I’m in Budapest to sit (in great company) in the jury of the Pannon Wine Challenge, Hungary’s leading wine competition. I’m looking forward to some hard work, good fun, and hopefully an improvement of the situation here in Hungary.
Two years ago the majority of red wines were so dire as to provoke this outraged critique, the Hungarian understanding of a top red wine being 15–16% alcohol, overextraction, overoaking and pruney stewed fruit overripeness. Last year (I didn’t judge, but was invited to taste the 48 winners) there were signs of improvement, although the number of undrinkable blockbusters remained relatively high. My tastings in Poland throughout 2011 and 2012 confirm that Hungarian red wines are becoming more civilised, perhaps partly because the competition style has become economically unviable as the Hungarian economy implodes and the buying power of the aspiring classes shrinks.
I hope this trends continues, and look forward to tasting less oak, and more terroir in this year’s contestants. My greatest hopes lie with the region of Eger, especially with the Egri Bikavér blend (Bull’s Blood), not least because Eger is Hungary’s coolest red region and consequently least prone to excess. There is a number of very good estates here, including St. Andrea and Gróf Buttler. And time – in the sense of ageworthiness – is another reason why it’s worth making classic Bikavér.
Gearing up my palate for this trip, I opened my last bottle of a case of Monarchia Egri Bikavér Barrel Selection 2000, one of the top scoring wines of the 2005 Pannon Wine Challenge. What a beautiful bottle. At 12 years of age it is wonderfully alive, dynamic, refreshing, with no sign of decline and actually still tannic and firm for another 5 years of improvement. This wine was made at the Monarchia winery (now renamed Nimrod Kovács and making wines in a Californian style) by winemaker Tamás Pók (who currently operates his own family estate), one of the firmest believers in Eger typicity. So instread of aping the New World with overripe eucalyptus soupiness this wine is refreshingly continental, mineral, understated and now also beautifully complex and multi-faceted. I actually expected more evolution, because 12 years is a lot for a Bikavér from a warm vintage, but this bottle just sang. There is hope for Hungary.
Source of wine: own purchase.