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Jan 09, 2018

Hungarian wines reviewed by international heavyweight Forbes

Tom Mullen tells Forbes that Hungarian wines have improved in the past decades, and some are now superb

Renowned critic Tom Mullen has sampled a selection of Hungarian wines for international heavyweight Forbes.

Mullen says Hungarian wines have improved in the past decades, and some are now superb. Four fifths of the country's wines are white, and many of the fewer reds are both elegant and bold, he writes.

Visitors can arrange to visit wineries in the countryside, or sample a range of vintages in a major city, such as Budapest, he says.

The following is a cross section of typical Hungarian wines Mullen has chosen.

2013 Légli Pezsgö [Balatonboglár wine region]

This Hungarian sparkling wine is created using the méthode traditionelle (the same used to produce Champagne and Cava) and comes from Balatonboglár wine region, a 8,000-acre (3,300 hectare) portion of central western Hungary, south of Lake Balaton. The climate here is even with long Indian summers, and white grapes grow over loess and marine sediments. This is a clean, simple and attractive bubbly. Try a local dinner pairing, such as tortellini and beef goulash.

2015 Szászi Birtok [Badascony wine region]

This white is made from the Kéknyelü grape, which grows exclusively in the small (3,700 acre, or 1,500 hectare) and hilly Badacsony wine region in central west Hungary. Vines here grow over basaltic soils and the whites have high minerality and age well. This wine gives a sweet yet precise mouthful that tastes like a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.

2016 Gál Tibor Egri Csillag [Eger wine region]

The winemaker is Gál Tibor, the winery is in northeast Hungary in the Egri (Eger) wine region, and the name ‘csillag,’ which is a specific appellation blend, means ‘stars.’ Although Eger is known for its ‘bull’s blood’ red blends, whites also grow here. This is a blend of nine white grapes, none of which contributes more than 50% of the blend, and which may include both local (Carpathian basin) and international varieties. This has pears, mandarin, grapefruits on the nose and tastes like a mild Sauvignon Blanc with the butter of a Chardonnay—crisp and racy in the mouth.

2015 Somlói Juhfark [Nagy-Somló wine region]

Somlói is the winery and Juhfark the grape—nicknamed the ‘wine of wedding nights.’ It comes from the Nagy-Somló, the country’s smallest wine region, located in the central western part of Hungary. This is a hilly, windy region where vines grow over fragmentary basalt. The peaches and pears on the nose are like those of a dry Riesling, while it resembles a fruity and sweet Sauvignon Gris in the mouth. The taste is convoluted and layered, with grapefruit and tangerines. The taste resembles a brawl between Albariño and Riesling. Pair with scallops and garlic butter.

2015 Gallay Fehérburgund [Bükk wine region]

This 100 percent Pinot Blanc from producer Gallay comes from the Bükk wine region situated on mountain slopes of the same name. With an average temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) and ample sunshine, Bükk sits in the northeast—between Tokaj and both the Eger and Mátra wine regions. Grapes here grow over rhyolite tuff and are typically used for blending. Gallay is the first family owned winery in this 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) region. This 12 percent alcohol white is crisp and bright, lean and tart, loaded with green apples and pineapple. Eventually tastes include cocoa and hazelnuts. A fantastic wine, reminiscent of both Riesling and Muscadelle. The restaurant pairs this with celeriac soup with toasted hazelnuts and cheddar cheese.

2015 Posta Borház Kadarka [Szekszárd wine region]

These Kadarka red grapes grow in the southern Szekszárd wine region. From producer Posta Borház, this wine is bright, energetic and beautifully light, similar to a Beaujolais.

2012 Attila Pince Turan [Eger wine region]

Turan is an indigenous Hungarian red grape (it can look blue) often used in blending because of its dark color (it's often blended with Kadarka and another grape, such as Kekfrankos, to produce ‘bull’s blood’ wine). It grows mostly in the northeast wine regions of Mátra and Eger. This complex wine starts off tasting of black fruit, which transforms to cocoa and tar after five minutes. A beauty. Best served slightly chilled.

2013 St. Donat Magma Kekfrankos [Eger wine region]

Kekfrankos is a local name for the Blaufränkisch grape. This red variety figures heavily in Hungarian wines, and grows in the small Eger wine region in the northeast. This wine combines the tastes of oak and fruit with a streak of minerality.

2012 Heumann Terra Tartaro [Villány wine region]

This is a big red, with 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc and 15 percent Merlot and aged for 22 months in a barrel. It comes from the southernmost Villány region, known as the Hungarian Bordeaux and reputed for bold reds. It includes violets and lavender on the nose and oak and cinnamon in the mouth. It’s both luscious and convoluted; a refreshing Bordeaux blend.

2013 Dél Kopár-dülö [Villány wine region]

Dél means ‘south’ in Hungarian, home of the Villány wine region. From producer Szemes Jozsef this wine includes three grapes of a Bordeaux blend—two Cabernets and Merlot, as well as Kekfrankos (Blaufränkisch). Although Kekfrankos is a minor component of this wine, it really hustles here, giving a gritty flavor of red cherries and a sliver of citrus. This opens as a smoky delight, much like a hefty Syrah. The Costes Downtown menu paired this, appropriately, with rib eye steak, potatoes and horseradish.

2008 Holdvölgy [Tokaj wine region]

This is a late harvest Tokaji, the famed sweet wine of Hungary, made from the Zéta grape—a crossing of Furmint and Bouvier. This is similar to a lusciously sweet Jurançon. Pair this with cheesecake and a vanilla and wild fruit sorbet.

2000 Oremus Tokaji Aszu [Tokaj wine region]

Tokaji wine has been made for over 400 years. For this aszu wine, botrytis berries are picked individually and soaked for days in a base wine before being pressed. Acidity comes from both the grape type and the volcanic soils of the wine region. Some of these wines can last decades. This winery was founded by Spanish producer Vega Sicilia. This is a sweet and succulent beauty of a dessert wine.