At a recent tasting in New York City, a wide array of Hungarian wines were on display. Most wine lovers who have any familiarity with Hungarian wines probably think of dessert wines first, and for good reason; they make some of the best examples in the world. However there are plenty of dry wines, both white and red, being produced in Hungary that are more than worth diving into. The assortment includes both selections made from indigenous varieties and international grapes. I sampled 35 or so wines that day, which really ran the gamut of diversity. As interesting and good as some of those produced from international varieties were, my favorites were from grapes that are either native to Hungary or thrive there in particular. Five wines stood out to me above the rest:
Patricius Wines 2012 Tokaji Harslevelu, Suggested Retail Price $17.00
This winery was founded in 2000 and first released wine to market seven years ago. Their focus is on dry varieties. White flower aromas light up the nose here. Melon and lemon zest are prominent on the palate. The super long finish is marked by bits of crème fraîche, honey, white pepper and persistent fruit. The gentle complexity of this wine makes it a stunningly good value.
Eszterbauer 2011 Kadarka Nagyapám Szekszard, Suggested Retail Price $18.00
The family at the heart of this winery emigrated from Bavaria in 1746. They’re best known for their red wines. The hue of this selection is a very light red; it almost looks like a rosé. Wild strawberry aromas are in strong evidence on the nose. Cranberries, sage and copious spices are all present on the palate. Continued sour red fruits, spice and hints of sage are all present on the excellent finish. This profile of this wine brought to mind a fine cinsault. This offering craves food; falafel with a spicy dressing would be an inspired pairing.
Fekete Bela 2011 Olaszrizling Somlo, Suggested Retail Price $25.00
Fekete Bela, the namesake, owner, and winemaker, dry-farms all of his grapes. He embraces natural methodology in his production of white wines which are meant for aging. This wine leads with a deep golden hue that shimmers in the glass. Stone fruit and flower aromas are accented by hints of smoke. Tons of apricot flavors dominate the palate along with continued spice. Limestone and mesquite honey emerges on the above average finish. This is a fruity and engaging wine that demands attention and pulls you back in for one sip after another.
Dobogó 2011 Dry Furmint, Suggested Retail Price $25.00
Isabella Zwack, who runs the winery, is part of a family well-known in Hungary for their production of liqueur. She purchased this winery, which has a long history, in 1995 and has been restoring it and the wines ever since. The bold nose of this wine features some bright melon aromas and little wisps of tropical fruit. The palate is rich and full with prominent fruit flavors in abundance; continued melon and bits of peach and papaya are all present. Zippy acid, spice and a wisp of crème fraîche are all present on the substantial finish. Pair this wine with Indian cuisine for tremendous results.
Demeter Zoltán 2012 Harslevelu Szerelmi, Suggested Retail Price $60
This winery is literally a one-man operation. The focus here is on estate grapes farmed on nine distinct single-vineyard parcels. Minimal intervention is employed to help each of those parcels speak forcefully in the bottle. Super fresh yellow peach aromas leap from the nose here. The palate is substantial and layered with stone and tropical fruit flavors and depth to spare. The intensity continues on the long finish which shows off hints of mellifluous sweetness, spice and firm acid. This wine is a delight on its own and will also work quite well paired with light to medium flavored foods that have a bit of heat to them.
Hungarian Wines are just beginning to gain some traction in this country with the savviest of wine lovers, and that provides some great opportunities. There is of course tremendous value to be had because they largely haven’t become known commodities that the average wine lover is seeking yet. Even more exciting than that is the sense of discovery; find some excellent Hungarian selections first so that you can introduce them to your wine loving friends. They’ll thank you for that for years to come. I’m excited to continue exploring Hungarian wines; taste a couple of these, and you will be too!