On a sunny september day, I made a day trip with Nathalie to Szent Orban , Huba Szeremley's estate in Badacsony on the Balaton . She is a freelance journalist specialized on wine, she lives in Budapest and we met at Borfalu , where we made the arrangements with Gabor Kardos, the estate's sales manager for a visit. Nathalie writes articles about hungarian wines in the JFB, Budapest's french newspaper read by french expats. She took her car and it took us between 2 and 3 hours to drive the 165 km to Badacsony .
Once there , we took a road up-hill on the mountain overlooking the lake, and soon reached Szent Orban , which is the other name of the estate , which goes also under the name of "First Hungarian Wine House" . It is also the name of the Estate's Restaurant , which is where we met Gabor Kardos . Szent Orban Borhaz (winery) is named after a pope who was martyred in AD 230 .
We waited a few minutes for Gabor, looking at the great view over the Balaton from the shady terrace , where the waiter brought us a first glass of wine :
__1 Muscat Ottonel . Nose slightly Muscat . Fresh wine which is welcome , this is still summer, here . Condensation forms on the chilled glass . Gabor Kardos soon joins us . He is fluent in french . He studied at the Sorbonne in paris and began to work on hungarian wines while in France . He works for Huba Szeremley since 6-7 years . He jokes that in this estate , you have to climb to reach the cellar and drive down to go to the chai ( the restaurant is at mid-slope while the cellar is 200 meters away up-hill and the chai is below, near Badacsony ) , which indicates, he adds, the sacred role of the cellar here .
Speaking of the wines of the estate , he says harmony sums it up . This harmony here is a gift from the nature around , the lake , the orientation , the breeze and the volcanic soil . They don't need to be centered on concentration here, and don't chaptalize at all . The climate allows that , and they don't even trim the foliage . He drives us to the cellar . From the outside , a small bulging buiding on the mountain's slope . Inside , a reception room and a closed wooden door leading to the cellar . I was very disappointed to be so close to it and not even have a glimpse inside , but he said only the chai master had the key , actually the code . This small building was reconstructed in the early 90's , the communists having bulldozed the previous one . But thanks to the one-meter-thick walls , the cellar survived behind the ruins . We climbed onto its roof to look at the view as Gabor serves us a second wine :
__2 White Pinot Noir 2004 ( Pinot Noir vinified like a white) . I raise the glass and marvel at its transparency : pure water ...Asking how this wine could be so clear, he says it was pressed very fast . Mineral wine , freshness . I liked this fresh and light wine in Borfalu , and so did I here . About the estate , he says it has about 118 hectares of vineyards on the slopes of several mountains near Badacsony, from the one on wich we stand to St Georg , a mountain/hill a few kilometers away . The Badacsony mountain was sacred in the antiquity , and Badacsony means the miracle of Bada . About the volcanic nature of the region and the soil , it can be seen in the basaltic organs hovering over us . The ground itself contains volcanic debris which are of the utmost importance for this terroir .
He adds that because of these peculiar conditions , the microclimate here has three suns : the sun up there in the sky , the sun down there (he points to the lake) shining through the reflexions in the Balaton, and the "black" sun down under , shining through the reverberation of the underground basalts .
__3 Badacsony Keknyelu (Blue Stalk) 2003 . This Hungarikum (Indigenous hungarian grape variety) made the Badacsony Appellation famous as early as in the 3rd century (2 centuries before the first Bordeaux) when Emperor Probus created a dozen appellations (including Cote Rotie in then-not-yet-named France) . Son of a vigneron and born in Pannonia (Sirmium), a region of present-day Hungary which was then part of the Empire, he ordered to replant vineyards there as in Gaul . Rome had previously ordered to uproot all non-italian vineyards to protect its "wine industry" (sounds familiar) .
This is a white wine . Nice length in the mouth . Fruity . Still on the primary aromas, Gabor says , adding that the very high acidity of this wine is hidden by the fruit, and it will stand out after a year . So, this wine is still a baby, and must wait ideally 10 years before expressing itself , and up to 30, 40 years for its complete maturity . I wish I could wait to check that . This grape variety is very special : the vines grow only female flowers (usually, in other varieties, both sexes are grown and self pollinate), which means a more arduous pollination, which in turn results in lower yields , about 25-30 hectoliter/hectare . But the wine has an enormous laying down potential and resists oxydation , wich proved useful in the ancient times, when the wine was shipped in casks across Europe . We now head back for the terrace of St Orban restaurant to taste more of the wines .
__4 badacsony Szurkebarat (Pinot Gris) 1996 (white) . Means "grey monk" in hungarian . This variety may be of hungarian origin . They are quite proud to have kept growing this variety . We taste the wine with a great artisanal charcuterie plate, some of which is made out of mangalitsa, a local breed of pig . He says the estate also owns 3 farms , and also reintroduced the free-range gray longhorn beef, an ancient hungarian breed . By the way, he says the hungarian people and culture are neither western nor latin : they came from the Oural and North-Caucasus and settled in Hungary after a nomadic life across Europe . Sorry, too much talking , I did not note anything about this Szurbebarai 1996...But I am sure it was a nice wine .
__5 Badacsony Szurkebarat (Pinot Gris) 1997 (white) . Nice golden colour . Light and floral .
__6 Badacsony Rajnai Rizling 1997 (white) . Dry white wine . Aromatic . Matured in 3000 liter old casks , not for the oak flavor , but for a patient elevage wich lets its personnality express itself .
__7 Badacsony Szemlet Rizling 2003 (white) . A generic wine here : 200 000 bottles in 2003 . Length and intensity . Beautiful wine, a pleasure for the palate . Grapefruit aromas , pairs beautifully with the fish and vegetables we now eat . The 2002 millesime is sold out , even though he says it could be considered as still young , because this Szemlet Rizling can age very well . This 2003 is dry , he says the 2002 was half-dry . It is a sort of reference in Hungary , and can be found in good restaurants .
__8 Badacsony Szurkebarat-Sziren 2002 (white), a blend of two Rizlings made exclusively for restaurants in Hungary
__9 Pinot Noir 2003 (red) . I taste again this wine (Borfalu was last time). Great . Maturity, astounding generosity . I really like this Pinot Noir .[ I bought a bottle of this wine in Budapest before flying back (I brought back 13 bottles from different estates) and opened it in Paris : Same wonder , that I shared with B. Price was something like 6 Euro ] Gabor says the 1st millesime was 2001 .
__10 Badacsony Ovoros 2002 (red) . This is the "old red" , and its name refers to the return of the old tradition of red wines in Badacsony . After the war, the country went through what he calls "the red paradox" : the reds took the power, and uprooted the red grape varieties, planting high-yield white grape varieties instead . Here, Pinot Noir majority, with Bakator and a little of Cabernet . Spicy aromas; berries . Nice legs on the glass . 13,5° . He says the hearty side of this wine puts it in the same category as Bordeaux wines .
__11 Zeus 2001 (white) . Zeus is a grape variety name . Freshness, minerality . Dry fruits aromas . 120 g residual sugar, not discernable . unbelievable . 2001 was a great millesime . Harvest usually begins in october, and is carried out in several pickings for best maturity , with the last passage sometimes in december . 5000 to 10 000 bottles . Goes well with foie gras and dessert , he says .
Elso Magyar Borhaz Kft (First Hungarian Wine House)
H-8258 Badacsonytomaj, Fo u. 41
Phone +36 87 571 210
Fax +36 87 471 346