Sunday, 18 May 2014

Grand Budapest

Ah, Budapest! What a great city. We have been visiting on and off (mainly off) since we were students. It's looking better than ever these days even though the economy is in dire straits if you believe the Hungarians. As a privileged visitor you don't notice this immediately but small signs betray a degree of desperation. We needed to ferry some important clients across one of the big boulevards and a few metres down a side street a block away. It was raining so we asked a taxi to take us. No problem. We prepaid a transfer from the airport to the centre of town by minibus for a fraction of the price of a taxi and when we asked how to go on to our hotel, the driver offered to take us for a couple of Euros.

The food is great and the wine is both original and exceptional. In town, the Kiraly Borhaz (Royal Cellar) is now back where it started opposite the Hilton Hotel in Buda.

 There the underground warren of corridors and alcoves seemed to come straight out of 'Bluebeard's Castle'.

The atmosphere is certainly serious but it was not wives that were immured in the walls but bottles of wines from all regions, available for tasting and acquiring (upstairs).

For the tasting, we were able to choose the wines which interested us. We asked for native grape varieties of course, a mixture of white and red and a combination of different regions.

The standout here was Kertesz's Kiraleyanika. We had tasted a Leanika in the past but Kiraleanika is another variety altogether (possibly an offspring). Immediately taken by the name (Isztvan Kertesz was a Chief Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s who tragically drowned in a swimming accident) and the label. Appropriately Kertesz means gardener in Hungarian. Kertesz wines proved impossible to buy in shops or even the fantastically comprehensive Hungaricum Airport shop at the Liszt Ferenc International Airport we discovered on our departure from Budapest on which more anon.

Kertesz's Kiraleyanika was aromatic and full of personality. It also had a lovely golden colour. 13%. While waiting for our next wine our eyes were drawn to this bottle:

Arany means Gold, Sar means mud and Feher means white. Arany Sarfeher is thought to be the white mutation of Kadarka. We rather liked the appearance of this Kadarka too. 

Count Butler seemed a promising name for a wine with an appropriately heraldic label too. In general Hungarian graphics are rather good.

Kovidinka was also something we just saw on the shelves: a new one on us but one that was to figure in our purchases later.

We found an example by none other than Oszkar Maurer at Bortarsasag in town. We look forward to drinking this version.

In the tasting, this was the second wine to be offered. We had tasted Juhfark before and on that occasion it reminded us of basic Socialist era wine. This example was midway between that and a more international sort of wine. It has a rounded sweetness yet plenty of acidity. 13.5%

No. 3 was Isztvandy's Badasconyi Keknyelu. Quite flowery with some sweetness. 12.5%. Nice.

For the red, Heimann's Kadarka was spicy indeed, vineous with some good acidity.  Perhaps not quite in the league of Oszkar Maurer's Kadarka, our discovery at last year's RAW wine fair in London.

The Hungaricum wine and food shop at Budapest airport is as fine an airport duty free as can be found anywhere in the world, we are confident of saying. Not only an airport duty free but a fantastic embassy for Hungarian wine. The choice and variety is greater than any wineshop in town. Please, oh please don't let this wonderful institution go the same way as other airport Duty Free initiatives such as Berry Bros. and Rudd at LHR3 or the New York wineshop at Kennedy.

We couldn't believe our luck in being able to buy anything we wanted (with the single exception of Kertesz wines - Maurers are technically from Serbia) without having to take the risk of putting them in check in luggage. Indeed, no need to check luggage in at all! Here are photos of as many shelves as we were able to photograph before a member of staff told us that photography was (inexplicably) forbidden:

                                                                        Falufely and Matias
                                                                       Gere and Sauska


We bought a Kiralyleanyka from Hilltop (10.5%. not as tasty as the Kertesz but good in a more neutral style),

a Keknyelu from Matias (also 10.5%, not hugely impressive but again, hitting the spot as a refreshing food wine),

something truly original, a wine from a grape formerly known as Medoc Noir, now Menoire presumably for the same reasons at Tocai Rosso is now Tai Rosso and Tocai Friulano is now Friulano. Actually the French don't need to worry about their name Medoc being taken in vain in this case because Medoc Noir/Menoire is actually a native Hungarian variety of mysterious origins.

a Portugieser from Gere that we has so enjoyed at a restaurant the evening before and a Kadarka. We were soon to enjoy another Portugieser in Leipzig. Could producers finally be getting a handle on this frequently unpromising variety? We hope so because like Schiava/Vernatsch it is capable of producing exactly the kind of light and refreshing reds which are in such short supply.

What strides Hungarian wine is making! As long as they celebrate their diversity without toning it down too much the future looks great.

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