A Lovely Wine Book for Christmas

I love wine and I love books and I really, really like books about wine, so when my friend Robert Smyth gave me a copy of his excellent new book I leapt into action and little more than a year later I wrote this review.

hungwine2Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World
Robert Smyth
ISBN-10: 1905131682
ISBN-13: 978-1905131686
September 2015, Blue Guides

Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk for £10.71.
Available in the US from Amazon.com for $10.00.

Robert lives in Budapest, lucky man that he is, and he really knows his stuff about Hungarian wine, so it was natural for him to write an English language guide to the wines of Hungary. I say ‘an’ English language guide, but I suspect that this is the definitive guide of the moment.

nagyeged

Vineyards on the Nagy-Eged hegy hill near Eger. Copyright Robert Smyth.

If you don’t know, Hungary really does make superb wines. It isn’t just the sweet whites of Tokaji either. Hungary is perhaps most famous for white wines from regions such as Lake Balaton, Somló, Neszmély, Mór and Pécs, amongst many others, but  there are first rate reds from regions like Villány – in the south near the Croatian border, Sopron in the north west by the Austrian border and Eger in the north east.

If Hungarian wine has passed you by and you want to explore it, either from the comfort of your own home, or by physically visiting the country and travelling around seeing the wine regions and their wines, then this could be the perfect book for you.

At just 351 pages, this handsome paperback is not a mighty tome of reference, but something that you can carry around and read and indeed use to guide your movements on that Hungarian wine road trip. I like the sub-title, A Tasting Trip to the New Old World, because that describes the book perfectly. It really does take you on that trip, whether you physically leave home or not, and Hungary is in some ways the New Old World of wine.

Hungary Map

It’s nicely, but unfussily written and manages to convey the sense of excitement that I know Robert has about Hungarian wine. There is a useful general overview about the Hungarian wine scene and industry, there’s a chapter on the fascinating history of Hungarian wine – don’t skip that bit out, chapters on the wide and wonderful palette of grapes that Hungary grows – most of them are indigenous. Who could resist grape varieties with exciting names like Ezerjó, Hárslevelű, Irsai Oliver, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyleányka, FurmintJuhfark and Kéknyelű? I know that I can’t. Even grape varieties we know often have wonderfully exotic names in Hungary, for instance Blaufränkisch is Kékfrankos and Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio is Szurkebarat.

Once we have enjoyed all that and started to get a flavour of the country,  we come to the real meat of the book. This takes us on a journey around the country, giving us a little background about each region before taking us through all the wineries that Robert recommends from that area. Robert manages to distill a lot of information into these portraits and you feel that you really get a glimpse of these people, their wineries and what they do, as well as what their wines are like. Then there is some information on where to eat and where to stay in each production zone. At the back there is also a section on the wine bars of Budapest – now I know how Robert fills his time.

I loved this book. I have not been to Hungary for a long time and it is obvious from reading this that Hungarian wine has come on even since then – although I thought it was very good at the time. So thank you Robert. You have plugged a good few gaps in my knowledge and whetted my appetite for a return trip to Hungary. I cannot wait and will remember to pack your book.

Robert Smyth’s Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World is a really pleasurable wine book and hedonist’s travel guide. It would make a great Christmas present for almost anyone who is interested in good wine and travel.

Wine of the Week 60 – a lovely and great value aromatic white wine

Recently I presented a tasting of wines made from unusual grapes and our first wine was a lovely dry and aromatic white wine. I enjoy aromatic wines, but find that many of them can be a little too rich and low in freshness and acidity – think Viognier and Gewürztraminer. Of course in the case of Gewürztraminer the wines can often be sweeter than you want as well. They were a skilled and enthusiastic bunch of tasters and they all loved this first wine.

Two things made it very exciting, firstly it is extremely good value for money, but more importantly it is really delicious and well balanced. It is from Hungary, it’s made from a very unusual grape variety and is made by someone that I admire very much. In fact it is so good and so pleasurable to drink that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Hungary Map

Wine map of Hungary – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

The view from Hilltop towards the Danube and Slovakia.

The view from Hilltop towards the Danube and Slovakia. Photo courtesy of Hilltop Neszmély.

Premium Cserszegi FuszeresHilltop Premium Cserszegi Fűszeres (there does not appear to be a vintage on this wine)
Hilltop Neszmély
Hungary

I have visited a good many of Hungary’s wine regions, including a memorable trip the the lovely Hilltop Neszmély winery. It is in the far north of the country with just the Danube River between it and Slovakia. The local climate is continental and very similar to nearby Austria and the wines have much in common with Austrian wines too, both in weight and style.

The estate was the brainchild of the charming Éva Keresztury who has run Hilltop since the early 1990s and her success has been amazing. Her wines are available in many places and are always an incredible balance of quality and value, as far as I can see she has never put a foot wrong and makes some of the best good value wines available in the UK today. They also have a lovely hotel on the estate and excellent restaurant that specialises in local game.

Cserszegi Fűszeres is certainly an unusual grape, but please don’t let that put you off. It is also very difficult, if not almost impossible to pronounce – but then I also showed Dr Frank’s Rkatsiteli from New York’s Finger Lakes at the same tasting. That is also quite superb and very hard to pronounce, but well worth trying – but don’t let that put you off. I am sure that you will enjoy it. The grape is actually a cross between the Irsai Olivér (itself an aromatic cross of 2 other grapes) and Roter Traminer ( a near relative of Gewürztraminer) and has only been in existence since 1960. The grape is named for where it’s from, Cserszegtomaj near Keszthely on the north shore of the south west end of Lake Balaton – Hungary’s inland freshwater sea. Fűszeres means spicy.

The nose is delightfully aromatic with wafts of orange blossom, fresh grapes and some sweet spice notes, but it smells fresh and not cloying at all. The palate is soft with lovely weight of fruit sweetness, but is is a dry wine – just very fruity – with some nectarine-like succulence, zingy orange, richer peach and some apricot characters too. The orange dominates the finish, which is pretty and long. The wine is kept balanced by the lovely seam of refreshing acidity that runs through it making it lively, fresh and clean – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Asda for £7.00 per bottle. What’s more it is only £5 a bottle during July 2015!

This wine is a perfect summer drink, light, fresh, flavoursome and very, very drinkable. It would make an excellent aperitif, garden sipper or go with pretty much any food at all. It is especially good with lightly spicy food. Do try it if you get the chance – I am sure that you will like it.