior 2019, Eger, Hungary, 14pc, €25.95
From a cool-climate volcanic region on the same latitude as northern Rhone, and featuring Syrah and Pinot Noir plus Bordeaux’s Cabernets alongside its signature Kekfrankos (Blaufrankish) with a touch of Kadarka, this is robust but balanced with lively forest fruit and well-integrated oak, ripe tannins and some elegant freshness. With a great back story it’s a solid choice for a dinner party, as a talking point and a food-friendly pairing for autumnal and wintry flavours. The Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar; Provender Stores; thecorkscrew.ie
Dobogó ‘Úrágya’ Tokaji Furmint 2019, Hungary, 13.5pc, €38.99
Gloriously fragrant with nuances of orange blossom, custard apple and dried pineapple leading to a textured palate enriched with toasty, nutty character and notes of spiced peach and vanilla-scented orange cream; pair this first-growth treat with richer fish or white meat dishes. The Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar; wineonline.ie
Heimann & Fiai Szekszárd Kadarka 2021, Szekszárd, Hungary, 12pc, €27.95
Zoltán Heimann Jr, aka ‘Kadarka Man’, is building on his parents’ fine reputation in the business with his own international experience in light-touch modern winemaking to create purist takes on ancient grapes like Kadarka: very pale, delicate and bone dry with featherlight tannins, crunchy red fruit and herbal rasp, this is perfect for oily fish. The Corkscrew
Wildflower Pinot Grigio, Cramele Recas, Romania, 12pc, €13.95
I featured the Wildflower Pinot Noir last year as a great value alternative to new-world Pinot Noir, but their Pinot Grigio gives northern Italy’s offers a run for its money (and often on special offer at €9). Crunchy orchard fruit and the ripe citrus freshness of pink grapefruit make it a good pairing for lightly creamy dishes. O’Brien’s Wine, obrienswine.ie
Krásná Hora ‘La Blanca’ 2020, Moravia, Czech Republic, 11.5pc, €22
This food-friendly field blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and Neuburger is full of fun and verve, with notes of exotic flowers, woodruff and creamy citrus. Look too for Krásná Hora reds like Cuvée Bernety, a bright and floral Cab-Merlot blend.
Blackrock Cellar; McHugh’s; Frank’s, franksdublin.com
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