Hungarian shenanigans

At the beginning of the month I took a quick trip to Budapest for the annual VinCE wine fair. This is possibly the largest wine fair in central-eastern Europe and the organizers are always very keen to encourage foreign wine professionals to attend. They’re doing a very good job of it. I found myself in the illustrious company of Masters of Wine, fellow MW students and wine bloggers/educators. We were all there to take part in (or present) masterclasses and to taste interesting Hungarian wines made from unpronounceable varieties.
I was really looking forward to making some new discoveries and perhaps finding some interesting wines that may need to be brought into the UK. I always get rather excited about up-and-coming wine regions and countries so my hopes were high. So, whilst my other fellow MW students jumped from masterclass to masterclass (most of these were hosted by international producers), I mingled with the masses and attempted to taste as much Hungarian (and Romanian) wine as I could.
The quality of wine on show was relatively mixed. The stand out region without a shadow of a doubt was Somloi. There is something inherently fascinating about these wines. Whilst wines from most of the other regions appeared to try and emulate the international style, the Somloi wines showed a real personality of their own. Furmint, Harslevelű, Juhfark and Olaszriesling are the main varieties of Somloi, a region in the north-west of Hungary, known for its volcanic soils high in basalt and loess. The Furmints here are different from those made in Tokaj. They are inherently spicier, more full-bodied with alcohol levels rarely below 14%. Flavours of acacia and honey dominate, underpinned by an oxidative, perhaps slightly old-fashioned style of winemaking. But the minerality is very much still there. Juhfark is the real star of the show in Somloi. A native thin-skinned variety, high in acidity and really good at displaying minerality. The wines have a slightly phenolic character (which I love in whites) from skin contact, which is often employed. The flavours are of apricot skin and smoky minerality with a touch of bitterness that lends itself really well to food! I very much look forward to seeing more Juhfark in the UK.
I wasn’t so impressed with the reds, I have to say. I often have an issue with reds in central Europe, they just don’t stack up against the whites. In Hungary many reds, especially from Villany and Eger, are too big and sweet-fruited for my taste with the alcohols a little on the high side. But then I have a distinctly UK palate and we like our wines more on the elegant side. I think these wines would work really well in markets like the USA or Scandinavia, where full-bodied, modern reds are preferred.
Palates really are very different. I was asked by the organizers to be on the panel for one of the masterclasses organized. Termed ‘Sell me your wine’, it was a Dragon’s Den type workshop where we were asked to advise producers on what they could improve in order to make their wines exportable, all in front of an audience. On the panel was a Norwegian MW and we seemed to disagree on absolutely everything from label designs, suitability for our markets to the contents of the bottle. Whilst she thought a local white (from the Vulcanus variety, awesome name!) was too bitter and phenolic, I liked the high extract! Whilst I thought a Villany wine was too jammy and alcoholic, she commented that high alcohol was good. Well there you go.
And that’s it, really. If you’re interested in trying a Hungarian wine, start with a Furmint and work your way towards a Juhfark. Forget about the reds for the moment, we’ll give them some time to sort themselves out.

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