Author: Kristian Kielmayer, Ágnes Herczeg
Szekszárd has an extremely rich history of grape and wine culture. Many prominent people, such as Franz Liszt, were admirers of its wines. The name of Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) is attributed to János Garay, who described the colour of the region’s red wines as “like bull’s blood” in his 1846 poem Szegszárdi Bordal. Szekszárdi Bikavér has undergone many changes over time, and the wine region now boasts two versions of the red blend: Bikavér and Premium Bikavér. One year’s ageing in oak is required for both styles of wine, Kékfrankos must make up its backbone and Kadarka must be included in the blend. The fundamental difference between the two Bikavér styles is in the permitted varieties. There are fewer permitted varieties for Premium Bikavér, while the grapes must have greater concentration, thus must be riper at lower yields.
The Szekszárd wine district is situated at the north-eastern end of the Geresd and Szekszárd Hills, with vineyards mainly following a line running north-south. At the same time, its zigzag valleys create a series of undulating hills, thus affording the chance to map out some really special, smaller single vineyards in the overall 2,252-hectares vineyard area. Loess is clearly dominant in terms of soil, but there are also patches of limestone and brown forest soil in some areas as well as clay. The region boasts one of the highest average temperatures in Hungary, while the Danube has an important tempering effect on temperature. Kékfrankos is the most widely planted variety, but Kadarka is also taken extremely seriously in the region as it also has historical significance. You could call it a real Szekszárd affair, as many producers have devoted a lot of time and energy into experimenting and researching the variety’s possibilities.
Kékfrankos and Kadarka must together make up at least 50% of the blend, while oak should be used sparingly. Szekszárdi Bikavér is generally medium ruby in colour with pronounced fruit and spice, vibrant acidity and silky, velvety tannins. Its aromatics are characterised by spice, bell pepper, paprika, mint, hibiscus and rosemary as well as red berry fruit, cherry, raspberry and plum. Kékfrankos provides the blend’s backbone, freshness, acidity and pronounced yet silky tannins. While Kadarka is responsible for its floral, spicy notes, which add bewitching lightness to the wine. Of course, as always, much depends on the winemaker’s style too, but what is certain is that Szekszárdi Bikavér is a truly appealing, elegant wine, which speaks of place rather than variety.
Szekszárdi Bikavér must contain at least 50% of Kékfrankos and Kadarka combined, thus they provide the wine’s backbone. Szekszárdi Bikavér is characterised by notes of fruit and spice, while oaky notes may not dominate the wines. Beyond this, however, winemakers have a relatively free hand in the selection and assemblage of varieties, so there may be noticeable differences between Szekszárdi Bikavér wines. Szekszárdi Bikavér is generally characterised by medium-deep colour, medium body and vibrant acidity, which makes it a great food wine. It is very versatile, can be paired with a wide range of dishes and is appreciated all year round. It works well with tomato dishes, pasta, pizza, grilled vegetables, casserole dishes, Hungarian-style soups, offal, roast meats, meatloaf, stews and spicy paprika dishes. Always store in a cool place, at a constant temperature, away from direct sunlight and heat, to best preserve its aromas. Serve at just below room temperature at 14-16°C in a large tulip-shaped red wine glass. Ingredients that best match the flavour and texture of Szekszárdi Bikavér include root vegetables, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, beetroot, aubergines, tomatoes, mature cheeses, goose, duck, game birds and offal, as well as pork, veal and lamb dishes.