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    Hungarian Wine Summit

    ‘Oh Lucky Man!’

    There are times in my life when I wonder what I have done to deserve something. Here in a good way I am now in the Hungarian Wine Summit! 20 years after my first wine trip to Hungary, courtesy of the kindness of Hugh Johnson. He arranged a visit to the recently created Royal Tokai Company. They were putting the historic wine back on the vinous map post-communism.

    This time I am the lucky recipient of a “golden ticket” to the Hungarian Wine Summit. Hopefully it will become an annual event to educate and entertain wine professionals from around the world.  The lovely Monika Gyenes of Best of Hungary website put my name forward as a Welsh representative. Hungary is not a big producer in global terms, around 14th in the world rankings and 1% of world production. Its 400m bottles a year probably equates to less than half of the production of E & J Gallo!

    Landing on a flight from Birmingham to Budapest I am whisked from the airport. I’m dropped outside the Marriott Hotel in Pest. It looks across the Danube at Castle Hill on the Buda side of the river. I have time to stroll down the river to the indoor market. Then crossing the mighty Danube (still with a thousand miles to flow before it enters the Black Sea in Romania) and sauntering back to check-in at the river-side hotel.

    Rubbing Shoulders with Masters of Wine

    As friends will know I do not have an extensive wardrobe. I have brought the lighter of the two jackets I own for the evening launch party on the rather chilly top floor Liz and Chain Bar.  Speeches by the great and worthy of Hungarian wine explain how far the industry has come in the years since I was last here.  The dapper host is Gergely (Greg to the linguistically challenged) with an immaculate waxed moustache and even more impressive English accent. We have a selection of wines to taste and drink, supplemented by beautiful, substantial and sophisticated canapes. It is hard not to be somewhat overawed rubbing shoulders with Masters of Wine, top Sommeliers from Shanghai and Korea, journalists, consultants and wine educators from Europe, America and around the world.

    Back to School – Masterclasses

    Next morning at 8:00 an expectant group meets in the foyer and is transported across the river to a beautiful new conference centre and concert hall. A perfect blend of renovation of post-industrial buildings and new modern architecture within a calm and quiet park while still in the centre of the city. After registration and introductory speeches, we are treated to a range of masterclasses on fabulous Tokaj wines, the intricacies of Hungary’s volcanic soils, new sustainable wineries etc. The only shame was that you could not sit-in on more of them! After a fine restorative buffet, it was on to taste the wines from wineries that had been setting up at the back of the hall in the morning. A range of 30 or more quality producers from across the country.

    With a short break to recover out in the sunshine it was on to the neighbouring hall for further discussions and sustenance. We were treated to an interesting performance by Deva, a talented young musician playing “Techno-Hungarian Folk”! After a full and intense day, we were taken back to the hotel across the river, with just time for a small glass of Furmint before turning in for the night.

    Flying Saucers!

    The following morning, we are up early again to start our “Study Tours”.  The sleepy crew in the foyer were split into three groups with varying routes across the country. Our bus made its way against the morning traffic out of Budapest and on to the motorway for the 3 ½ hour drive to the far east of the country (next stop Ukraine) and the famous Tokaj region.

    First stop was the incredible Sauzka winery. We landed below the winery which had looked from a distance a lot like 2 flying saucers embedded in the hillside. Word has it that €25 million has been spent here to create a stunning vineyard and winery. We tasted excellent fizz and still wines in the futuristic tank and barrel room cut into the hillside. There can be few more impressive wineries anywhere in the world. The “little snack lunch” would be hard to beat… and not just on understatement!

    We were then treated to tours and tastings at two more Tokaj cellars before arriving in the rain at the Gróf Degenfeld Hotel. One final tour before enjoying a wonderful dinner at which all the courses were matched with the estates white Tokaj wines. Amazingly the best match of the night was a super-rich and sweet 6 Puttonyos Aszú wine with a Venison Ragout!

    The next morning, I managed to get myself up early enough to take a short walk in the rain up the hill behind the hotel to the Theresa Chapel. It has splendid views over the surrounding vineyards to the Tokaj hill. Its volcanic shape a perfect indication of the activity that has created the topography and soils of so much of northern Hungary.

    Tasting on the Hoof – Eger

    The walk and fine breakfast set me up for another packed day of visits and tastings. This time the target is Eger, halfway back to Budapest and the home of another famous Hungarian wine – “Bull’s Blood” (the name relates to the Ottoman siege of the town in 1552 when according to Hungarian folklore 2000 loyal soldiers saw off an Ottoman army of 40,000) more correctly called Egri Bikaver. The town is packed with historical sites which the daughter of the late revered Gál Tobor showed us around with a walking “Tasting Tour” (different wines at different sites) finishing below the famous castle.

    We were treated to a delicious subterranean lunch at the longest table I’ve ever seen (sure to seat 50) in one of the tunnels that leads to the Cellars. We then moved on to the fabulous San Andrea winery. The tasting and introduction were in the heart of the underground cellar, this time only excavated in the last 20 years to create the winery. Back above ground we were able to taste from some 20 producers of the region. Quality was great across the board.  The wines, both red and white, are overwhelmingly blends, the reds dominated by Kékfrankos. The key words to remember were cold climate, volcanic soils and blends!

    Climate Change – The end of Tokaj?

    Another recurring theme across the three days had been how much climate had already changed over the last 20 years (definitely bringing Kékfrankos to new levels of ripeness). The worry will be, as in so many great wine regions of the world, where will we be heading next. A sobering comment from one top sweet Tokai Aszú producers was that it may be impossible to make these historic, unique wines within the next two decades.

    It may seem that it was a was all a bit of a jolly but decisions were made and I look forward to receiving a pallet of new Hungarian wines in the next few weeks and to start spreading the word about the variety and quality of wines coming out of the country today. If you’re eager to taste join us on the 21st of June for our Hungarian wine tasting – taste 6 wines & a bowl of traditional goulash! £25 p.p. but be quick as there’s only limited spaces available.

    We didn’t get back to Budapest until dusk. But enough time for a small splinter group to head across the Danube to a traditional fish restaurant. We enjoy a thick and wholesome fish soup, washed down perfectly by a red Kadarka wine. A slower amble home by the twinkling lights of the river could not have been a better finish to a fabulous educational and enjoyable trip to the heart of old Europe.