26 June 2024 / Dániel Ercsey / Photos: Nándor Lang Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

“What is wonderful about Kékfrankos is its diversity and reliability”

It is by far the most widely planted grape variety in Hungary (12% of vineyards), yet it is not talked about enough. This is Kékfrankos, the variety with a thousand faces, which can be really surprising on its own or in wine and food pairings. So, where does Kékfrankos belong on the Hungarian food scene? We asked sommelier Péter Tüű.

What goes with Kékfrankos? Should we even be asking such a question?



Often, surprising as it may seem – the wine we consider better does not go with the dish in question, while a less impressive wine will be in perfect harmony with the dish. In this case, a sommelier has to think in many more categories, and this is true of all wines, including Kékfrankos. It’s not only about being good or bad, full-bodied or dilute, nor even about being in the currently very trendy category, food wine.



Let’s just stop here for a moment, how would you define a food wine?


It’s a wine that really opens up with food. Without it, it’s pleasant at best, and fun, but you forget about it as soon as you’ve drunk it.



Can Kékfrankos also be a good food wine?


Sure it can. In fact, to continue my previous, interrupted, train of thought, it can feature in every category that exists in a sommelier’s mind. After all, Kékfrankos can be a rosé, a siller, a light red with plenty of acidity, a mediocre red wine with no varietal character at all and a so-called “big” red wine with lots of everything, especially tannin and alcohol, but it can also be a sweet late harvest wine. I have even tasted a couple of sparkling wines made from Kékfrankos.


Of those categories, which are quite a lot for the average wine lover to think about, which is the food-friendly face of Kékfrankos?


I don’t want to confuse anyone. I know the world is moving towards simple messages, so I don’t think any of the above categories. Actually, if I really only had to give one direction, I would say a varietally typical red wine somewhere between the aforementioned “mediocre” and “big”, which I can tell blind whether it is from Eger, Szekszárd or Sopron, i.e. it is not heavily oaked and the terroir on which it was grown is also recognisable. It would also be medium-bodied, perhaps even with a couple of grams of residual sugar, with let’s say some Far Eastern spice in the background. Fortunately, this category of “Kékfrankos”, is not just in my head, I’ve also encountered it at several wineries and have always been happy to put it on both the wine list and tasting menu.



If you look at the previous, broader categories, which one would you recommend?


A varietally characteristic rosé with good acidity could also work as an aperitif, but it wouldn’t be a sacrilege to have a rosé spritzer, even in a bistro, but definitely at the beach! I would put it at the start of a tasting menu, with the first course or perhaps as a welcome drink.


Did I hear you right, you said rosé spritzer?


Why not? Not in a Michelin-starred restaurant, of course, although you could stand your ground with it there too, but rather at a casual restaurant at Lake Balaton, with a wild boar rillette…



And what about siller?


Put very simply, it’s not a red wine, but it’s no longer a rosé. There is little or no tannin, but there is still some vibrancy. Siller is an undeservedly overlooked type of wine. It goes with almost everything that the average person thinks of as “Hungarian” cuisine, lecso, fish soup and cockerel stew are all crying out for siller! But if there is some sausage in the lecso or if you convert the fish soup into a paprika-scented catfish stew, you can switch from siller to the next category, which is a simple red wine with good acidity.


We’ve now come to your “favourite” category, food-friendly Kékfrankos.


Yes, you can see that in the way that possibilities are opening for pairings. Of course, this type of wine can also go with what I’ve already mentioned, but roast duck or, even better, a duck parmentier, will appreciate this kind of Kékfrankos, as it will enhance both the dish and definitely the wine. Of course, this is true for all dark-fleshed poultry and even more so for pheasant, if Hungarians would actually eat pheasant. Even though we are a pheasant superpower, you have to look hard to find pheasant dishes at Hungarian restaurants. This category can be paired with simple game dishes too. However, it is important to remember here that when pairing wine and food, we are not just pairing flavours but also textures, elegance and complexity, philosophies in fact, so it is worth considering what to pair with a game main course



What would you pair it with?


A long-aged Kékfrankos, with plenty of oak spice, dark as night, with a minimum age worthiness of twenty years. These mainly come from the wider Sopron region and almost always have a slightly meaty, leathery, farmyard character. These wines can definitely accompany a “big” dish, as their complexity makes them suitable for elaborate dishes. But if the wine is showing its more mature side, with smoky, tertiary notes, you can also serve it with dessert. Definitely not a sweet dessert, but say something with tonka beans.



Are there really so many types of Kékfrankos in Hungary?


Of course there are! Most Hungarian winemakers have totally different ideas about Kékfrankos, so there is no unified image of Kékfrankos in their minds. Not that I think that this is a problem, it’s good that the variety has so many faces! Although it’s another question whether you can show this in a restaurant. Our clientele at Laurel are typical gourmands, who are well past the point of “I’d like a wine, but nothing too acidic”. These people tend to appreciate local things most of all and look for this – a cliché but true – mostly in the grape varieties. Somlói Juhfark, Tokaji Furmint, Badacsonyi Kéknyelű are all buzzwords that our guests leap on, unlike Badacsonyi Chardonnay. Furmint makes use of its uniqueness quite well, I think Somló and Kéknyelű too, but there are not and never will be significant quantities of these latter two. Now this is where Kékfrankos comes in, as there is plenty of it, twice as much as the Austrians have, and it is very much ours, Kékfrankos is not Austrian, it is from the Carpathian Basin!



So, does this mean people seek out Kékfrankos?


Furmint, yes, but Kékfrankos is more on the level of Juhfark and Kéknyelű. To change this, the same amount of money would need to be spent on marketing the variety and the wine regions strong in Kékfrankos as has been spent on Tokaj and Furmint over the past ten years. This could be the “Hungarian red wine”, but for some reason we don’t bother with it at all, perhaps because can’t attach anything uniform to it. In this respect, by the way, there is a strong parallel with Furmint. Neither Kékfrankos nor Furmint is memorable, but are rather terroir wines that convey their terroir, rather than themselves. Just like Furmint is not Sauvignon Blanc, Kékfrankos is not Merlot, and nobody in the world will cry out “ah, this is true Kékfrankos”, because there is no such thing as true Kékfrankos. What is wonderful about Kékfrankos is its diversity and reliability, yet it is much more difficult to sell than something that everybody recognises from the first time they taste it.

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