18 October 2023 / Borbála Kalmár
Let’s start at the very beginning. Why did Cabernet Franc become Villányi Franc?
Basically, thanks to its climate, Villány began to orient itself towards the Bordeaux varieties as early as the second half of the nineties. Of these, Cabernet Franc really stood out as being better able to withstand its climatic conditions than Cabernet Sauvignon or the other varieties. This was followed in the 2000s by the now legendary visit to Villány by Michael Broadbent, during which he tasted a good number of single-varietal wines. He naturally had quite significant insight into the world wine map, and it was he who concluded that Cabernet Franc from here is a very different wine to that produced elsewhere in the world. And his words – Cabernet Franc has found its natural home in Villány – stuck in the minds of quite a few winemakers. At the same time, the fact that there are plenty of Bordeaux blends produced in the world shouldn’t be ignored. To excel at this, moreover, to be unique here, is extremely difficult, as practically every continent has competing wine regions that produce more or better such wines, whether cheaper or more expensive versions. However, the component of a blend that is less common as a single-varietal wine – and this was even truer in the 1990s, when there were few serious wines made from Cabernet Franc outside the Loire Valley – is what makes it possible to stand out from the crowd.
András Horkay in front of Szársomlyó Hill (Photo: Villány Wine District)
One variety, one wine name – multiple styles. How does the classification itself look?
The classification has existed for more than ten years. At the beginning, we only talked about classicus and premium Cabernet Franc (from 2006), then premium Villányi Franc from 2014 and super premium from the 2015 vintage. Villány is in the fortunate position of having its own wine judging committee, which takes its work very seriously. The Villányi Franc Committee was set up within this committee, and these twelve people are responsible for ensuring that the blind tasting is carried out in accordance with the product description and category, and the right classification is given to those wines which deserve it. Sometimes a wine is nominated for super premium, but during the tasting, it turns out that, although it meets all the criteria laid out in the regulations, it does not taste like it. So, it will then end up in premium.
Classicus wines should have primarily primary fruit notes with, at most, restrained barrel notes. Besides quality, the aim here is to produce value-for-money wines in the wine region that are accessible for everyday consumers too. Then comes the premium category, where the aroma character is riper due to yield restrictions, while the minimum one year in oak results in more complex aromas and longer ageing potential. Super premium is the top of the range, with a minimum ageing period of two years, so it is only released after the third year. This is a denser, more concentrated, more complex wine, with even longer ageing potential.
2023 harvest in the Bocor vineyard of the Günzer Tamás Winery
Take a completely lay consumer. What would you recommend to them as an introduction to Villányi Franc?
I think the best thing would be to buy a bottle from each of the three categories, if you can afford it, but at least two. In this case, a classicus and a premium, because you can really tell the difference here. The classicus clearly shows the varietal character, meaning it tastes like a Cabernet Franc should. The premium, on the other hand, also displays more of Villány’s Mediterranean style and message, as well as the winery’s individual winemaking philosophy. The latter is very important, and moreover very good, as it enables the consumer to choose the kind of wine they prefer. Whether it’s a more classic, rustic style, a Tuscan-Mediterranean style or wines with more restrained oak use, after tasting a Cabernet Franc, they’ll be able to decide which winery appeals most to their own taste. I think it’s a great game. And with the super premium, consumers can experience what we mean by ageing potential. Just like with a classic Brunello or Barolo, this can help you learn what makes a wine more elegant, purer and more layered. The classicus is great for every day, the premium for a more serious dinner and super premium is what I’d recommend for a special occasion.
Sauska Winery’s vines in the Makár vineyard
We often hear the term TOP 12 in connection with Villányi Franc: what does this name mean?
In 2015, for the first Villányi Franc conference, we came up with the idea of comparing Villány wines with international wines and invited international guest wineries from the Loire Valley. Already at that time, wines from 12 wineries constituted the wines that are now known as the TOP 12. The TOP 12 wines are selected by the Villány producers, with me participating as professional director. It has now grown so much that this selection of 12 wines was chosen after a two-day blind tasting of over 70 nominated samples. This will be the first year that the ratio has been shifted: six premium, four super premium and two classicus wines will be presented at the Franc&Franc Forum (on 24 November, with the tasting day on 25 November – ed).
Which guest country are you comparing the Cabernet Francs with this year?
This year will be very interesting, with Tuscany as guest. There has already been a Tuscan wine at the forum, and there are wineries there who are making Cabernet Franc their own. When we say the “Hungarian Mediterranean”, Villány automatically comes to mind for Hungarian consumers, so we thought, okay, let’s look at Tuscany this year. And we’ve twisted it a bit, so we’ll have Tuscan olive oil and Hungarian grapeseed oil and can thus draw a parallel here with other products that are important for the region.
The crocus is the symbol of Villány’s protected origin wines (Photo: Zoltán ’Gadget’ Kiss)
Speaking of Tuscany, Italy and regionality, their vino da tavola is legendary for its quality. Is it conceivable that restaurants in Villány will also serve Villányi Franc as their house wine?
I think there are already a lot of places where restaurants are serving local wine, and two trends seem to be emerging here. One is that of Portugieser, which would mean RedY, while the other is a little more serious, which is where I think the classicus Franc category fits, and that’s the one which is produced in such large quantities. I would be happy about that, because then the mission we envisioned will have been realised. Classicus would represent the house wine and the premium versions would be a step up.
An ideal pairing: Villányi Franc and aged venison steak, sweet potatoes, blackberries and beetroot with red wine
In 2023, the following wines have been selected for the TOP 12:
Mokos Winery - Cabernet Franc 2020 classicus
Koch Csaba Villány - Villányi Cabernet Franc 2020 classicus
Ipacs Szabó Estate - Nászút helyett Villányi Franc 2020 premium
Ruppert Winery - Villányi Franc 2019 premium
Csányi Winery - Kővilla Válogatás Villányi Franc 2018 premium
Vinatus Vineyard and Winery - Villányi Franc 2018 premium
CEGA Winery - Villányi Franc 2017 premium
SAUSKA Winery - Villányi Franc Makár 2016 premium
Bock Estate - Bock Villányi Franc Essencia 2020 super premium
Szemes Winery - Villányi Franc 2020 super premium
Winery of Tamás Riczu - Villányi Franc 2019 super premium
Vylyan Vineyards and Winery - Villányi Franc Mandulás 2019 super premium