OK, full disclosure here – in early July 2009 I went on a trip to Hungary to visit wineries in the south central part of the country (specifically in the regions of Villány and Szekszard). Although I had to pay for my own flights to and from the country, the rest of the trip (internal transport, winery visits, hotels and meals) was provided to me at no charge. If that makes me a flak in your eyes for these Hungarian wineries or for Hungary wines in general, then so be it. But all the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and I owe NOTHING to anyone nor could anyone make me say nice things about wines that I don’t like. So there!

Having got that off my chest, I can proceed with my post.

This trip was organized by Vivienne Franks for Wine Education Service (WES), predominantly for the benefit of their educators. I managed to grab a spot on the trip because I happened to be standing next to Vivienne and Laszlo Hesley, MD of Mephistro Wines who import from all the wineries we would be visiting, when a spare space came available. Always one to grab the main chance, I immediately volunteered for this arduous duty. Tough life, right?

So off we went in early July, meeting at the Budapest airport in the early afternoon. I’ll be covering other aspects of our visit in later posts but right now I’m posting about our visit to the Malatinszky Winery on the afternoon of our first full day in Hungary. Why am I starting in the middle of our trip? Because as “payment” for my trip, I was required to write-up notes on one of our visits. My assignment was Malatinszky so I’ve got that ready to go. So, without further ado, here are my impressions of our visit to Malatinszky.

Although Csaba Malatinszky comes from a noble family that can trace its wine-making roots to the 14th century around Lake Balaton, he didn’t start out making wines. Instead, he started on his journey toward making internationally-recognized quality wines while working as a sommelier at the world-famous Gundel restaurant in Budapest (not an unusual path as many of us now in the wine industry had a “real” life before we got the opportunity to live our wine fantasy. Perhaps, there is some sort of initiation requirement to do “something” else before having such a fun job.). While at Gundel Csaba went on a wine study tour to the Medoc where he had the opportunity to blend wines at some of the best estates, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Chateau Lynch-Bages, and Chateau Cos D’ Estournel Thus, began his love affair with the grapes of Bordeaux which Csaba feels best express terroir.

Csaba left Gundel in 1991 and shortly thereafter started the first specialist wine retail shop in Budapest, La Boutique des Vins. At about the same time he started making his own blend, “Le Sommelier” in cooperation with Jozsep Bock in Villány. In 1994 he started his own production in Villány and in 1997 his winery was built. Now Csaba owns approximately 28 ha of vines, most of which are west of Villány in the direction of Siklós. The soil is predominantly loess with some clay and limestone. Approximately 30% of the vines are Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 40% split among the local varieties, Kekfrankos and Kadarda, plus Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2005 he produced approximately 85,000 bottles while in 2007 he produced 130,000 bottles.

We met with Csaba at his relatively new (1997) winery just a short walk down the street in Villány from our host (and Csaba’s wine mentor), Jozsep Bock’s winery. This was just one more winery in Villány that looked brand new. I was impressed by how prosperous and modern all the wineries in Villány, and indeed, all those we saw in Hungary, appeared. To the surprise of many of us who have seen the packed and sometimes shabby conditions at wineries in France and Italy, Csaba feels that his current winery is too small so a much larger winery, guest house, and restaurant complex is planned near his vineyards. Business must be very good indeed.

After a brief introduction to his winery and wine-making history, Csaba lead us into his winery. Gleaming steel tanks were everywhere, pristine at this time of year with harvest so far in the future. In the centre of the tank room was a set of beautiful oak doors rising at about a 30-degree angle from the floor. At the push of a button the doors began to open and the entrance to what we dubbed the “Bat Cave” began to open. Once open the doors revealed a set of brick stairs sans handrails (what would Health & Safety think?) that lead to the barrel room. This was a place so immaculate and so unlike most barrel rooms, you could probably eat off the floor.

After our visit to the winery, we returned to the sunny garden for a tasting of Csaba’s wines. As a confirmed lover of exotic indigenous grape varieties myself, I have to admit that Csaba’s passion for the usual international (French) suspects was a bit off-putting. Still, I can’t fault the quality of his products.

In the lovely surroundings of the Malatinzsky garden, we tasted some 15 different wines, about half tank samples that should be bottled later this year. Csaba’s philosophy of wine making is to express terroir, to seek typicity with gentle pressing and slow pumpovers. His aim is to create food-friendly wines. Some of his wines, like Kadarka, have only steel tank fermentation and see no wood at all. This creates a lovely, fresh wine with vibrant fruit flavours. When he does use oak, it is 100% Hungarian, used for flavour and for economy as the local barrels are much cheaper than French barrels. Csaba doesn’t want a prominent oak effect so his wood is aged for at least 4 years before use and flushed with water many times to dilute the hard tannins. He doesn’t filter his best wines and only fines as is necessary for stability. From 2010 he will be a certified organic producer though he is not sure about attempting biodynamic production.

Csaba makes 3 grades of wine. His “Le Sommelier” range is the entry level, followed by Noblesse, then Kúria wines. All are well made and delicious. The highlights of our tasting for me were his 2007 Noblesse Merlot Rosé, the 2006 Kúria Kövesföld, and the tank sample of his 2007 Pinot Bleu.

2007 Noblesse Merlot Rosé
I don’t normally like most Rosés as I feel they are wines that don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I also am not over-fond of Merlot in any form (I won’t go as far as Miles in the movie “Sideways” – “I ain’t drinking no f*cking Merlot!” – but I’m not far from that). So it came as a surprise that one of my favourite wines was Csaba’s Merlot Rosé. This is a wine for grown-ups.
The wine is a dark rose hip colour with almost florescent highlights. Made in the saignée style with 4-5 hours of skin contact, it is brilliant and appealing to look at.
The nose is serious, full of juicy strawberry fruit and spice.
Sweet stewed strawberries with a mineral backbone on the palate, soft, creamy and rich with a long finish.
A wine with real personality.

2006 Kúria Kövesföld
This is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc from Csaba’s best Kövesföld vineyard. It’s bottled ONLY in magnums.
A dark inky purple colour with a nose of espresso and sweet berries, menthol, minerals and heather. Someone called the palate a “blueberry macciatto” and that’s not too far from the truth. Blueberries, roasted coffee beans, creamy with ripe grippy tannins and a long finish. Most of Csaba’s top wines I found too big, too alcoholic and just too much (though Robert Parker and his minions would probably love them), but I rather liked this wine.

2007 Noblesse Pinot Bleu – tank sample to be bottled August 2009
The concept of this wine appealed to me. It is an unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Kekfrankos (known as Blaufränkisch in Austria). The 2007 blend was 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Kekfrankos. The 2006 version which we also tasted was a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Kekfrankos, it was earthy and full of cherries but didn’t appeal nearly as much as the 2007 where the Kekfrankos dominated and added character. While the 2006 version was a reddish purple of mid-intensity, the 2007 version showed its Kekfrankos with a dark, near blackish purple colour. The nose was all berries and spice while the palate was rich and full with zippy acidity, berries and chocolate with some vegetal character. This version was much more concentrated, longer, richer and more complex than the 2006 variety.

We also tasted the following wines which I hope to write up in the future –
2007 Siklósi Chardonnay
2008 Kekfrankos
2006 Noblesse Pinot Bleu (mentioned above)
2006 Le Sommelier “Tenkes”, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot
2006 Kúria Merlot
2006 Kúria Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Kúria Cabernet Franc
2007 Noblesse Cabernet Franc – tank sample
2007 Kúria Merlot – tank sample
2007 Kúria Cabernet Sauvignon– tank sample
2007 Kúria Kövesföld – tank sample, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc
2007 Kúria Cabernet Franc– tank sample

After a brief rest back at the hotel, we saddled up in our 4WD vehicles and headed for Csaba’s house in nearby Kisharsány (between Villány and Siklós) for our dinner. I’m not sure how much of the dinner prep Csaba did personally but I suspect it was quite a lot. And many of our dishes featured vegetables from his garden.

The meal we had was incredible, sitting out in a covered shed (though it was huge so what’s a giant shed called???) on a warm, clear night. We started with a selection of Hungarian bruschetti on organic bread. These included 2 kinds of steak tartare (one with basil and cumin and the other with parsley and garlic), sheep’s cottage cheese with roasted pumpkin and pistachio seeds and herbs, and HUGE slices of fois gras. Despite the large and satisfying lunch we’d had earlier in the day at the Bock guesthouse, we all dug in as if we were starving. The main course was an interesting white pumpkin risotto with cream and dill. This was incredibly delicate, fresh and bright and the pumpkin was served al dente so it retained an appealing crunch. As a side dish we had a rich but light veal stew (somewhat odd that the stew was clearly served as an accompaniment to the pumpkin risotto). The cheese course included Hungarian hard goat’s cheese, Hungarian aged “Gouda” type cheese, Dolcelatte blue and Fulum Daber (spelling??) from France. Dessert was a sort of berry parfait but by this time I was fading and didn’t take any notes. I also spent too much time eating and taking notes and forgot to get any photos of our dinner.

Paula Sindberg 2009