2003 Ferenc Takler “Proprietors Reserve” Cabernet Franc, Szekszárd, Hungary

It’s not often that I come across Hungarian wines at all, especially given my very low tolerance for dessert wines. Hungary is, of course, famous for its Tokaji dessert wines, whose sugar levels are measured in puttonyos or “buckets” of sugar. My last occasion to review a Hungarian wine turned Vinography into an instant destination for wine-loving Hungarians, who arrived in droves with suggestions, praise, and travel tips after a Hungarian internet news site picked up my review.

I may be potentially opening the floodgates again with this review, but I can hardly help myself from reviewing this stunning wine that a friend was kind enough to share over dinner the other night. My experience with this wine is enough to convince me that Hungarians have been saving some of their best wine to drink themselves, while we consume sugar by the bucketful.

While the northeastern part of the country plays host to Tokaji, the region which has been producing sweet wines from botrytized (Noble rot infected) grapes for hundreds of years, the southwestern part of Hungary contains several wine regions that are increasingly experimenting with international varietals. Villány is perhaps the better known of these regions, but along with it, Szekszárd has now started to gain more attention from wine drinkers around the world. Both regions have started to produce rich red wines of unusual character, and in particular, from the Cabernet Franc varietal.

Lest anyone (who isn’t Hungarian) think that these are relatively new wine regions, you need only turn to the poetry of Janos Garai, who in 1846, described Szekszárd as the home of the famous Bikaver, or Bulls Blood. Franz Schubert’s favorite wine came from the ancient local grape Kadarka, “The Nectar of Szekszárd,” which led to his composition of the Trout Quintet. Another famous devotee of Szekszárd wines was Franz Liszt who composed the Szekszárd Mass to honor the region. Liszt purportedly also sent Pope Pius IX a Szekszárd red wine as a personal gift.

Ferenc Takler’s family has been making wine in the Szekszárd region even before Janos Garai was writing poetry, starting in the 18th century, and maintaining a tradition handed down from father to son. Today Takler works his 75 acres of grapes in 9 different regions of the appellation with the help of his sons who help him produce the winery’s portfolio of local and international varieties. The winery makes Kadarka, Bikavér (known famously as Bull’s Blood), and Kékfrankos (better known as Blaufrankisch elsewhere in Europe), along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

Takler’s wines, along with many other Hungarian wines are now being brought into the country courtesy of Monarchia, a marketing and importation company(whose web site is a bit broken at the moment) who seems to have gathered together a number of winemakers like Takler under one roof. The Takler label also bears the name Monarchia, leading to some confusion by wine lovers.

This wine is made from 100% Cabernet Franc. After harvest, the grapes are fermented in traditional, open top fermenters and the wine is aged in French oak barrels before bottling. 119 cases are produced.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is dark, opaque garnet in the glass, and has a multilayered nose that initially displays aromas of walnuts, lavender, cassis, and violets. Over time it became less floral and more caramel in quality, and finally settled into what my wife correctly pegged as the smell of charred marshmallow. In the mouth it is lush and full, with excellent balance, sumptuous, silky tannic structure, and complex flavors of black cherry, plum, and some hints of nuttiness as it powers towards a stunning finish. Very approachable, even given its young age, it’s likely however that this wine will improve over the next 4 to 6 years. One of the best single varietal Cabernet Francs I’ve ever had.

Food Pairing:
This wines depth and richness demand a rich red meat dish. I’d love to drink it with a braised lamb shank with rosemary and tomatoes.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

How Much?: $60

This wine can be purchased on the internet.