Hungarian-born Csilla Sebestyén is on a mission. She wants to show UK wine lovers that Hungary makes fine white and red wines, not just cheap supermarket quaffers.
Trained in Scotland as a sommelier, Sebestyén spent five years working at Gleneagles where she arrived as an apprentice in 2008. When she left in 2013, she had worked her way up to become senior sommelier, working with Andrew Fairlie in his two Michelin-starred restaurant within the hotel.
It was Fairlie who gave Sebestyén the greatest encouragement when she left – to start her own wine importing business – and he has since become one of her regular customers, championing Hungarian red wines.
“Hungary has unusual grapes like white ezerjo and red kekfrankos and kadarka growing on diverse limestone and volcanic soils,” says Sebestyén. “In the last 20 years quality has really improved with more balanced wines with less oak used – and now the UK’s top Michelin-starred restaurant sommeliers are showing an interest in these new Hungarian wines,” she says.
Grapes of Hungary (www.grapesofhungary.co.uk) has just six wines, but Sebestyén has selected fine wines only. Two of the reds are made by her brother, Csaba Sebestyén, at their family winery in the hilly Szekszard region in southern Hungary near the Danube valley. The remaining four dry white, red and sweet wines she has chosen from different regions: Kamocsay from Mor, Takler from Szekszard, Arvay and Ats from Tokay.
Hungary is best known for its white wines. There are plenty of aromatic off-dry white sub-£6 bargains made on the Danube Plains in our supermarkets, but Hungary has a lot more quality-wise to offer.
The first white we tasted was made from a rare grape, ezerjo. Grown in Mor region, west of Budapest, Hungary’s answer to chablis with its calcareous soils – it gives fresh minerally, appley, high flavoured dry whites. Her second, a fine oaked, rich-textured furmint from north-easterly Tokay region was one of the best dry furmints I have tasted.
However, it was the reds that really surprised me. Kekfrankos and kadarka are the two grapes Sebestyén hopes to champion.
Kekfrankos can make a wide variety of styles, from light Beaujolais-like quaffers to intense Rhône-like fuller-bodied reds.
For a choice of Hungarian wine, try discount chain Lidl, which has a surprisingly large range of new white, red and sweet wines. Some are distinctly better than others; the best being a Lidl late harvest Tokaj reviewed recently in this column.
Aszar Neszmely: Hilltop Premium Cserszegi Fuszeres 2014 - STAR BUY
Good introduction to this unpronounceable grape from Hilltop winery in Neszmely: peachy, sweet Eastern spice notes with a honeyed aftertaste. Very good just off-dry white.
Somlo: Juhfark 2013 Tournai
One of the better Hungarian examples in the new Lidl range from the rare juhfark grape grown on volcanic soils in Somlo north of Lake Balaton. The grape’s usually raging acidity has been tamed to make a fresh vibrant quaffer.
Aszar Neszmely: Hilltop Premium Pinot Grigio-Kiralyleanyka 2014
This is what Hungary is best known for: an aromatic, off dry, light, unoaked, approachable aperitif.
Mor: Ezerjo 2013 Akos Kamocsay
Light smoky, oaky aromas, Granny Smith apple flavours, vibrant, crisp, dry and fresh with minerally depth: serve with scallops.
£14, WoodWinters, Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk
Tokaj: Furmint Istenhegy 2013 Janos Arvay - STAR BUY
Honeyed and quince aromas, rich textured, complex with a fine length; it reminds me a little of oaked chenin blanc.
£23, WoodWinters, Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk
Somlo: Juhfark 2011 Royal Somlo
Subdued aroma, mature flavours with a soft creamy palate; distinctive and very different; juhfark’s normally harsh acid has softened in the bottle.
£18.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com
Szekszard: Kekfrankos Reserve 2012 Ferenc Takler - STAR BUY
Rich black cherry aromas, plummy depth with open voluptuous palate, soft tannins, fresh acid bite: quite similar to a ripe northern Rhône syrah ideal for serving with pigeon, duck or lamb.
£18.50, WoodWinters, Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk
Szekszard: Ivan-Volgyi Bikaver 2011 Csaba Sebestyn - STAR BUY
Initially spicy, sweet rounded flavours, elegant, very unusual blend of kekfrankos, kadarka, merlot and cabernet; it tastes almost Burgundian with added spicy fiery kick: serve with beef, pork or venison.
£22, WoodWinters, Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan; St Andrews Wine Co; www.grapesofhungary.co.uk
• Join Rose’s South West France wine and charcuterie tasting in central Glasgow on 26 May, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com