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07.16.2008

Hungarian Wine on My Doorstep

After nearly five years of writing about wine on the Internet, you wouldn't believe all the things that I've been propositioned with. Of course, I get a lot of wine samples, but I also get all sorts of unsolicited e-mail offers of sample products (many of which have nothing to with wine), offers to pay me to review products or services, requests to visit various places, to have dinner with strangers, not to mention all the honest questions and requests for advice from wine lovers.

One of the oddest e-mails I've ever gotten however, was an e-mail that simply read something along the lines of, "Thank you for reviewing a Hungarian wine. This is a good wine, but there are many good wines in Hungary. I would like to bring you some one day."

I respond to all the e-mail I get, so I naturally wrote back thanking the gentleman for his offer and said he'd be welcome to if he really wanted to go to the effort. And then I promptly forgot about the exchange.

A little over a year later, however, I got another e-mail from the same guy telling me that a friend was going to be passing through San Francisco, and he had a package for me. 800px-Flag_of_Hungary.pngSure enough, a few days later, there was a stranger standing on my doorstep, thrusting a brown box into my hands and fleeing down the stairs with little more than a shy "OK!" and my call of "Thanks!" at his heels.

I'm used to getting wine from wineries, publicists, and importers. Most of the time they don't even bother asking me if I want it, it just shows up. But I'm quite unused to strangers offering me bottles simply out of what I assume in this case is immense kindness coupled with some national pride. Wine sparks something special in people that never ceases to amaze me.

Carefully wrapped inside the heavy brown box, triple sealed with tape, double wrapped with bubble wrap, I found a little treasure trove of Hungarian wine. I have no idea how my mysterious benefactor selected these wines, or whether he has any relationship with these vintners, but they represented a wider selection of Hungarian wine than I had ever had access to before, so there was only one thing to do. I sat down and tasted them.

Hungary is one of the least known wine regions of Europe, especially as far as most Americans are concerned. Those who are serious dessert wine lovers, however, may likely have heard of Tokaji Aszú, an amber colored sweet wine that has been coveted by wine lovers and royalty since the early 17th century.

In many ways the fame and popularity of Tokaji Aszú has eclipsed what is a broad and beautifully diverse wine region that produces many interesting red and white wines. Many people consider Hungary to be a serious up-and-coming concern in the wine world. Over a drink a few months ago, Lettie Teague, Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine let it slip that she thought dry Furmint was the veritable Next Big Thing, at least as far as white wines were concerned. I raised an eyebrow, but she was dead serious. Furmint is one of several white wine varieties native to Hungary (it's one of the components of Tokaji Aszú), and alone it can be made into lovely dry and off-dry wine.

In addition to whites, Hungary's next most famous wine would probably be Bikavér, or "Bulls Blood," a red wine of generally mediocre quality that has been a favorite in Eastern Europe for centuries. Where one finds middling red wine, however, it is often possible to find much better, and that is certainly true of Hungary, especially in the 21st century. With a long tradition of growing red wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, there are more and more producers who are attempting to make wines of extremely high quality, and some are succeeding.

Needless to say, as someone who enjoys "exploring" wine regions off the beaten path, this gift of wines was a real treat. Thank you, Richard.

TASTING NOTES

2006 Hollóvár Pincészet "Somloi" Furmint, Száraz Minaségi Fehérbor, Hungary
Medium blonde in the glass, this wine has a hint of honey and roasted wheat aromas in the nose. In the mouth it is smooth and lush, and bursting with fruit flavors that range from yellow plums to kiwifruit, with overtones of chamomile and other floral scents that linger into a long finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2006 Royal Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Pale gold in color, this wine has a very peculiar nose of celery and lipstick aromas. In the mouth it straightens up and flies right with flavors of unripe apples and candle wax, but doesn't manage much more than pleasant flavors. Score: around 8. Cost $15.
Where to buy?

2004 Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Pale green-gold in the glass, this wine has a waxy nose with subdued but juicy aromas of starfruit. In the mouth it offers nice flavors of unripe apple and starfruit, combined with a slightly waxy quality. Unfortunately the wine doesn't possess quite as much acidity as it should in my opinion, which makes it fall a little flat on the palate, despite delicious flavors. Score: around 8.5.

2006 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec, Hungary
Pale green-gold in color, this wine smells like what I think a melon perfume might smell like if anyone ever tried to make one. In the mouth it offers gorgeous flavors of a cornucopia of tropical fruits. I'm sitting here looking at my tasting note feeling a little ridiculous at the string of adjectives I wrote down: golden apples, melon, yellow plums, gooseberries. Great acidity gives this wine a bounce on the palate and a juiciness through its long finish. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28 .
Where to buy?

2006 Kiralyudvar "Lapis" Late Harvest Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and sultanas. In the mouth it feels satiny and thick on the tongue and offers slightly sweet flavors of apricot, honeysuckle, and pineapple, with a spicy undercurrent that lasts through the moderate finish. This is a very unique wine with a great personality. Score: around 9. Cost: $20

2000 Hetfurtos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos, Hungary
Bright orange-gold in color, this wine has a heady bouquet of honey and tamarind fruit. In the mouth it is thick, liquid silk that is buoyed up by bright shining acidity meaning that instead of being syrupy, this wine is a live, electric stream of apricot essence straight to the taste buds. It is however, so sweet it makes my teeth hurt, but no matter. This is dessert we're talking about here. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2004 Malatinszky Kuria Cabernet Franc, Villanyi, Hungary
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a distinctive, nutty set of aromas on the nose. In the mouth that nutty quality continues with flavors of hazelnuts, almond skin, and leather wrapped around a core of red fruit, and structured with slightly grippy tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2004 Weininger & Gere Cabernet Franc, Villanyi, Hungary
Inky ruby in the glass, this wine has a lush nose of cherry and plum aromas. In the mouth it has a lovely balance between bright cherry and plum fruit, and a green wood quality that gives it an earthy depth and attitude. Nice length on the palate and smooth texture make this a very nice wine. Score: around 9.

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