A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 388: Hungary

Friday, March 23: Arrived in Munich at 10:15 am after a sleepless night. The guy next to me had a blocked nose and was sniffing loudly all night, which was better than the gases he let fly every so often. Had to hurry across Munich airport – why do you have to walk so far in German airports? – in order to get my flight to Budapest.

Arrived in Budapest at 12:30 pm and was met by a driver who spoke a little English. We talked about the weather (20°C and sunny here) and he told me he’s a Pentecostalist in a country of Catholics and he believes the freaky weather we’ve been having prophesies the Apocalypse. I asked him what that meant and he said, “the second coming of Christ.” He dropped me at the Zara Continental Hotel and would not take the US $5 tip I offered. “It’s my job,” he said.

The Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

The Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Showered and shaved, checked email in my room and walked the 10-minute walk to the Corinthia Hotel, the venue for VinCE. Scheduled at 3 pm there is a tasting 22 wines, blind, matching Hungarian wines against like varietals or styles. Thirty-nine wineries were invited to send a single wine to “show” Hungary. These were reduced to 11. They are to be tasted in pairs against imported wines, marked out of 20 points.

  • Kertész Chardonnay 2009 (Etyek): straw colour; ripe nose of tropical fruits, spicy with piercing acidity, good length. Tastes like Russian River Chardonnay. (16 out of 20)
  • Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2010: pale lemon colour; earthy, citrus, crisply dry with an elderberry and clove note. (15)
  • Aubert & Pamela Bourgogne Blanc Les Clous 2009: medium straw colour; aromatic, apricot and citrus; dry and crisp, lemony; good length. (14.5)
  • Pócz Kokas-hegyi Chardonnay 2009 (Dél-Balaton): deep straw colour; intense, spicy nose (touch of botrytis?); dry, soft on the palate, mouth-filling; nicely integrated oak with a spicy finish and a resiny note. (16)
  • Szent Benedek Tokaji Furmint 2008: medium straw; oaky, high toned; sour acidity, dried apricot flavour. (13)
  • Nicolas Joly Savennières Les Vieux Clos 2008: straw; mature apple nose; cidery with a light spritz. (12)
  • Quinta de Cidro Alvarhino 2010: straw colour with a green tint; aromatic, apple, lime; full on the palate, lively acidity, crisply dry finish (15.5)
  • Fríz Mátrai Hárslevelü 2008 (Matra): old gold; honeyed, botrytis note; orange marmalade, mature, nicely balanced with great length, dried apricot finish. (17)
  • Vylyan Gombás Pinot Noir 2008 (Villány): ruby colour; earthy, beetroot and raspberry with a floral note; firmly structured, dry, elegant, well made Pinot. (16.5)
  • Pierre-André Gagé Gevrey-Chambertin 2006: ruby showing some browning at the rim; mature, barnyard note; dry, lean and sinewy with a tannic finish. (14.5)
  • Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005: dense ruby-purple; cedar, blackcurrant; richly extracted, firm, generous sweet blackcurrant and plum fruit flavours with ripe tannins. (17)
  • Takler Regnum 2007 (Szekszárd): dense ruby; cedar, plum with a herbal note; lean, redcurrant flavour, nicely balanced, ripe tannins. (16.5)
  • NJK 2006 (Eger): dense purple-ruby; floral-earthy plum nose; clovey, black cherry with lively acidity and a tannic finish. (14.5)
  • Capaia 2006: dense ruby; vanilla, smoky-tarry black fruit; earthy, smoky flavour of black fruits with a tannic lift on the finish. (15)
  • ZdS Scheurebe 2009 Nr. 2 TBA: straw; honeyed nose, spicy, rich, tropical fruit; intense, honey, peach; beautifully balanced, lovely mouth feel and well balanced with acidity. (19)
  • Dobogó Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2006: old gold colour; high toned, orange and dried apricot flavour with an intriguing floral note with a barley sugar finish. (17.5)
  • Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2006: old gold colour; intense, honeyed tropical fruit with a botrytis note; concentrated, orange, honey and nectarine flavours; medium-bodied, elegant, great length. (18.5)
  • Château de Suduiraut 1999: deep old gold colour; high toned, Botrytis nose; barley sugar, orange marmalade, rich and full-bodied with great length. (19)
  • Schloss Johannisberg Sonnenuhr Riesling Beerenauslese 2001: amber colour; mature, dried apricot; elegant, dried apricot, honey, with lively acidity, great balance with palate cleansing acidity. (19)
  • Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2006: deep old gold colour; honeyed apple skin; richly extracted honeyed flavours of apple and citrus fruits. Great length (18)
  • Peter Lehmannn Botrytis Semillon 2008: old gold colour; lifted, raisiny, minerally-petrol note on the nose; ripe fruit, peach and honey with good acidity but not as mouth-filling as the nose suggests. Touch of bitterness on the finish. (16.5)
  • Puklus Tokaji Aszúeszenzia 2003: light bronze colour; high toned, botrytis nose of orange peel and honey: full on the palate sweet but well balanced with acidity. Great length. (18.5)

After the tasting walked back to the hotel, checking food prices at the local Spar supermarket on the way home. Dr. Oetker pizzas are half the price here. Dropped into an excellent wine shop in Pohány utca, the same street as my hotel, called In Vino Veritas. Asked for some recommended producers.

Checked emails and then walked back to the Corinthia hotel for the opening VinCE party held in the ballroom. Curiously, there was no wine available, only soft drinks, but a magnificent buffet of hot and cold food plus a sweet table. Too tired to join Stephen Spurrier, Siobhan Turner and Peter Peter Csizmadia-Honigh (who writes a bilingual blog called Wine World) for dinner. In bed by 9:30 pm.

Saturday, March 24: Bad night’s sleep. There were people talking loudly in the street below my window all night until four in the morning. Breakfast of fried egg and bacon then walked to the Cornithia Hotel to taste Hungarian wines at VinCE. Spent the day tasting over 80 wines, interrupted by lunch at the Brasserie in the hotel with Steven Spurrier (goulash soup). Then back to tasting. I was impressed by the Cabernet Francs from Villány (although all the accents in the Hungarian language are driving me nuts) and Takler in Szekszard; and the Bordeaux-style blends from Kiss Gábor, Matatinsky, Kúri, Heimann’s Barbár and Villa Tolnay in Szekszard, Vida, Gróf Buttler’s Bordeaux varietals. Enjoyed the Furmints from IFDTa, Vylyan, Szent Benedek. Loved the Szamorodni from Tokaj Kereskedöház (like a vin jaune).

A great red blend

A great red blend

Heimann Családi Birtok

Heimann Családi Birtok

Sunday, March 25: Josef Kosarka picked me up and we drove for two hours south of Budapest to Szekszárd. Our first stop: Eszterbeauer winery. Eszterbauer’s cellar is hidden behind a door that swings open remotely like some Hollywood horror film film.

Bottles conceal the hidden door at Eszterbauer Winery

Bottles conceal the hidden door at Eszterbauer Winery

János Eszterbauer, a 10th-generation winemaker, uses old family photographs for his labels. We sat in the tasting room while he poured the following wines:

  • Eszterbauer Chardonnay 2011: medium straw colour; barnyard note, apple; dry, rustic, crab apple flavour with a crisp lemony acidity; medium-bodied. (86)
  • Eszterbauer Kadarka 2011 (fermented in wood and aged in stainless steel): ruby with a violet hue; a nose of cherry, with a mineral note; light, spicy, fruity, Beaujolais-like. (87)
  • Eszterbauer Kadarka 2009: ruby-purple colour; earthy-spicy, cherry nose; spicy, black cherry with a floral grace note; light on the palate in spite of 13.5% alcohol. (88)
  • Eszterbauer Bikaver 2009 (38% Kekfrankos, 8% Kadarka, 16% Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir): deep ruby colour; earthy blackcurrant and plum nose; rich mouth feel, dry with a floral uplift on the finish. (88)
  • Eszterbauer Bikaver 2007: dense purple-ruby; floral, cherry; licorice, cherry with supple tannins; well balanced and elegant. (90)
  • Eszterbauer Mesterünk 2007 (Bordeaux blend): dense purple ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant nose with a floral note; rich, dry sweet and savoury taste with cocoa powder tannins. Medium-bodied. (89+)
  • Eszterbauer Mesterünk 2009: (less Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend): earthy, cedar, gamey note; soft mouth feel, dry, medium-bodied, still tight. (88)
  • Eszterbauer Tivald 2007 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple colour; cedar, gamey, blackcurrant nose; sweet fruit with a dark chocolate note; firm on the palate with drying tannins. Needs time. (90)
Andros Takler

Andros Takler

János Eszterbauer

János Eszterbauer

Next stop: Takler winery. The owner, Ferenc Takler, took us through the cellar to the tasting room – a replica of a fifteenth century chapel. First we tasted a series of 2011 wines from the barrel, Pinot Noir (a Hungarian clone aged in French oak and 777, a French clone, aged in Hungarian oak), Kekfrankos, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. 2011 could be as good as 2007. Takler has 61 hectares and produces some 600,000 bottles.

  • Takler Trio Kadarka 2008: ruby; light smoky raspberry and blackcurrant nose; fresh, spicy raspberry, light on the palate, fresh; easy drinking. Soft mouth feel with a tannic lift on the finish (87)

Upstairs to taste finished wine over a plate of homemade sausage.

  • Takler Bikaver 2007 (Kekfankos, Kadarka, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc): deep ruby; blackcurrant, oak nose; robust, fruity and firm with a dry finish. (88)
  • Takler Kekfrankos Reserve 2009: dense purple-ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose; sour cherry with a floral note; medium-bodied, fruity, well-crafted with a dry finish. Fine mouth feel. (89)
  • Takler Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009: deep ruby colour; spicy, cedar, currants on the nose; lovely mouth feel, firmly structured, elegant, creamy blackcurrant flavour with lively, balancing acidity. (90)
  • Takler Primarius Merlot 2007: dense ruby colour; vanilla oak, blackcurrant, caramel note; richly extracted, soft mouth feel, sweet fruit, firmly structured with a savoury finish. Good length. (91)
  • Takler Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007: dense purple-black colour; cedar, blackcurrant nose; well extracted fruit, firm and tight with ripe tannins. (89)
  • Takler Regnum 2003 (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Kekfrankos): dense ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak nose; sweet, smoky flavour, intense fruit flavour, still very youthful, supple tannins. (91)

Back in Budapest in time for my Master Class on Icewine. About 60 people turned up and the wines they tasted were:

  • Casa Peiso Blaufränkisch Eiswein 2009 (Austria)
  • Pillitteri Cabernet Franc Icewine (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)
  • Weingut Alfred Fischer Grüner Veltliner Eiswein 2005 (Neusidlersee, Burgenland)
  • Ice Wine Myskhako 2009 (Black Sea Coast)
  • Borbely Family Wine Cellar Badacsonyi Olasz Riesling Icewine 2009 (Hungary)
  • Esterhazy Cuvee Eiswein 2009 (Austria)
  • Pillitteri Vidal Icewine 2006 (Ontario)

At the end of the tasting (during which there was simultaneous translation for those who did not speak English) I asked for a show of hands for the Icewine they liked best. Overwhelming favourite was Pillitteri Vidal Icewine 2006.

Dinner at Manna Lounge. Started with Tomaz Durszi Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2011, roast duck liver on toast with chorizo and crispy shallnot with Eszterbauer Tuke Bull’s Blood 2009. Rack of veal with purée of asparagus and jus with Somlói Juhfark 2010. Marzipan soufflé with cinnamon almond, with Arvay Late Harvest Furmint 2010. Finished the evening with a glass of Barta Őreg Kiraly Dulo Mad Furmint 2008.

Monday, March 26: Awoken at 3 am by the hotel taken out its garbage and an hour later by the garbage truck coming to collect it. At 9:30 joined David Bird, who works with Royal Tokaji Company, to drive to Mad to begin a tour of Tokaji.

Entrance to Royal Tokaji Wine Company

Entrance to Royal Tokaji Wine Company

Royal Tokaji Company's Eszencia 2007

Royal Tokaji Company's Eszencia 2007

Istvan Turoczi and Josef Kosarka enterting Royal Tokaji cellars

István Turóczi, and Josef Kosarka enterting Royal Tokaji cellars

We stopped in at Royal Tokaji Company, where the General Manager, István Turóczi, insisted we make a quick tour of the cellars including the ancient caves that date back to the 13th century and stretch for 1000 metres on three levels. In the garden is a bust of Hugh Johnson, one of the owners of the company. István insisted we taste some wines.

  • Royal Tokaji Company Dry Furmint 2010: straw coloured with a spicy pear and quince nose and a floral grace note. (89)
  • Royal Tokaji Company Yellow Muscat 2011: very pale colour, spicy and fragrant; fleshy with a crisp dry finish and good length. (88)
  • Royal Tokaji Company Eszencia 2007: light amber colour; honey, spicy apricot, unctuous and thick on the palate. Too rich to mark. 700 grams per litre residual sugar and 22 grams per litre acidity!
A special spoon for serving Tokaji Eszencia

A special spoon for serving Tokaji Eszencia

The next stop: István Szepsy, who owns 50 hectares in 15 different terroirs. He told me that for his dry wine he can get 2000 bottles per hectare; for his sweet wine 800 bottles per hectare. For his Aszu wines he picks them berry by berry. His cellar under the house was built in 1790.

  • Szepsy Szent Tamás Furmint 2008 (60-year-old vines): golden colour with a lime tint; minerally, peach and green pineapple flavours, elegant and beautifully balanced. (90)

In 2000 István made the first dry Furmint of quality in Hungary, using fruit from old vineyards, low yield, barrel-fermented with battonage.

  • Szepsy SzepsyFurmint 2009: gold with a lime tint; rich and spicy, round on the palate, melon flavor with fine acidity and a herbal-minty note on the finish. (90)
  • Szepsy Szent Tamás Dry Furmint 2007 (100% new oak): golden colour; toasty, smoky barnyard nose, minerally and full-bodied. (90)
  • Szepsy Samarodni 2008 (70% Furmint, 25% Hárslevelü, 5% Yellow Muscat, two years in barrel): a spicy, luscious wine with tropical fruit flavours, rich mouth feel with great balance. (92)
  • Szepsy Aszu 6 puttonyos 2005: pale amber colour; rich, spicy, barley sugar, honey and orange flavours; thick on the palate with amazing length. (93)
  • Szepsy Aszu 6 puttonyos 2006: one of the best dessert wines I’ve tasted – rich barley sugar and orange flavours, mouth-filling but not cloying, very elegant with a flavour that satys on the palate for an unconscionable time. (95) 229 grams/litre residual sugar, 10 grams/litre acidity and 10.5% alcohol. Just an amazing wine.
István Szepsy

István Szepsy

Then we drove on to Barta winery where Károly Barta toured his wines over lunch (pâtés, homemade sausage, prosciutto and bread).

  • Barta Őred Kiraly Dülo Mad Furmint 2009: white gold colour, dry, elegant in spite of its 14.5% alcohol. (88)
  • Barta Furmint Selection 2009: old gold colour; spicy, nutty, dry and round on the palate. (89)
  • Barta Furmint 2008: nutty, dry and elegant with a dry sherry nose, leaner than the 2009 with lively acidity. (89)
  • Barta Furmint Muscat Ottonel 2008 (60/40): straw colour; fragrant, minerally, honey and orange blossom nose; sweet but well balanced. (90)
  • Barta Samarodni 2008: honeyed, apricot, sweet and firm on the palate with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (88)
  • Barta Aszu 6 puttunyos 2008: light lemon colour, honeyed apricot and orange flavor; medium-bodied with lively acidity; well balanced with great length. (90)

Our next stop is Gábor Orosz. His labels show an 1882 map of Mad’s vineyards of which he owns seven portions in the best sites totaling 7 hectares. His single vineyard wine labels are designated with a gold strip on the map showing where the grapes were grown. He owns a further 10 hectares jointly with his sister. The lesser wines go into a second label, Bodvin.

  • Bodvin Primor Furmint 2011: sprizty, light, simple, quince flavor with fresh acidity. (86)
  • Orosz Gabór Király Hárslevelü 2009: gold with a lime tint; fragrant nose; spicy, floral, peach flavor. (88)
  • Orosz Gabór Nyulászó Furmint Hárslevelü 2009: straw colour with a lime tint; fragrant, spicy, fruity peach flavor with lively acidity. (89)
  • Orosz Gabór Beetsek Furmint 2009: deep straw with a lime tint; minerally, toasty oak, spicy nose; dry, ripe fruit flavours of peaches and spring flowers; full-bodied with citrus acidity. (89+)
  • Bodvin Betrek Muscat Lunel 2011 (tank sample): spritzy, spicy, grapey; perfumed, fresh and lively, easy drinking. (88)
  • Orosz Gabór Sárgamuskotály 2009 (130 grams/litre residual sugar; 7.5 g/l acidity): golden with a lime tint; spicy orange blossom nose; sweet, honeyed orange with a floral note; full on the palate; beautifully balanced and clean. Soft on the palate. Like biting into a sweet Muscat grape. (91)
  • Orosz Gabór Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1993: deep amber colour; mature, honey, orange peel nose reminiscent of Vin Santo. Orange, toffee and barely sugar flavours, spicy, dried apricot; great length with lively acidity and perfectly balanced. (95)
  • Orosz Gabór Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2003: old gold-amber colour; a nose of vanilla oak, orange and honey; beautifully balanced clean and pure orange, dried apricot and honey flavours with an engaging tobacco note. Wonderful mouth feel and great length. (95)

These wines, says Orosz, can take two years for ferment. He told me that Ludovico Antinori bought the entire 2003 vintage of this wine.

  • Orosz Gabór Szamarodni Dry 2002: deep golden colour; nutty, dry sherry-like nose; dry, elegant, green nut flavor with a floral grace note. This wine spent five years in barrel. (89)

On the drive back to Budapest Josef and I stopped at a rustic restaurant in Bodrogkeresztúr called Lebuz for a bowl of catfish soup with paprika and a glass of Bene Hárslevelü 2011.

Tuesday, March 27: Heard on the 8 am news that there is a baggage handlers’ strike at German airports. I have to fly to Frankfurt and change planes for my Toronto flight. As it turned out, the strike was over at 2 pm and my flight was only delayed by an hour and a half. Deborah picked me up at the airport and Pinot the Wonderdog gave me a Wheaten greeting when we got home.

Wednesday, March 28: Spent the day on emails and writing my Commentary for Tidings and preparing for tomorrow’s Grapes For Humanity event.

Thursday, March 29: Final preparations this morning for “RAW! The Great Toronto Tartare-Off” at The Imperial Room, Fairmont Royal York. The competing chefs are:


  • Brook Cavanagh – La Palette
  • Mark Cutrara – Cowbell
  • Jason Bangeter – Luma
  • Jamie Kennedy – Gilead
    beef tenderloin
  • Didier Leroy – Didier
    beef tenderloin
  • Lorenzo Loseto – George
  • Patrick McMurray – Starfish
    beef tenderloin with oyster
  • Tim Palmer – The Fairmont Royal York
  • Albert Ponzo – Le Select Bistro
  • Luke Wood- Thornton’s Wine and Tapas Room, Yellowknife
    musk ox-beef tenderloin mix


  • Martin Malivoire – Malivoire Wines
    beef tenderloin
  • Paul Pender – Tawse Estate Wines
    beef tenderloin
  • Sue Ann Staff – Staff Wines
  • Harald Thiel – Hidden Bench Winery
Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench preparing salmon tartare

Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench preparing salmon tartare


  • Josh Josephson (Owner of the Cookbook Store)
  • Geddy Lee (who is also a director of Grapes for Humanity)
  • Chef John Higgins
  • Amy Rosen (food writer, National Post)
  • Corey Mintz (food writer, Toronto Star)
Geddy Lee and John Higgins judging tartares

Geddy Lee and John Higgins judging tartares

One hundred and seventy people tasted the Asian hors d’oeuvres prepared by students of Humber College under the leadership of Chef Leo Chan, French fries prepared fresh in the kitchen, as well as all the 10 chefs’ tartares and a sweet table. Plus lashings of wines provided by the four Ontario wineries, Winery Direct and importing agents, Profile Wine Group. The judges voted Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant as the best tartare. The amateur prize went to Paul Pender, winemaker at Tawse Winery.

Sommeliers Zoltan Szabo and Jamie Drummond tasted all the donated wines with the tartares and proclaimed the best match to be Rosewood Estate Pinot Noir 2010 with La Palette Chef Brook Kavanagh’s venison tartare.

A great evening, beautifully organized by Chair Doris Miculan Bradley and her committee of Jimson Bienenstock, Malcolm Jolley, Zoltan Szabo, Jamie Drummond, Sheila Swerling Puritt, Megan and Lindsay Groves. A special thanks to Steve Alexander of Cumbrae’s, who supplied all the meat. The proceeds from the event will go to building a high school in Basico, Guatemala. It was so successful we’re thinking of a reprise next year.

Friday, March 30: A tasting this morning at the LCBO of 40 wines from BC. The highlights were Meyer Family McLean Creek Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (91), Meyer Family Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (90), Blackwood Lane Viana Roja 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec – 90), Cassini Cellars Syrah Collection Series 2009 (90), Moon Curser Border Vines 2009 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot! – 90), Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (90) and Cassini Maximus 2009 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec).

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