16 October 2023 / Daniel Ercsey
I would not say that it is hiding modestly behind its big brother, the Badacsony Wine District, because if Badacsony is not careful, the wines from here will overtake it on the bend. True, it doesn’t boast a panoramic view of Lake Balaton, but it does have the ‘Gastro village’ of Köveskál, with clever winemakers supporting the initiative with their wines from the slopes of Fekete-hegy, or Black Mountain. In addition, there is one corner of the wine district, namely Sümeg, where local winemakers have created the second smallest protected origin region in Europe, which requires organic certification for its top tier (Penta wines). After ticking off the Kál Basin and Sümeg, far fewer people, however, make it as far as the Lesence area, the eastern foothills of the Keszthely Hills. Yet the area not only boasts the most beautiful view of Szent György Hill and Badacsony, but also produces age-worthy white wines with lovely acidity, which are often shrouded in obscurity. It’s worth strolling around the streets of Lesenceistvánd, Nemesvita, Lesencefalu and Balatonederics, peering into the cellars and tasting the wines on tap. You are sure to discover some wonderful things!
View of the Kál Basin
If there is one wine region that is in a deplorable state, it is certainly Csongrád. Yet, this was not always the case – even a decade ago, there were three or four reliable winemakers in Csongrád-Bokros, but somehow, they aged, grew tired and disappeared. This is why it is refreshing to see the emergence of Egy korty Csongrád (A sip of Csongrád) – three winemakers with youthful energy, one from Csongrád itself, one from Ásotthalom near Szeged and the third from Szeged! If we also add the fact that I have discovered two new cellars in Csongrád-Bokros, and that the vines in the sandy soils around Pusztamérges have not completely disappeared, it is safe to say that there is still hope! The wine district is still in search of its true face, and you can’t expect them to come up with ready-made messages and wines overnight. However, I have tasted some promising pet-nats and fruit-forward, quaffable reds. If the city of Szeged were to somehow support this initiative and every restaurant in Szeged listed at least one wine from the region by the glass, it would not only be a step forward in the current situation, but it would also be heaven on earth!
Egy Korty Csongrád: Martin Bodor Family Winery, Ujvári Winery, Tóth Winery
(photo: Egy Korty Csongrád Facebook)
It is a fact that is repeated ad infinitum, and a glance at the map shows that the vineyards of the Bükk Wine District border the vineyards of Eger to the west. So much so that there are some villages where it is difficult to distinguish the wines produced there from the justly famous wines of neighbouring Eger. Accordingly, Bogács and Cserépfalu are local winemaking centres, where the wine is pushed into obscurity not by a lack of interest, but by the local thermal baths, since visitors, mainly from Slovakia and Poland, drink most of the wine on tap. The few winemakers that do bottle their wines have already proven that they can compete with neighbouring regions. On the eastern side of the Bükk Mountains, Nyékládháza and Miskolc are the towns that spoil us most, the former with its vineyards, the latter with its Avas cellar rows. Many people don’t even know that you can spend hours wandering around the cellars cut into the volcanic rock! The fragmented nature of the wine district is not conducive to a regional style or common will, so we can’t even mention that here. However, there are some highlights that show that it’s worth paying attention to the wines from Bükk, whether they are white or red, natural or conventional.
The Avas cellar row in Miskolc
There are few wine towns in Hungary that are as lovely as Mór! Strictly speaking, I can only think of Szekszárd, Eger and Sopron, where the image of the town is not determined by complexes of press-houses brought to life by agriculture, but by the well-being of the bourgeoisie, which grew thanks to the profits of viticulture and wine sales. Moreover, they also possess a wonderful marketing tool in the form of the Ezerjó grape variety, which consumers associate completely with this wine region. The searing acidity and ‘sour wines’ of the past are long gone, cool climate is a buzzword these days anyway, and Mór certainly gives you this feeling. The white wines boast elegantly vibrant acidity and have an affinity to oak ageing, they are light, fruity whites to accompany salads, and every now and then, in an extreme vintage, Ezerjó will be affected by botrytis, resulting in noble sweet wines that, within Hungary, only Tokaj can rival. They are worth tasting, even if you don’t drink sweet wine as a rule!
Mór wine district landscape
Have I already mentioned that fragmentation is not good for the common will? Well, this seems to be the biggest problem faced by the Pécs Wine District. If we only considered the wines, our eyes would be wide open in wonder! Did you know, for example, that in Mohács, not only the masked, wool-clad busós parade around during Carnival, but in the vineyards overlooking the Danube, there are several places where local winegrowers are making a big name for themselves? Or that Mecseknádasd, Hosszúhetény and Pécsvárad, near Szekszárd, are producing the country’s finest Siller and at least one Riesling that has already gained iconic status amongst wine connoisseurs? And if you look at its western side, in Mozsgó, near Szigetvár, you find not only apple orchards, but also Pinot Noir aged in new oak! So, what’s the problem, why is the Pécs Wine District here on this list? This is because the Mediterranean feel of Pécs, the region’s centre, tends to be expressed, at least on wine lists, by the full-bodied wines from Villány. If Szeged could be the saviour of the Csongrád Wine District, then Pécs could be the savour of its wine district. Moreover, the Cirfandli grape variety which is only found here in Hungary is just as good a story as that of Mór and Ezerjó. So let’s cheer on the wines of Pécs together!
Cellar in Mecseknádasd
If there is an idyllic wine region in the world, then it is Zala. If there is an underrated, even almost unknown wine region, then it is Zala. The above contradiction is a good expression of its problems. In addition, the oft-mentioned geographical fragmentation which also appears here certainly does not help resolve them. The vineyards overlooking the Mura River on the Slovenian border were also producing iconic wines twenty years ago, although nowadays the hype seems to have died down. Fortunately, the wines from across the border show that the potential is still there if there is someone to take advantage of it. There are also vineyards on the eastern side of the hillside overlooking Lake Kis-Balaton, but the question here is whether small-scale producers, who are able to endow a wine region with a unique identity, can assert themselves. Meanwhile, the western slopes of the Keszthely Hills, already mentioned regarding the Balaton-Highlands Wine District, are also part of this region, with fairytale villages such as Vindornyalak and Vindornyaszőlős, where rural tourism is still developing, although there is already one notable producer in Zalaszentgrót. The Wines of Hungary winery directory can help you find your way around if you are planning an autumn break in the area.
Vineyards in Zala with the Kis-Balaton in the background
I’ve left the cuckoo in the nest till last. But is it really? The distinctive wines from this tiny wine region have inspired many people, some of whom are so enthusiastic that they will order wine from this tiny volcanic butte even from Japan or Columbia, and won’t even drink anything else. But has Somló wine really become world famous? Is it shameful if a wine bar or top restaurant in Budapest doesn’t have a wine from Somló on its list? Not at all. However much I understand the Somló producers who have made this a mantra, and even support them in this, since it really should be proclaimed everywhere that Somló wine is unique and inimitable, the size of the wine region and the volume of wine produced here in fact makes this mission impossible. Somló wine will always be a very niche segment, hopefully at a very high price. But fear not, we have not reached this point yet, much to the chagrin of winemakers and the delight of potential consumers! Indeed, Somló wine is truly unique, provided it is made in the traditional way, with a relatively late harvest and aged in large, used oak barrels. The real character of Somló is revealed in the ageing and in the region’s terroir, which with time takes over every aspect of the wine. In that if you open an eight-year-old Somlói Juhfark, you know immediately it could only have been produced there and nowhere else. Even the wines from the very similar Badacsony and Szent György Hill are markedly different. What can we do? Go to Somló Hill, tour the cellars, taste the wines and buy them until the world discovers them, because from then on, we won’t be able to afford them!
Somló, the 432-metre-high volcanic butte