If you're intrigued by this, or any of my other articles about Hungarian wines, Bálint Takács of The Hungarian Wine House will be pleased to advise you on where to start your tasting journey. You can order as little as one bottle to start with, and you'll find a rich variety of unexplored flavours and varietals to liven up your palate if you're becoming bored of the same old, same old... Finally, then, here's my round up.
From Eger (home of the famous Bull's Blood, Hungary's iconic red wine), the Csillag or "Star of Eger" is blended according to regional regulations and must contain at least 4 grape varieties. Other stipulations insist on <30% muscat and >50% of the blend must come from grape varieties originating in the Carpathian Basin.
This particular example is a gold medal winner in the French competition "Les Citadelles du Vin" 2012. It was blended from 40% Olasz Rizling (Welschriesling) 32% Leányka (Little Princess), 15% Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) and 13% Cserszegi Fűszeres (Cserszeg Spice). Most of these are not grapes we drink every day.
I didn't really know what to expect, but with barrel aging, I'd expected some wood notes of spice, clove, vanilla or toast. The natural cork came out cleanly, but I detected a hint of taint. Full-bodied and golden in colour, there's a a good weight in the mouth and the wine has a feeling of some age. Rather than crisp and refreshing as I'd have wanted from an aperitif, this was more of a food white, so I served some nuts with it. These enhanced the nutty, woody flavours in the wine, along with some peppery spice. The orchard fruit flavours are baked rather than fresh, and my over-riding impression is that this was an interesting wine rather than an enjoyable one. Given the medal winning form of this wine, I suspect my suspicions about cork taint were justified. Sometimes a wine can be just on the edge, other times the fault is unmistakable. Judging at the International Wine Challenge showed me how the trained nose can detect something most of us would happily drink without giving it a second thought. The Hungarian Wine House prides itself on good service and customer satisfaction, and cork taint can happen in any bottle with a natural cork, sadly. An efficient seal for many centuries, it's not full-proof.
For the uninitiated, bits of cork floating in your wine does not imply a fault or that the wine is corked. Smells of musty wet cardboard or wet dog, however, do.
Off-dry or "semi-dry" as it's described on the label, the Pannon Tokaj zsomBor Furmint 2011 LIMITED EDITION (£11.70 14.5%) has 10g/l of residual sugar and is a limited edition white wine made with the Furmint grape. Each bottle from the 575 produced is numbered. Mine was number 175. Hungarian Wine House only had an allocation of 60 bottles so you'll really have to hurry if you want to try it. I'm honoured to have been sent one.
A really unusual bottle, flute-like German wine bottle shape, it was my first ever glass cork! What a surprise and no chance of a corked wine here. The wine is a really golden colour and looks like a luciously sweet wine although it's only just not dry.
You have to tune your head into this wine because it's unlike any other. Furmint is used in dry wines, but more famously in the royal Tokaji dessert wines, which can age for many years, and rival Sauternes as the world's finest sweet wines.
This had some really interesting characteristics - a good body, an appealing side effect of the residual sugar content. Mr Purple Teeth declared it a good aperitif. The flavour profile was stewed red apple, and with great acidity, as you'd expect from the grape that gives us some of the world's best sweet wines, you can also detect mango, apricot, and maybe even some membrillo (the quince paste that goes with Spain's Manchego cheese). I think it would pair that cheese very well. Sadly, I didn't have any at home. It's got the complexity of a sweet Tokaji wine and shows the potential of that noble Furmint grape variety. After a few sips, Mr Purple Teeth announced, the more he drunk it, the more he liked it. Thank goodness for that. This really is a fascinating wine, and we sipped it over a couple of nights, being disappointed when it was gone.
The technical bit: "zsomBor is a semi-dry Furmint with 10gr. of residual sugar, at 14,5 alc./VV. The grape was harvested at the end of October 2011, fermented 28 days long on marc, macerating and cooling permanently. After the maceration the wine had been ageing for 3,5 months in Hungarian oak barrels. Bottled in March 2012"
The official description: "Dark, intense color, promises great wine. The mushroom and earthy notes from the characther of the terroir are dominant. With the fruits (plum, cherry) cocoa and dark chocolate come up too, which makes a nice round off the barrel use. Mainly the notes of terroir can be felt on the palate rather than the notes of grape. Although still in its youth, ageing will surprise you."
This is an incredibly structured Cabernet with a medium body, lots of acidity and lots of tannin. The tannin is fine grained & velvety making it much more pleasant to me than many tannic cabs, and leading Mr Purple Teeth to state he didn't get much tannin from it! Trust me - this has bags of tannin.
Mr Purple Teeth was surprised and delighted that I'd chosen to celebrate Cabernet Day even though he was out at wine opening time. A rare treat for him. He favours Bordeaux and I regret not including this in my blind tasting of Bordeaux wines, as I'd love to know how it would have fared.
The inky black colour was full or promise, and like the official description, drew us in. Deep black fruit flavours followed, but there is definitely less cassis than expected from an archetypal Cabernet. As the official description says, this wine is showing us the Hungarian terroir more than a standard representation of the grape variety.
Juicy, but definitely with aging flavours more forward than the fruit, the cocoa and spicy notes were even more prominent on the second day. I shared a glass with a friend who declared it "delicious". Other than that, she wouldn't comment for fear of showing off her limited wine vocabulary. Mr Purple Teeth will definitely continue to opt for Bordeaux at this price point, but if you're looking for something different, it's worthy of your attention.
Cheers! Egészségedre! (As they say in Hungary)