Wine52 Explores the Balaton, Hungary
The latest case from Wine52 takes us to Hungary’s Lake Balaton, a huge lake central to Hungarian holidaymaking and life. The Balaton is a passion for all Hungarians, much loved and renowned for companionship, fun and of course wine. The region is surrounded by vineyards, a mixture of larger producers and family-owned plots which rarely make it outside of Hungary. And after tasting this case, who can blame them for keeping it all?
You will likely know Hungarian wine for one event a year, Christmas. Tokaji is often a treat to go with Christmas pudding or a cheese board for many and has largely overshadowed still wine production in Hungary. However, still wine is the most produced style by far. Admittedly, many families own small vineyards and make it for themselves, but as already said, it is rarely exported even if made by larger producers.
I’d like to focus on all the wines of this case, but there would be far too much to say, so I’ve honed in on my top 2.
Cafrang Rajnai Rizling
Incidentally the first I tried as I was eager to see what Hungary could do with the grape. It was perfumed and aromatic with a deep citrus core providing the fruit. As you might expect from zippy Riesling, lemon, lime and sour apple led the pack, with the lemon almost taking on a sherbet quality. White peach and acacia lent softness to this helping balance it out.
The palate was delightfully rounded, which can be an issue with Riesling. Certainly, the acidity was high, but not quite as high as you might expect from German or Austrian styles. You can tell the Balaton is a much warmer climate due to the riper fruit. It was more reminiscent of an Australian Riesling, cheeky suckingly dry and citrusy. Peach, apricot and juicy pear helped smooth out the zesty lime and lemon rind whilst a gentle hint of peppermint left a particularly fresh feeling on the palate. The finish lingered and left my mouth watering quite emphatically as the acidity teased away.
Thoughtfully sourced wines that express the Balaton as the hotbed of innovative winemaking it has become.
Kanikula, Bordeaux Blend
If you haven’t been to the Balaton, the label gives you a fantastic insight into the atmosphere during the Summer. Bordeaux blends can be hit and miss, often stuck between replicating the wines of Bordeaux and trying something new but losing character along the way. This wine perfectly mimics the Bordeaux style. You’d be hard pressed to identify it as anything else. The aromas were uncannily similar as blackcurrant, plum and blackberry led the fruits whilst menthol and tomato leaf gave a strong indication of a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Judicious use of oak was also very clear with woodsmoke and cassis.
The palate was again an unerring example of a good quality Bordeaux. The fruits were warming with blackberry, blackcurrant, plum and a strong helping of cranberry. I found the old oak influence even better integrated with the palate, giving subtler depth to the profile. The herbaceous element of Cabernet remained as well with a gentle hint of menthol acting as a spicier influence. You’ll also find that tomato leaf in the mix. The wine did show some early signs of development, in particular leather and chocolate had begun to come through and give the wine some good depth. Finally, the finish was soothing and robust as the expertly integrated tannin helped it slip down.
I’d actually suggest hanging onto this wine for a little while, if you can, as there is some room for it to improve but it does drink very well now too. An excellent food wine and a great example of Hungarian winemaking.
The name, meaning Princess, also deserves a mention. The grape is equally unpronounceable: Kiralyleanyka, or better known as Feteasca Regala which tends to hit the UK market from Moldovan wineries. However, it is worth noting this is a point of debate and some treat it as a separate variety altogether. Nonetheless, it isn’t at all far off if it is different.
It is a very light style of wine, displaying ripe peach and apricot aromas with a heavily perfumed undertone. It has beautiful florality too with honeysuckle and orange blossom. It in fact most reminded me of a cross between Muscadet and Asti due to its distinctive grapey flavour. It is uncommonly rare for a wine to actually smell of the things it is made out of, but this no doubt has Thompsons seedless about it. A slightly sweet flavour of sugar cane persists underneath a bed of zippy acidity, really brining it to life and making it perfect for hot weather drinking.
Overall, another fantastic case from Wine52 with thoughtfully sourced wines that express the Balaton as the hotbed of innovative winemaking it has become.
This blog was written by our wine expert, David Andrews. Read his Instagram blog @oinosattheoikos
Updated 2nd August 2023