HUNGARY FOR GRAPES

By Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 14 May 2016

Hungarian-born Csilla Sebestyen is on a mission.  She wants to show UK wine lovers that Hungary makes fine white and red wines, not just cheap supermarket quaffers.

Trained in Scotland as a sommelier, Sebestyen (pictured above) spent five years working at Gleneagles where she arrived as an apprentice in 2008.  When she left in 2013, she had worked her way up the ladder to become senior sommelier and ultimately worked with Andrew Fairlie in his legendary restaurant within the hotel. 

It was Andrew Fairlie who gave Sebestyen the greatest encouragement when she left – to start her own wine importing business – and he has since become one of her most regular customers championing Hungarian red wines.

Kamocsay Mori Ezerjo Hungary wine review“Hungary has unusual grapes like white Ezerjo and red Kekfrankos and Kadarka growing on diverse limestone and volcanic soils”, says Sebestyen. “In the last 20 years quality has really improved with more balanced wines with less oak used – and now UK’s top Michelin-starred restaurant sommeliers are showing an interest in these new Hungarian wines”, she says.

Grapes of Hungary (www.grapesofhungary.co.uk) has a tiny portfolio of just six wines, but the key is that Sebestyen has selected just fine wines.  Two of the red wines are made by her brother Csaba Sebestyen at their family winery in hilly Szekszard region (marked 15 on map below) in southern Hungary near the Danube valley, a region well known in Hungary for its excellent reds.  The remaining four dry white, red and sweet wines she has selected from local winemakers from different regions: Kamocsay from Mor (9 on map below), Takler from Szekszard (15 on map below), Arvay and Ats from Tokay (20 on map below).

Hungary is best known for its white wines.   There are plenty of aromatic off-dry white sub-£6 bargains made on the Danube Plains from Irsai Oliver, Csersegi or Sauvignon Blanc available in our supermarkets, but Hungary has a lot more quality-wise to offer as Sebestyen showed me.

new wave wine from Hungary - wine review by Rose Murray Brown The first white we tasted was made from a rare grape, Ezerjo.  Grown in Mor region (9 on map), west of Budapest, Hungary’s answer to Chablis with its calcareous soils – it gives fresh minerally, appley, high flavoured dry whites.  Her second white, a fine oaked rich-textured Furmint from north-easterly Tokay region was one of the best dry Furmints I have tasted.

However, it was the red Hungarian wines that really surprised me.  Kekfrankos and Kadarka are the two grapes Sebestyen hopes to champion.  Kekfrankos can make a wide variety of styles, from light Beaujolais-like quaffers to intense Rhone-like fuller-bodied reds.  Her example made by her childhood friend Ferenc Takler would suit anyone who usually drinks Merlot or Syrah.

Sebestyen winery Hungary wineThe traditional ‘Bikaver’ red blend (pictured right) we tasted from the Sebestyen family winery combines native Kekfrankos, Kadarka alongside Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  It was enchanting, spicy, elegant – something very unique.

Anyone who has been shopping in Lidl stores recently might also have noticed that this discount chain has just taken Hungarian wines to its heart – with a surprisingly large range of new Hungarian white, red & sweet wines on its list.  Some are distinctly better than others; the best of the bunch is Lidl’s late harvest Tokaj reviewed recently in this column.  

Sebestyen does not sell her wine in Lidl, but she is delighted that this is now highlighting Hungary as an interesting wine country to explore and offers people another way of being introduced to its fascinating range of new grapes and flavours.


HUNGARIAN DRY WHITE UNDER £10

Aszar Neszmely: HILLTOP PREMIUM CSERSZEGI FUSZERES 2014  ***STAR VALUE BUY***
(£7 Asda)
Good introduction to this unprounceable grape from Hilltop winery in Neszmely (4 on map above): grapey, peachy, sweet Eastern spice notes with a honeyed aftertaste.  Very good just off-dry white with moderate alcohol: 11%


Lidl Juhfark Hungarian wine reviewSomlo: JUHFARK 2013 Tournai
(£5.99 Lidl)
One of the better Hungarian examples in the new Lidl range from the rare Juhfark grape grown on volcanic soils in Somlo north of Lake Balaton (11 on map above).  The grape’s usually raging acidity has been tamed to a fresh vibrant quaffer: 13%


Aszar Neszmely: HILLTOP PREMIUM PINOT GRIGIO-KIRALYLEANYKA 2014
(£4.79 Co-op)
This is what Hungary is best known for: aromatic, off dry, light unoaked easy and approachable aperitif: 12%

                    

HUNGARIAN DRY WHITE OVER £10

Mor:  EZERJO 2013 Akos Kamocsay
(£14 Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk)
Light smoky oaky aromas, granny smith apple flavours, vibrant, crisp, dry and fresh with minerally depth: serve with scallops or smoked mackerel – made by the young winemaker/owner's son at Hilltop winery: 12.5%


Arvay FurmintTokaj: FURMINT ISTENHEGY 2013 Janos Arvay   ***STAR BUY***
(£23 Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk)
Honeyed and quince aromas, rich textured, complex with a fine length; it reminds me a little of oaked Chenin Blanc.  This big fiery dry Furmint would match with halibut or monkfish in a rich cream sauce or smoked lobster: 14%


Somlo:  JUHFARK 2011 Royal Somlo
(£18.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)         
Subdued aroma, mature flavours with a soft creamy palate; distinctive and very different; Juhfark’s normally harsh acid has softened with age in bottle: 12%

 

HUNGARIAN RED

Takler Reserve Kekfrankos Hungary WineSzekszard: KEKFRANKOS RESERVE 2012 Ferenc Takler   ***STAR BUY***
(£18.50 Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk)
Rich black cherry aromas, plummy depth with open voluptuous palate, soft tannins, fresh acid bite: quite similar to a ripe northern Rhone Syrah ideal for serving with pigeon, duck or lamb: 14%
                                                            

Szekszard: IVAN-VOLGYI BIKAVER 2011 Csaba Sebestyn   ***STAR BUY***
(£22 Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk)
Initially spicy, sweet rounded flavours, elegant, very unusual blend of Kekfrankos, Kadarka, Merlot and Cabernet; it tastes almost Burgundian with added spicy fiery kick: serve with beef, pork or venison: 14.4%

Join Rose’s South West France wine & charcuterie tasting in central Glasgow on Thurs 24 May £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com
 

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