01 December 2023 / Borbála Kalmár (translated by Sue Tolson DipWSET)
Before we look more closely at the building that houses Sauska Budafok, let’s go back a few years in history. There’s a good reason why Budafok is known as the capital’s wine district, as it has featured on the Hungarian wine scene for over a hundred years, as part of the Etyek-Buda Wine District. At one time, thanks to intensive mining work, over 100 km of limestone cellars were – and still are – carved into the ground. The location, established 150 years ago near the capital, has also been a commercially important part of Budafok’s history: many merchants, winegrowers and other professional people owned cellars here. Then, in the 20th century, nationalisation changed everything: the cellar system became home to the Hungarian wine industry’s quest for volume production. Of the once flourishing Budafok cellars, only Törley managed to survive the regime change, then Garamvári arrived there at the turn of the millennium and Sauska moved into the district in summer 2019.
The Sauska sparkling wine cellar in Budafok (Photo: Sauska)
Ádám Hanusz, winemaker at Sauska Budafok, welcomed us here in the winery, situated next to the Törley cellar and a few hundred metres from Garamvári, so that we could take a look behind the scenes. Although the cellar has only been bottling its own traditional method sparkling wine since 2019, if you think you have been drinking Sauska sparkling for longer than that, you wouldn’t be not mistaken. In the preceding years, Garamvári was putting the fizz into Sauska’s base wines. The method hasn’t changed since then, but now the trucks turn into a yard a street away at harvest time. And there seems to be plenty of space here – both above and below ground.
The cellar tour also includes a sparkling wine tasting in the cellar labyrinth (Photo: Sauska)
The cellar itself remains hidden from the prying eyes of those on the street, making entering the labyrinth all the more impressive. The ceilings are more than eight metres high in places, and there is a 120-metre-long part of the cellar that you can visit; the entire place has a kind of sacred atmosphere. The architects have also taken great care during its reconstruction to preserve a piece of the past: you can still see, for example, a storage room from the bad old times, as well as a row of concrete vats. Of course, it’s no coincidence that our ancestors built such a grandiose cellar labyrinth: the ventilation system is excellent, the humidity is optimal, and the limestone walls ensure a pleasant 13°C temperature all year round, which is optimal for sparkling wine production.
With a ceiling height of eight metres, there’s plenty of room to stack the bottles (Photo: Sauska)
Sparkling wines mature in the winding corridors, or stand in cages – the Sauskas always save hundreds of bottles from each vintage to monitor how each wine develops over the years.
The grapes for Sauska’s range of sparkling wines are grown in Tokaj. However, as they also work with unauthorised grape varieties, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, only one sparkling wine can be given the prestigious name of Tokaji. Nevertheless, the question of expanding the range of permitted varieties is on the agenda in the wine district. Let’s look at the range: the entry-level sparkling wine is the yellow label extra dry, which has a higher sugar content than the others. This does not make it sweet, but it is a safer choice for those new to the world of sparkling wines. The mainstay of the portfolio is the brut sparkling wine, which, as I learn from Ádám, is a top priority for them, and this plural includes a Champagne cellarmaster, Régis Camus, who advises the Sauska team on all aspects of their work. Régis has worked with big names like Piper Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck, and has also been tasked with repositioning brands – which is why he was chosen by the Sauskas.
Ádám Hanusz and consultant Régis Camus analyse the sparkling wine (Photo: Sauska)
The best base wines from each vintage, selected on Régis’s recommendation, are not turned into sparkling wine, but kept as reserve wine. When making the sparkling wine each year, they also select an older reserve wine (or sometimes several) that can best compensate for the shortcomings of the vintage. This is also common practice in Champagne to maintain consistently high quality, as is the practice of not making a rosé wine from black grapes when creating rosé sparkling wine, rather blending them as red wine with a white wine. This is also how Sauska’s rosé sparkling wine is made.
Rosé sparkling wine rests for at least 24 months before being disgorged (Photo: Sauska)
The specialties of the range are Tokaji sparkling wine made from a blend of Hárslevelű and Furmint, vintage sparkling wines - i.e. no reserve wine from previous vintages is added - and magnum bottlings. The latter is interesting for two reasons: any self-respecting winery must always have some kind of visionary ability, as wine is not a product that generates cashflow quickly. In other words, at harvest each year (at the latest), the winemaker must be able to tell what consumers will be seeking in a few years’ time. Another interesting fact is that wineries producing traditional method sparkling wine are increasingly producing them in 1.5-litre bottles, i.e. magnums. “In my opinion,” says Ádám, “nowadays, at a sparkling wine world championship, the judges are not looking primarily for the bread and toast notes in wine, rather that the wine is as refined and balanced as possible.” And magnums are the perfect way to achieve this elegance, with double the volume for the same amount of oxygen as a traditional 750 ml bottle, which influences its maturation. This is called the magnum effect.
Sauska Brut Magnum (Photo: Sauska)
However, maturation is also influenced by the neck of the bottle, and anyone who has ever held a Sauska bottle – which is a trademarked shape – knows that it has a unique neck design. While the neck of a traditional sparkling wine bottle is 29 mm in diameter, Sauska’s is only 26 mm, and who knows, maybe that’s part of the reason they come home with gold medals from the Champagne and Sparkling Wines World Championship in London every year. And beyond that, does the magnum effect really apply? Well, this year, Sauska NV Brut Magnum was deserving of the award for the best Hungarian sparkling wine, even though it faced some very stiff competition.
Andrea Sauska receiving the award at this year’s Sparkling Wines World Championship (Photo: Sauska)
This and the abovementioned sparkling wines can be found in the Sauska webshop and on the shelves of Bortársaság, among others. And if you fancy a cellar tour, you can also buy a voucher for a wine tasting and cellar tour on the Sauska website – perfect as a Christmas gift, and certainly not an everyday choice.