Some of the big box bottle shops carry wines that are clearly brought in for immigrants missing a taste of home, and as an immigrant I’m always pleased to see quality wines of my homeland. However, as often as not, the featured wines take the form of more popular, less expensive brands, in which I have little interest, in the same way that at one point the only American beer available when I lived in the UK was Budweiser. Still, when they’re cheap and cheerful imports of less familiar grapes from other countries, I’m happy to give them a go. I picked up a few such wines last week, and while they’re not likely to be the best wines I’ve ever had, they’ll certainly be varied. And with that, I give you this Hungarovin Szekszárdi Kadarka 2009.
Hungary has a long history of producing wine, though if you ask a wine student about it they’re more than likely to start the conversation with Tokaji. That’s fair enough, in that it’s one of the most famous sweet wines in the world, and from there the focus will likely touch on the Bull’s Blood of Eger, a potent traditional red blend. Beyond that though, I think it’s fair to say that most other Hungarian wines stays in Hungary.
This wine is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Szekszárd, which is in the south of the country, just west of the River Danube. It has a continental climate, with long hot summers and cool winters, particularly as you move away from the river. Vineyards are found on the eastern and southern slopes of the Szekszárd hill, which reaches heights of 100-120m and is made up of an iron rich red soil. Another soil type for which the region is known is loess – a mixture of eroded clay and silt, brought together by wind rather than water – which can be as deep as 15m.
The area is best known for the production of red wines, and is the only area outside of Egar that is permitted to produce Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot are popular recent imports, to the detriment of the more traditional plantings of Kékfrankos (Blaufränisch), Kékoportó (Portugeiser) and Zweigelt. Kadarka, once a cornerstone of the region, is increasingly rare. There is also some amount of white wine produced, made from Welshriesling and Chardonnay.
Kadarka, despite the decline in plantings, is the classic red grape of Hungary, having established its reputation with Bikavér. Its role in that blend is largely being supplanted by Kékfrankos, and Kékoportó due in no small part to Kadarka’s late ripening (which limits where it can be planted) and its susceptibility to rot. It also is prone to high yields with low concentration. That can be mitigated through the use of bush vines and severe pruning or green harvesting, though at the additional expense of manual labour in the vineyard.
I can’t say as much as I would like about this producer as their website is a blank page at the moment. However, secondary sources suggest that Hungarovin was founded in 1971 as an export company, is based in Budapest and makes wine from a number of regions throughout Hungary. In addition to Tokaji and Bull’s Blood, Hungarovin produces varietal white wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Irsai Oliver, and Juhfark, and reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and this Kadarka.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with medium plus ruby colour, and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity. It is very medicinal, with sour cherries and cough syrup fighting it out for top billing. There’s a little peppery funkiness as well, and by that I mean the skunk cabbage note I get from Pinot Noir, not a fault. On the palate it’s just off dry (though it says “medium sweet” on the back label, curiously), with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus soft tannins, medium minus alcohol, high intensity, and a medium plus finish. There’s more cough syrup, sour cherries, cranberries, and a bit of slightly burnt coffee.
Looking at my SAT note doesn’t really do this wine justice in the slightest. When I had my first sip, I immediately thought “this is the most sour wine I’ve ever tasted.” Not faulty, not bad, just intensely sour. It reminded me of the first time I had proper unsweeted cranberry juice, having only been familiar with cranberry cocktail, which is really sugar water with a splash of cranberry. I almost didn’t write about this wine, but I’m sitting here with a glass out of the same bottle the day after I opened it writing this note, and while it is still intensely sour, I can look beyond that and actually taste the wine and it’s fine. I’ll score this as acceptable, which is obviously a step down from my usual good+ ratings, but to my palate it’s too out of balance to be scored as good. There is a little complexity if you can get past the intensity, even if it is dominated by cough syrup.
This is the first Kadarka I’ve tried, as well as the first Hungarian wine this blog has seen, and even though I’m not in love with it, I look forward to trying another. The other day, someone I know tweeted a picture of a bottle of Pinotage from South Africa with a caption that read “One of the worst wines I’ve ever tasted.” I replied “I wouldn’t judge the quality of the variety based on the Pinotage that finds its way to Australia.” Really that applies more broadly to the wines of South Africa (or any grape/place). Coupled with that, the bottle of Pinotage in question cost the same as a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz (by which I mean not very much), and I doubt most Australian winemakers would want Shiraz or Australian wine in general judged on the basis of that. This Kadarka was in roughly the same price range. So despite not being keen on this bottle, I will not judge other Kadarkas and other wines of Hungary based solely on it. Instead I welcome an opportunity to broaden my sample size.