Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey
Photo: Árpád Pintér

Szekszárd Wine District

Szekszárd Wine District

Whoever said “here grows the wine of love” was very close to the truth. “The wine of lovers” can also be added to this. The average Szekszárd wine is not monumental yet is still convivial. It doesn’t bowl you over, but rather pervades you to the core. It is not grandiose, just unforgettable. It is a wine to return to. Nowadays, wines are mostly red and generally based on Kékfrankos, Kadarka or the better-known French varieties. Bikavér (translates as bull’s blood) is perhaps the wine that best shows Szekszárd’s identity. It has everything that makes a wine personable, despite boasting pretty distinctive structure.

History

The first clear traces of viticulture and winemaking were found dating back to the time of the Roman conquest, in the form of one of the side panels of a 11-tonne marble sarcophagus, which is decorated with a fruit-bearing vine growing out of a double chalice. In another tomb, an inscription on the sacrificial chalice placed next to the body proclaims a curious wisdom: “Make an offering to the shepherd, drink, and thou shalt live!” Even during the six centuries preceding the conquest, it is likely that the migrating peoples passing through also tended the vines. This is evidenced by the discovery of flasks from Avar cemeteries and ceramic centres, which probably contained the wine for warriors’ journeys to the afterlife.

After Roman times, the first unambiguous evidence for local viticulture is a transcript of Béla I’s founding charter, issued by the Esztergom Chapter, which lists royal grants from 1061. In this, King Béla I, who founded the abbey, grants three vineyards named Csin, Bika and Fövestelek to the Benedictines. The monastic order introduced modern agricultural methods and built a wonderful, large cellar using the sandstone obtained when building the church’s foundations. This was the predecessor of the cellar under Garay Square today. High-quality viticulture continued to be practised on the church estate. This is also evidenced by the 1267 charter of the Szekszárd Abbey. The Serbians fleeing the Turks presumably brought the Kadarka variety and the red wine culture of the southern Slavs to the wine region. In 1541, the Turks made the town into an administrative centre known as a sanjak. Viticulture, however, continued and some vineyards were even owned by Muslims. These times probably gave rise to the concept of the collective vineyard watch, which uniquely survives in the country in the villages of the Sárköz, the area just east of the Szekszárd Hills. At harvest time, girls who had hidden in the vineyards out of sight of the Ottoman warriors, frightened off grape thieves, both winged and unwinged.

The turmoil of the Turkish world rather depopulated the city of Szekszárd and its surroundings. In 1695, its new inhabitants, seven Hungarian and two Serbian families together only cultivated 55 “vineyard plots”, most likely corresponding to about 14 cadastral acres in total.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Benedictine abbots granted tax breaks to local wine growers. This not only attracted Hungarians to the wine region but also Germans, who arrived in several waves.

In 1812, the wine community adopted its Viticulture Articles which regulated planting procedure as well as vineyard and winemaking work, thereby codifying common law in writing. These strict provisions protected property and wine quality based on the mutual interests of the growers.

The noble Szekszárd Kadarka became the flagship wine of Szekszárd in the 19th century. Szekszárd Kadarka also inspired Franz Schubert’s song entitled Trout and his quintet of the same name. Another great musician, Franz Liszt, was a regular guest for decades at the house of his friend Antal Augusz, where he was often known to sip Szekszárd’s noble old red wine, óvörös.

The first chapter of viticulture in Szekszárd ended in 1875 with phylloxera. This eradicated the high-yielding vines cultivated until then, while the cultivation of Kadarka increased rapidly.

Viticulture has remained reasonably successful from after the Second World War until today, despite some temporary setbacks. The exemplary cooperation of the wine district’s best producers has led to their focus on a well-communicated trio of wine styles – Kadarka, Kékfrankos and Bikavér.

Geographical location

The Szekszárd wine district is located between the Tolna-Baranya Hills and the Dunamenti Plain, west of Sárköz. Although the region is officially geographically only considered hilly, both Szekszárd local patriots and oenophiles call this gentle hillock in the centre of the wine district “Szekszárd Hill”.

The vineyards that made this area so famous run along the eastern side of the north-south line from Szekszárd to Báta. The famous Őcsényi, Decsi and Sárpilisi vineyards are also located on this eastern slope, although their eponymous villages are located 3-5 km away, in the former floodplain of the Danube.

The wine district is located administratively in Tolna County. Its production area covers the 1st and 2nd class vineyard areas, as per the vineyard cadastre, of the towns and villages of Alsónána, Alsónyék, Báta, Bátaszék, Decs, Harc, Őcsény, Sióagárd, Szálka, Szekszárd, Várdomb and Zomba.

Nowadays, the total production area of the Szekszárd wine district is 6,001 hectares, of which 3,789 are 1st class. The actual area under vine is 2,116 hectares.

Soil

The thick loess cover of the Szekszárd Hills provides an excellent basis for the formation of soils favourable for the cultivation of black grapes. During the Holocene, about 10,000 years ago, loess loam, loam with high sand and rock particle content and, to a lesser extent, loess mixed with Pannonian sand former over the loess. It is beneficial from a viticultural perspective that loess always contains at least 5-7% active lime, although there are also soils with up to 10-30% lime content. This yields richer, more complex wines than sandy soils poor in lime. Luvisol brown forest soils also occur in the Geresd Hills area.

Climate

The Szekszárd wine district has a temperate continental climate, with mild winters and warm winters. There is a high amount of heat and solar radiation, while there is little precipitation. Thus, in unfavourably hot years, some places may experience the adverse effects of drought. Thanks to its warm climate, vines are rarely damaged by frost. This is crucial for varieties sensitive to frost, such as Kadarka and Merlot.

Grape varieties and typical wine styles

The most widely planted varieties are Kékfrankos, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, while the most typical white varieties include Olaszrizling, Riesling (Rajnai Rizling) and Chardonnay.

Szekszárd is known and sought after by wine lovers primarily for its red wine. The southern style is certainly no disadvantage for this type of wine. However, the same cannot be said for the white wines, which rarely gain national recognition, although there a few good exceptions in every vintage. Red wine varieties, such as Kadarka and Kékfrankos are particularly connected to the region, although Merlot and Cabernet Franc also yield some delightful wines. The rich aromatics of Szekszárd wines as well as their lively acidity and elegance are what sets them apart from other Hungarian red wines. These wines can be drunk a little earlier than their counterparts in Villány, as they are rounder and their tannins are generally softer. So, Szekszárd wines are not only appealing to drink young, but also have great ageability. The most widely planted variety is clearly Kékfrankos, and its prominent role in the wine district is certainly not accidental. Kadarka and Bikavér are also traditional and have a clear historical connection with Szekszárd. The Bordeaux varieties also produce sophisticated wines, which are also often sold as blends, just like Bikavér. The region is home to diverse, firm, characterful, ageworthy wines depending on the producer or brand name. Szekszárd’s product specifications clearly and unambiguously stipulate rules for winemaking, with an even more strictly defined framework for Bikavér.

Bianca
Chardonnay
Cserszegi fűszeres
Hárslevelű
Irsai Olivér
Királyleányka
Olaszrizling
Ottonel muskotály
Pinot blanc
Rajnai rizling
Rizlingszilváni
Sauvignon blanc
Szürkebarát
Tramini
Viognier
Zenit
Zöldveltelini
Blauburger
Cabernet franc
Cabernet sauvignon
Kadarka
Kékfrankos
Menoire
Merlot
Portugieser
Syrah
Szekszárdi Bikavér
Turán
Zweigelt
Néró
Takler kúria/Szekszárdi borvidék
Szőlőültetvény/Szekszárdi borvidék
Szőlőültetvény/Szekszárdi borvidék
Heimann Családi Birtok/Szekszárdi borvidék
Bodri Pincészet/Szekszárdi borvidék
Szőlőültetvény/Szekszárdi borvidék
Szőlőültetvény/Szekszárdi borvidék
Tájkép/Szekszárdi borvidék
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