Tasting Hungary at The Little Nell

After the Aspen Food and Wine Classic I finally found some time to put together a little tasting/class on Tokaj and Eger. We've had some bottles left over from previous year's FWC and FurmintUSA was kind enough to let us have a couple of bottles each. In addition to that, thanks to Blaine Christian the Denver-based importer of Nimrod Kovacs wines from Eger, we were able to taste some of the best wines from the region, wines that essentially never make it to Aspen.

 Tokaj is great for breakfast

Tokaj is great for breakfast

I've invited mainly my colleagues from the Sommelier team and Food and Beverage department and extended the invite to all sommeliers in town. 

Obviously everyone knew Tokaj, however they almost never got to experience the dry and/or dryish wines from the region, especially not such a wide range of them. So it was a great opportunity to freshen up on some of the aspects of what we've learned about Tokaj. Geography, climate, history. Through the wines and the story of the wineries and winemakers hopefully I was able to bring the region a little closer to everyone in the room.

 I've talked about every wine while showing information on it on a slide

I've talked about every wine while showing information on it on a slide

We've tasted 6 dry or dryish wines and a superb 5 Puttonyos Aszú from the Béres Winery from 2007. 

The first 7 were: 

  1. Holdvölgy Vision Dry Selection 2013
  2. Béres Tokaj Furmint 2014
  3. Erzsébet Pince Estate Furmint 2012
  4. Basilicus Estate Cuveé 2012
  5. Majoros Deák Single Vineyard Furmint 2013
  6. Barta Öreg Király Single Vineyard Furmint 2012
  7. Béres Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2007

The overall judgement of the wines was very positive. However, here is the deal: we've tasted 7 different wines (including the Aszú) and they were made in 7 different styles. It was somewhat confusing for someone who is not familiar with Tokaj. Going through dry, single varietal Furmint blended from different plots as an estate wine, through dryish Furmint/Hárslevelű/etc. blends,  or single vineyard, single varietal wines, dry, off-dry,  in a reductive style, with new oak or used. You can see how this can be looked upon as the beauty of diversity for a small region, but this can create difficulties for marketing and sales as well. And then there are the top products of the Tokaj product pyramide: the Aszú, the Szamorodni and the Eszencia.

 Coming in a few hours early for their shift or even on their day of to learn...that's what you call dedication! #nellstyle #bestteam #thelittlenell

Coming in a few hours early for their shift or even on their day of to learn...that's what you call dedication! #nellstyle #bestteam #thelittlenell

Carlton compares Furmint mainly with Chenin Blanc if asked. It indeed has many similarities in terms of charachteristic and of course the styles it shines in. This resonates with the opinion of Attila Fiath, hungarian wine expert. He says, there needs to be a strategic decision whether the region is about Furmint or Tokaj, preferably for the latter. Saying that Furmint can be grown elsewhere (just like Chenin), but there is only one Tokaj. And the notion or strategy of putting your bets on Furmint and Furmint alone, predetermines the lifespan and the status what the varietal by itself can reach.

 Watching closely are Carlton McCoy, MS and Wine Director at The Little Nell, Petra Hajdú, official from the Hungarian National Trading House.  /Everyone was extremely interested in the 1867 map of the vineyards of the village of Mád/

Watching closely are Carlton McCoy, MS and Wine Director at The Little Nell, Petra Hajdú, official from the Hungarian National Trading House.

/Everyone was extremely interested in the 1867 map of the vineyards of the village of Mád/

The Aszú from Béres Winery stood out, there is no question about it. Chris Dunaway, Head Sommelier at The Little Nell was amazed by the value of such a high quality wine for just under 40$ a bottle. Whereas we are currently selling the 2001 Chateau d'Yquem 375ml for 1650$ on our wine list. So there is that to think about.

 I've talked a little more extensive about the Öreg Király, or Király (Old King) single vineyard

I've talked a little more extensive about the Öreg Király, or Király (Old King) single vineyard

As I mentioned the dry wines were all made in a different style. It was good to see that everyone found something that they liked, whether it was a reductive blend or a single vineyard, single varietal Furmint where battonage was implemented.

The region needs to come up with a concept on what comes behind the sweet wines. There is a product pyramide introduced by the gentleman mentioned above, which puts the sweet wines up top, followed by single vineyard wines, village wines and region wines. This puts Tokaj definitely on the right track, but there are many more questions to be answered within. 

I'm for one am a big fan of the varietal Hárslevelű and think it works great in the blend - whether sweet, off-dry or dry - and in the right hands in the right style as a single varietal wine. I do believe however that the future for Tokaj is bright, but there is a lot of hard work ahead both in the vineyards, the cellars and in the "front-of-the-house department."

 Carlton leads by example - even a Master Sommelier learns something new every day.

Carlton leads by example - even a Master Sommelier learns something new every day.

From Nimrod Kovacs we could taste the following:

  1. Nyilasmár és Nagyfai Vineyard Monopole Kékfrankos 2013 "Blues"
  2. Nyilasmár és Nagyfai Vineyard Monopole Syrah 2012 "Soul"
  3. Nagy Eged Vineyard Cuveé 2009 "NJK"

Unfortunately the Furmint we had was corked, which would have been great to compare with a couple of Furmints from Tokaj. Oh, well.

 Blaine Christian from Nimrod Wines took over, so I could enjoy some wine as well

Blaine Christian from Nimrod Wines took over, so I could enjoy some wine as well

Blaine drove up all the way from Denver to talk about the winery, the wines and of course the exciting life of Nimród Kovács, whose story could easily be a Hollywood movie script. In 1971 he flees through Yugoslavia to Italy by swimming, gets to the United States, becomes a server to finance his college education at DU. He learns a lot about people during this time, which he later relies on in his business ventures. He becomes a marketing expert in New York and later gets into the cable business. In business circles he is mostly known for bringing HBO to Central Europe.

In 2000 he and a couple of his friends established Monarchia, a wine trading company. This led him to buy a winery in Eger and this is where we are now.

Nimrod wines (1 of 1).jpg

They work on 10 hectares with Furmint, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. 

The name of Eger became synonymous with cheap, bad quality red wine, mainly Bikavér. Kovács Nimród Winery and a few other winemakers (St. Andrea, Böjt, Thummerer, Bolyki just to name a few) of Eger are on the forefront of changing this preconception. In the past few years they re-discovered some of the old single vineyards such as Nagy-Eged, Nyilasmár, Nagyfai. They are working on defining Egri Bikavér as a brand and as a wine. There is a very approachable new brand called Egri Csillag on the market, which is a blend from the region.

 Hungary's most planted red grape varietal: Kékfrankos

Hungary's most planted red grape varietal: Kékfrankos

Back to the wines: the "Blues" Kékfrankos from 2013 is a very interesting wine. It shows the incredible potential of the varietal in Eger. This wine has spent 22 months in Hungarian oak, 30% new and 70 used. Finding the style it shines in the most has yet to come. Also, I think this would drink best  within 5-7 years. All in all, it is a quite approachable varietal Kékfrankos that has the possible potential to grow up to its counterparts in Szekszárd and Burgenland. 

 Another varietal that thrives in Eger: Syrah

Another varietal that thrives in Eger: Syrah

I enjoyed the Syrah a bit better, I thought it was a cleaner representation of the varietal and the fact that they used french and hungarian barrique for 18 months just made it that much more likeable for me. I find it highly interesting how Syrah will do on this relatively cool region where along the volcanic riolittufa bedrock you can find clay and limestone as well. Drink it now or next year.

 The flagship cuveé of Nimród Kovács from the Nagy-Eged Vineyard from Eger. Despite the unusual blend a remarkable wine, although quite young. Made of Kékfrankos and Syrah

The flagship cuveé of Nimród Kovács from the Nagy-Eged Vineyard from Eger. Despite the unusual blend a remarkable wine, although quite young. Made of Kékfrankos and Syrah

The flagship of the winery is a blend of Kékfrankos 73%, and Syrah 27%. Aged for 24 months in 70% Hungarian barrique and 30% in french barrique. Based on the blend and what they bring to the table this is a great food wine. However it is relatively young to be drinking it now, I would love to try it in a couple of years from now. 

Everyone was positively surprised by the quality that comes from Eger, which is a good sign for the future of the region.

 

@ The Nell Team: thank you again for your time!

@FurmintUSA & KNW: thank you for the wines!

@Petra & Blaine: thanks for your help as well!

Peter Kovacs

Budapest, Budapest,