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Jul 14, 2020

Zoltán Heimann of Heimann & Fiai Winery helps present the wines of Hungary.

 

He keeps me on task with the proper pronunciations (very hard and the reason it’s taken me so long to cover this country, honestly!), and gives us an overview of what we can expect from Hungary and its wines, before focusing in more on his beloved region of Szekszárd (sex-ARD), known mostly for its famous Kadarka red wine. The Heimanns have a long history of farming in Hungary, and Zoltán has a global view from his education at Geisenheim in the Rheingau Region of Germany (one of the best wine schools in the world). He has a lot to teach us about Hungarian wine – its history, its geography, its grapes, its wines, and its future, which he is helping drive.

 

A few things for clarification:

  • When Zoltán refers to small winemakers, he refers to them as a Hobby Industry. Because of the recording, it’s a bit hard to understand. Just remember that as you listen!

  • Please don’t make fun of me for having no clue how to pronounce anything right. I told Zoltán before I started that it was going to be rough and he was patient as anything!

 

These show notes are more about pronunciation and help with the regional names than anything else. If you listen to the show, you’ll need to refer to these (maybe often!).

 

After a conversation about history, Zoltán talks about how Hungary is in the Carpathian Mountain basin with the Danube River dividing the country and the Tisza River near Tokaj in the east.

  • The hills (some quite high, others undulating) make a crescent from the northeast around the north to the southwest
  • A large plain, the Hungarian Plain, is in the middle of the country and is where bulk wine, paprika, and lots of food production takes place
  • A smaller plain, near Austria is in the northwest of the country
  • The climate is continental, with cold winters, hot summers

Image: Topographical map of Hungary

We talk about the main grapes of Hungary:

  • Whites:
    • Furmint (FOOR-mint): The main grape in Tokaj, now winemakers are using it for dry wine. It can be like limes and oranges, smoky, even spicy, and quite acidic – the challenge is to tame the acidity through good vineyard practices and proper winemaking that doesn’t cover the essence of the grape (i.e., no oak)

    • Hárslevelű (HARSH-levalew): The name means “linden leaf”, a plant that smells like honey, smoke, and pears. Zoltán explains that Hárslevelű is like a smoother, softer version of Furmint 

    • Juhfark (YOU-fark): A novelty that is made mainly in Somlo (Showm-LO), in the northwestern (ish – kind of central northwestern) area of the country, we’ll see more in export markets than they will in Hungary. The volcanic soil here makes the wines smoky, ash-like, and minerally…with just a little moodiness that only a volcanic soil can express

    • Olaszrizling (said how it’s spelled): Also known as Welshriesling, the grape has traditionally been a neutral, workhorse grape for bulk whites. Zoltán says there are more and more producers getting great flavors from this grape, so it’s one to watch.
    • Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and other international varieties are also cultivated
  • Reds:
    • Kékfrankos (cake-FRAHN-kosh): Blaufränkish in Austria, this is the main component in Bull’s Blood of Eger and the grape that Heimann is concentrating on as a uniquely Hungarian expression of the grape – spicy, intense and interesting

    • Kadarka (said how it’s spelled): Zoltán explains that this is a very difficult grape to grow. Two in 10 years the harvest will go badly. The grape has big bunches and is prone to rot. It takes so much to grow that most vintners have no use for it. Heimann is one of the premier producers of Kadarka and aim to make an international reputation for this Pinot Noir-like grape

We move to the major wine regions

  • In the northeast/Upper Hungary: Tokaj, Eger
    • Tokaji: The dry and sweet (Tokaji aszú, Tokaji eszencia) of Furmint, Hárslevelű


    • Eger: Basalt/volcanic soil with loess can create excellent wines. The red blends are called Egri Bikavér or Bull’s Blood, the newer white blends (dreamed up in recent years as a marketing idea in the region) made of muscat and native grapes called Egri Csillag (EGG-ree chee-laug), known as “the Star of Eger”

  • Near Lake Balaton: Somló, Badacsony

 Image: Balaton, the largest lake in Europe

    • Somló (showm-LOW): Made of the smoky white Juhfark and other native whites

    • Badacsony: Known for fuller bodied, minerally whites with good acidity. A combination of Olaszrizling and native grapes. Volcanic soils make these wines unique

  • Sopron
    • Sopron (SHOW-pron): Located adjacent to Neusiedl (noy-ASEED-el) in Austria and the Burgenland region, these wines are mainly Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) and are similar to those of Austria

  • Pannon: Villány, Szekszárd
    • Villány (ville-AHN-ee): With excellent marketing, a strategic and unified vision, and excellent Cab Franc, this region has succeeded in getting its wines to market

    • Szekszárd (sex-ARD): Kardarka, Kékfrankos, and other reds thrive here. Heimann is on the cutting edge of reviving this region

To wrap up, Zoltán and I discuss the potential for Hungary, the new generation, and all we have to look forward to from Hungary.

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