The nose was all aquiver at a tasting of Hungarian wines. I had read about the female grape variety Kéknyelü (Blue Stem) and was dying to try it. If you’ve followed this blog you will have read about the single sex wild vines in the south of France. These vines need luck, a good breeze or a helping hand to pollinate, and as such few have survived into commercial production. They simply died out or remain in tiny pockets growing wild in forests… but in Hungary, in Badacsony a 420m hill of basalt on the north shore of Lake Balaton, a heterogeneous variety has clung on. There are just 100 acres left.
There has been winemaking here since Roman times and it’s not impossible that the wine was made from this variety. The terroir contributes significantly to the style of this wine – in other words this is not just a simple ‘varietal’ wine. The terroir originated with a volcano eruption under the sea a few mill years ago, which formed a hill of basalt as the sea receded. It’s rock, hard to work and sloped. The microclimate here is a combination of the direct sunshine, the heat from the basalt rock which absorbs the sun’s rays during the day and releases warmth at night and the reflection from Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe.
In the communist era production was all important and Kéknyelü all but disappeared. Not only was the terrain difficult to farm – those soviet tractors were not designed for such vineyards, but the vine itself was capricious. The variety existed in small vineyards, small holdings, in people’s gardens. It was replaced by allotments growing fruit and veg staples and as tourism took hold, more vines were replaced by holiday villas. It’s a wonder it has survived at all.
But thank goodness it has. If the wine was just so-so, the story would be an interesting tale of survival, but as the wine is pretty damn good, the story is a triumph. Kéknyelü is a variety that reveals the terroir in its austere minerality. It ages very well indeed. The English Nose was suitably impressed by this intriguing Hungarian wine.
Huba Szeremley founder of the Winemaster Guild of Hungary re-started his family’s winery in Badascony. The wines I tasted from this domaine were exciting.
Szermeley, Kéknyelü 2006
The aroma is nutty with an edge of parmesan and a hint of kerosene. It is intense and arresting in a good way. The palate is quite rich with some viscosity and generosity. It is not heavy at all, but is powerful and dense. A compact wine. It is savoury rather than fruity with notes of wild flower honey. Cutting through this is the acidity – a sauvage acidity. The finish is assured.
Szermeley, Kéknyelü 2000
Floral up-toned aroma. The palate is pure and citrus with a wafting note of lime flowers. It is a straighter and slimed down, trimer version than the 2006… less robustly youthful and more elegantly mature. Very fresh. The acidity gives it a verve and it has a firm stony, savoury finish. This wine is lovely now, but promises to continue to mature gracefully for a few years yet.
Hungarian Food and Wine. Contact Audrey [email protected]