- 16 Jul 2013 9:00 AM
Tokaj of today, has attracted young, ambitious and devoted winemakers which are on the verge of turning this classic Hungarian wine region into a serious competitor on the dry wines scene. Then of course there are those who has been doing this for a while, both sweet and dry. István Szepsy for example. Szepsy is a reference point and the wines he produces just shows that Tokaj sometimes not only can be, but also is true world class.
In his footsteps there are a bunch of producers establishing themselves and also proofing that Furmint, Hárslevelu and to some extent Muskotály, are here to stay – and are calling upon your attention.. All of the producers have found their own style and are by no means copying the Szepsy recipe. Well, yes, to some extent they do; the work in the vineyards are essential and there’s also a Burgundy like approach to the importance of every single vineyard.
One of the relatively new guys, with his first vintage produced in 2005, is László Szilágyi. László runs Gizella Pince which can be found a short drive outside the village of Tokaj. Gizella is a small scale business with only a few hectares of vineyards in Bodrogkeresztúr, Mád and Tarcal. Although there’s a plan to plant more vines the coming years, László’s Gizella Pince will remain a boutique winery. When meeting László Szilágyi I quickly realize that this is how he wants it, in order to keep control, find his way of producing wine and remain at a high quality. A sound pragmatic attitude which surely correlates with his diploma in agriculture, economy and oenology.
When talking to László he emphasizes that he is still new to this and are in a constant learning process. An admirable approach, never to sit back and show satisfaction. Still, I do believe one can already now talk about a certain style of Gizella Pince. The high quality starts already at the entrance level with his Furmint Battonage. The 2011 is based on Furmint fruit from the Kastély vineyard in Bodrogkeresztúr and one fifth from the Szilvölgy site in Tarcal. Tasted as a tank sample it showed that typical character of the grape with scents of wool, citrus peel, sour green apples and just the faintest floral character. For a starter, really fine concentration, good acidity grip and clean fruit. Excellent length.
Furmint can be such a class act. Already here, at Gizella’s entry level, it shows a quality which few, more well-known grapes can keep up with. It shows the ability of Chardonnay, to allow the growing conditions to be reflected in the wine, it has to some extent a Chenin blanc similarity with the naturally high acidity and wool character and finally add just a dash of the greenness of Sauvignon blanc. In the end it is nothing but the unique Furmint!
Down in the catacomb looking cellars, László offers a cask sample of the 2011 Szilvölgy Furmint. Most of the wines at Gizella rests between four to seven months in used oak. Lászlo works only with Hungarian casks from a local producer. A short time before the bottling he transfers the wines to tank for clarification and filtering. The use of seasoned oak brings less character from the wood which is just how László wants it to be. The wines should be allowed to show the specific style of the respective grape and its unique terroir. The Szilvölgy site fascinates. Lots of wet rocks, a hint of smoke, herbal, unripe green apples and just a touch of wool. The acidity feels both a bit demanding and yet so natural at the same time. Gooseberries, green apples, minerals and a slight bitter note. Splendid concentration and such fine balance. Simply put; this is classy!
Just as good is the 2011 Hárslevelu from Szilvölgy. When treated with the same care as Furmint it can result in wines like the 2011 version from Gizella Pince. Aromatic with a slight floral feel, this turns into a style reminding a bit of Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc. If it weren’t for the more aromatic sensation. Guess one uses comparisons with other styles, other regions and grapes when facing wines which hasn’t been under the radar yet? Boxwood, green apples, wet rocks, lime peel. It is all quite expressive but yet in a restrained way. This is just confirmed on the palate with sour green apples, lime, smoke, a dash of white peach and gooseberries. Such fine concentration and purity. An eye opener and serious stuff!
László offers us a visit to Szilvölgy and the next day we’re walking the vineyard. It’s a warm day and currently László is working on preparing way for more vines. At the moment there are only around 5,000 vines but he expects roughly 12,000 in 2013. It’s hard work and the soil of Tokaj aren’t the easy kind to cultivate in. But with wines as the 2011 Hárslevelu it is sure worth it, one can only assume.
Protector of SzilvölgyWe’re discussing organic cultivation and Lászlo explains the difficulties of this approach. He calls himself environmentally friendly and works in the same way. But as he states, it is impossible to be organic when you own so small parcels of the vineyards and are surrounded by others who perhaps doesn’t share the vision. An interesting thought worth keeping in mind before questioning why some don’t go organic – or even if it’s worth it if all the neighbors aren’t walking in the same direction.
László is renting 0,6 hectates of the Barát vineyard in Tarcal. From this site he will produce around 700 bottles of a 2011 Hárslevelu. Tasted as a cask sample it shows quite a different style than the Szilvölgy. More tropical scents, flowers and ripe fruit. On the palate it contrasts with the nose. Herbal, a slightly green note and cool climate fruit and acidity. Some sweetness to this one, around 12 grams of residual sugar. The differing style Lászlo explains is mainly due to a different clone of Hárslevelu.
Yet a charmer, the 2011 Szent Tamas Hárslevelu. will be exclusively bottled for the well-known winebar Drop Shop in Budapest. When in the capital don’t miss to visit and buy one of these! It’s a rarity considering László only has 0,4 hectares here, in Szent Tamas. Probably the most famous site of them all in Tokaj, this wine shows a third style of the grape. Yellow fruits, gentle flowers, minerals and quince. On the palate an expressive attack with balancing acidity and more oily fruit. A touch of bitterness and a herbal note. Fine length and such clean finale. By the way; as the first vintage this is closed with glass cork. Bravo! Go. To. Drop shop.
László also produces some sweet stuff. The 2011 late harvest Hárslevelu from the Barát vineyard is tasted from the cask and shows moderate sweetness, gorgeously ripe fruit and a touch of oak. Lovely acidity which is a trademark of Tokaj. This one I’m later told, has been blended with fruit from the Kastély vineyard, resulting in the Látomás Cuvée. To get the idea of his Aszu, we’re tasting the 2007. Big nose with herbal honey, super ripe apples, lavender, glue and some tropical scents. Sweet, seductive, elegant and with impressive concentration despite the 10 per cent alcohol. It ticks in on 180 grams of residual sugar.
Gizella Pince is rarely seen outside of Hungary. I can’t help but to wonder for how long though considering the quality level of László Szilágyi’s wines. At the very same moment as people start to get it, that Tokaj might be the next region in Europe with most potential becoming recognized as world class, then you will read about Gizella Pince in more famed wine magazines than this modest and tiny blog. Importers reading this; what are you waiting for?
Xpat Opinion: Heavenly Hungarian Wine, Kadarka