A bottle I bought at the estate in winter 2010. Rather out of curiosity than enjoyment: I find István Szepsy’s Hárslevelű often on the plump side, with slightly more alcohol than I’d like, and that was my perception of the 2006 vintage back then. It’s not only a Szepsy problem: Hárslevelű, that classic Hungarian variety normally used in dry and sweet Tokaj to pump up the exotic aroma and broad body, is suffering from global warming. In Tokaj, Eger, Somló and elsewhere, I’ve seen 15% alc. on the label on many occasions. These wines are often enticingly rich but definitely excessive on the palate.
This example is 13.9% but the nose announces a warm vintage and has a whiff of the delicious local Tokaj apricot spirit, pálinka. As it turns out, it is more in the sense of distilled aromatic concentration than alcoholic headiness. The purity of fruit in mouth is absolutely superb. Even as the wine warms up, the alcohol is not excessive and the acidity is excellent throughout. Although Szepsy operate now a 100% malolactic fermentation policy that often makes his wine round and soft, there is freshness and minerality here.
It’s by no means an easy wine, with some rough edges and plenty – perhaps too much –restrained power but it is a memorable one. At one point I though it was both quintessentially typical for Hárslevelű and transcending its varietal dimension – towards a more universal autumnal richness of magnified fruit and at the same time, a universal terroir expression of magnified cool minerality. It is a grand wine that in its concentration of flavour, sums up what is best about wine in general: the ability to transport. If Szepsy didn’t exist, we’d need to invent him.
Source of wine: own purchase.