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Snooth User: gyfgyf

Hungarian wines

Original post by gyfgyf, Apr 6, 2010.

Are there any place in Las Vegas which sells Hungarian wine? ( Besides Egri Bikaver and Tokaji)

Thanks,

Gyfgyf

 

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Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 17, 2010.

So Greg, is this a more appropriate role for Costello on stage? Even in his prime I guess Elvis had to take back row to Roy, who was at the end of his life. ;-)

Perhaps not the best performance by any of the names involved, but I thought of you (and your wife) when I ran across this just now...

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Reply by amour, Apr 18, 2010.

An interesting thread indeed!

I do not wish to get political, there is already a lot of some kind of politics in evidence, but it is interesting how socialism leaves its effect even on wine......and quite frankly ,it is clear, that while the best came down, the worst improved......standards were levelled.

Wine in Hungary became reasonably cheap, sound, safe and very consistent.

In my humble opinion, the wines of Hungary and the former Yugoslavia were always good and should be taken seriously.

Years ago, I remember hearing 

how the Poles and Scandinavians were heavy consumers of Hungarian wines.

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Reply by GregT, Apr 18, 2010.

Wine in Hungary became reasonably cheap, sound, safe and very consistent.

Wrong.

Vineyards were collectivized, plots that had been identified as superior hundreds of years ago were blended into generic wines, and technology was primitive.  The first stainless steel tanks came in after regime change whereas other countries had been using them for many years.  Meantime vineyards were replanted with inferior clones that produced higher quantity fruit, without regard to quality. 

The standards were perhaps levelled but not because the worst got better.  They just seemed less bad in relative terms as the best got worse.  No idea why one would say that the wines were consistent -  one of the problems Hungary had for many years was that the wines were very inconsistent. As recently as ten years ago, both importers and retailers were very leery of the wines for that reason.  You had variation from bottle to bottle in the same case and with some producers, still do.

As with everything else in the communist countries, decisions regarding site location were often made without regard to the actual use of the site.  Thus you have hotels next to machine shops and vineyards planted on flat plains for ease of harvest.

By way of example, I have an acquaintance who made a lot of money after communism was replaced.  He bought a Range Rover and got some maps detailing the vineyards the communists felt were best.  He crossed every one of those off his list and bought the land they scorned, mostly hilltops.  Because the communists planted in perfectly straight rows, he doesn't have any straight rows.  Today he's producing some of the best red wines in Hungary - wine that can compete with wine from anywhere.

To talk of forced collectivization and destruction of a heritage is not political, it's simply relaying facts.  When Andropov executed the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy in 1956 and sent his tanks in, it was not to ensure fine wine production, it was to impose Soviet will on the country.

I've been drinking the wine since 1990 or so and it's come a long way.  Back then, there was little if anything worth importing unless one had a taste for oxidized wine  Today there is a lot that's worthwhile and some of it even priced well.  There are also an increasing number of importers who are aware of the wines and who are doing wonderful work discovering and importing some very nice wines.  More will be coming.

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Reply by amour, Apr 18, 2010.

May all ideas contend.

When I make a point on this or any forum, I am able to support it.

The points made by me on Hungary are well supported but this is not a test and I will say no more.

Cheers!

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 18, 2010.

Well then, let's see the support! 'May all substantiated ideas contend...'

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 18, 2010.

Indeed, may all substantiated ideas contend.  Who can argue with the empirical beauty of that?

:-)

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 18, 2010.

By the way, Greg, great recap of the effect of Soviet-style collectivization on traditional farming methods and vinyard practise in the particular.  More, of course, can always be said, but I think your summary is more than adequate and lends some real insight into the reason why the recovery of certain highly individualistic enterprises like wine-making has been slow in coming.  I especially like the story of the enlightened carpet-bagger who bought up the land scorned by communist central planners...

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Reply by GregT, Apr 18, 2010.

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It's actually more interesting. Remember that often vineyards were owned by former nobility. Well, under the communist government, if you were a landowner, you were an enemy of the people. In countries like Romania, the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Georgia, lands were seized and owners imprisoned or killed. Then the government broke up the vineyards and distributed them to the peasants. Everyone got 3 hectares.

Well that didn't really work out well because production declined. So in 1949 the government introduced collective farms. That was even worse, because nobody wants to work just to work, so the government tried to relax the system a little and everyone got a little bit of their own to work. Finally, after the 1956 uprising, the government created one state-owned winemaking organization. People who knew better had no incentive to make quality wines since all the grapes were mixed together.

The goal was to eliminate variation in wines and vintages and to increase volume. The communist love of central planning meant that production quotas were handed down from some bureaucrat. Quotas were to be met by any means necessary.

Yields did in fact go up. The goal was to produce cheap wine in bulk. You would think that's an easy enough thing to do - Gallo and Yellow Tail do it very well. The difference is that those wineries employ real winemakers and they have the technology and the will to ensure a consistent standard of quality.

In Hungary it was different. To meet your production quota you needed to machine-harvest, so vines were ripped up to widen the rows for the tractors. They were replaced with inferior clones or varieties that produced well. You wanted vines that produced a lot of big grapes, with a low skin to juice ratio. Varieties that didn't produce large numbers were simply eliminated. Vineyards on slopes deemed too steep to work comfortably with the tractors were abandoned or uprooted. Vines were planted on the sandy plains instead. In addition, a lot of the wines were pasteurized, sugar was added, and raw alcohol was sometimes added.

They didn't know how to stabilize their wines. Closures were inferior. Wines were oxidized in the bottle or during the wine making. Temperatures were not controlled. One of the biggest complaints about Hungarian wines in the 1970s and 1980s and even early 1990s was that they were utterly unpredictable.

This is all history however. Today many of the wineries are first-rate. The know-how and technology is as astonishing as some of the wines are. The problems now are what I mentioned earlier.

 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 18, 2010.

Good snapshot view, Greg, and that's a perfect example of the type of substantiation I was referring to. ;-)

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Reply by amour, Apr 19, 2010.

Thanks for inviting it!

You may not have observed, but I do write briefly and if invited, I am only to happy, willing, and ready to expand.

First of all, I am going back to the start of the 1970's...my interest in wine goes that far back.

We all kniow the negative side of the impact of socialism in Eastern Europe.

For example if a date was put on a bottle of Hungarian wine,

it was an indication of age. It did not mean that it was a good year.

Of course the Hungarians said their wine is always good!

We also full well know that both Yugoslavia and Hungary made better whites than reds, and certainly good roses.

The wine which the Poles and Scandinavians so enjoyed were

the Hungarian BADACSONYI SZURKEBARAT and DEBROI HARSLEVELU.

Personally, I would say that at that time, early 1970's

the wines of Hungary were far too heavy and sometimes too sweet.

My friends used to say that it was like Algerian wine....and Algerian friends at that!

By the way, the thin light whites were mixed with soda and the drink was called froccs.

Like dmcker I also catch planes...so I must be off, but would happily reconvene and re-engage on this topic.

I have never searched Hungarian Wine on the internet but intend to do so.  Thanks to Snooth, I am wanting to become more current on the topic...such a stimulating site and exciting posters of varied hues, to say the least! I do appreciate and respect diversity in every sense of the word.

In closing this piece, I will  mention the wines of Hungary , some of which which were around  in England in the early 70's and late 1960's . Of course in the late 1960's I was  not yet sipping but reading extensively........

 

Wines from Lake Balaton district...mainly simply decent table wines.

 

The best wine of Lake Balaton was BADACSONYI.

(Balatoni Riesling and Balatoni Furmint ...from the furmint grape...I

drank these and also wrote about this before...not as sweet as

 Tokay)

Wines from Somlo  (SOMLOI wine  was not available at the time in England...it was described to me as strong and fragrant, typical of Hungary  and had a reputation in Hungary of causing the begetting of male children).....,   Debro, in Northern Hungary,  and Mor offered table wines called Mori which were served with oysters or other shell fish. It was often said that it was a wine for the drinkers of White Burgundy.

AND NOW FOR THE BIG SOURCE....no other than Hugh Johnson MW, who shares my opinion, or whose opinion / comment  I share, when he said...

The operations of a Socialist regime have their effect on wine, as they do on every aspect of life.

In the case of wine, the worst improves.

The fascination of individual growths and the exercise of the critical and comparitive faculties disappear. But, in the case of Hungary, we are offered miraculously consistent and very  reasonably cheap wine in compensation.

And that explains the context in which I wrote my comment.

Thank you very much.

Hugh Johnson said this in 1972.

Cheers!

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Reply by GregT, Apr 19, 2010.

For the most part around Lake Balaton they don't make sweet wines.  I suppose some people do, that that's not the area for sweet wines.  THere are a number of wineries there today that are putting out good wine - one of my friends is considered the best in the area, but pretty much all of those are since the communist era.  Some furmint is grown there but other varieties do better.

Instead today we have kekfrankos, merlot, cab franc, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and other reds, as well as a number of whites like sauvignon blanc, olaszrizling, and others, including szürkebarát, which is pinot gris.   Badacsonyi just refers to the region - in this case Mount Badacsony on the north of Lake Balaton.

Regarding the comment of Mr. Johnson - I have no wish to argue with him or about what he may or may not have said in some other context more than 30 years ago. Clearly in retrospect he is dead wrong.  Moreover, I'd suspect that in hindsight he would agree that he was in error. I'm indifferent as to whether he is an MW or not - I've had wine with enough of them to know that memorizing the wines of Bordeaux does not mean one necessarily knows much about the wines of other regions. 

Stating that "the worst improves" under socialism is just silly - exactly what were the improvements??  Let's look at the context of his statement in 1972.

The wines of Tuscany in 1972?  Bad Chianti in straw bottles.  The wines of Austria?  Soon to be hit by a scandal involving anti-freeze.  The wines of Germany?  Blue Nun, Black Cat, Liebfraumilch.  The wines of Portugal?  Other than Port they were known for Lancer's and bad, rustic, reds.  The wines of Spain?  Still sleeping under Franco and producing oceans of arien.  The wines of  CA?  Barely even on the radar - those that would become famous in the 1976 Paris tasting were still on the vine. 

And the wines of Hungary?  Well, hit by phylloxera in the late 1800s, then ignored by a series of governments that resulted in WW1 and the Treaty of Trianon which sliced off major sections of the country, then devastated by WWII and then managed by communist overseers. 

So in 1972, for nearly 100 years Hungarian wine was in decline.  Putting the best spin on it, in 1972 perhaps there is some chance that SOME wines actually did recover from the past few years.  But why were they heavy and sweet when they come from a country that does not have a Mediterranean climate, but rather a cooler, continental climate? One likely reason might be the addition of other ingredients.

Of course, the only wines sent out of the country were oxidized Tokaji and a few very poor quality reds.  Matter of fact, I've had pretty much all of the top Hungarian reds over the past 20 years and they're only recently hitting the top ranks.  So definitely in 1972 they weren't anywhere on the same playing field as the top wines of the world, which were mostly French with a few Italians and some Rioja. The Hungarian wines were put out by the state-owned firm.  If a guy made wine in his garage, maybe his wine got better by being mixed with the rest of the juice, but there is no winemaker I've ever met in Hungary, and I've met quite a few, who will agree with Johnson's comment.  I'd love to see an example of the wine Johnson had in mind when he made his comment. My own comments come from many trips to Hungary over the years and many conversations with winemakers, and most of all, from actually  tasting hundreds of the wines myself.

Moreover, the comment is completely inapplicable today when we have the benefit of seeing the damage that was caused.  One of the great winemakers of Tokaj and in fact the world, Istvan Szepsy, once remarked that the years under communism did more damage to Hungarian wine than phylloxera and all other pests combined.  The man who was named winemaker of the year in 2008, who BTW is on Lake Balaton, has built everything from scratch since the 1990s.

I'm not sure I care to discuss this much more, but the reason there is not much Hungarian wine in the US today is because it's relatively recently that the wine has become the equal of any in the world.  Spain exploded in the 1990s - but when it was emerging in the 1970s after the death of Franco, Hungary still had nearly 20 years of communism left.  However, now that vineyards are in production and winemaking is humming smoothly, we'll see more of their wines showing up every year.

At any rate, I'm off to Spain in a few minutes, provided the volcano doesn't wreak havoc with my flight plans, so I'll not be on the forum for a while.

Best to all.

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Reply by dmcker, May 26, 2012.

"I know nothing about Romanian wine and I didn't know Elvis Costello was in NY.  That's a shame because it results in a net decrease in overall musicianship in the city.  After 30 years in the business, you'd think that he'd at least learn to match pitch but it seems as if he still has no idea what a key signature is, or how to sing in approximately the same key that the musicians are using. You'd think his wife, who actually is a musician, should be able to help him out somewhat."

 

OK, I know this is serious dumpster diving, and also way off-topic, so perhaps it's appropriate that the thread I yanked from the bin was one of the more egregious examples of tangent launching in the past--and that's among many, many.

Anyway, Greg, I was drinking some Nicholas Joly white and listening for the first time in a long while to an old recording you can sample here. A performer, and a composition, far, far from Elvis Costello. Somehow I thought of you.  ;-)

I know your ears bleed easily, and that you (and your wife) may have harsher standards for tone and pitch than for nose and palate on the wines you drink. Yet what do you do when the music is sublime, the performer exceptional, but the piano's just so much out of tune? Leaving aside the horrible room in which the recording was made--that I have less issue with.

I was finding a number of analogies between Joly's wine, with both sublime and off nuances all rolled into one, and Neuhas' interpretation of Brahms. At first they both demanded so much attention that I felt an almost clashingly competititve pull between them. But then they somehow fell into a symbiotic synch.

Even with an overly developed critical sensibility, life is good when, on an overly muggy end-of-spring evening, you can sit back, sip that beverage of light and somehow glistening shadows, and listen to music that even if over-referenced and almost too romantic somehow dances back from the edge and causes your heart to ache with awe. Somehow the imperfections just make it better. Like the face of a truly beautiful woman with a nose that's been broken sometime in her past, or a fantastic old Navaho rug where you discover the weaver purposely threw in a thread jag because perfection was not to be reached for...

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Reply by JonDerry, May 27, 2012.

Once again, thanks a mil for dumpster diving, this was all one heck of a read.

Great info, from the communisum days to how there's a spot in Tokaj that is the geographical center of Europe, and with the good news that current winemaking is on the up.

So Greg, what are some of the better Hungarian wines (outside of Tokaj) that we can find here in the States these days? Anything from Villany?

To think, while this thread was going on, I was a few weeks away from seeing Hungary for the first time, and would end up doing some tasting in Eger. 

By the way, Pump it Up!

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Reply by GregT, May 27, 2012.

Wow D - you really went back didn't you?  In answer to your question tho - I'd give him a pass on the instrument. The performer matters more than the technology, which is why Elvis is worse live - there's no recording to tweak. Rod Stewart OTOH, actually tried to learn a bit of technique, way after his career had peaked.  That's to his credit IMO. He realized that he wasn't going to have a voice left if he kept doing what he was doing. But according to some engineers who've worked with him, he's pretty off key in the studio too. Too bad.

Anyhow - outthere - there's not a lot. There was a winery called Kreinbacher that I thought was pretty good. It's from Somló. Skurnik had someone champion it and he brought it in.  Very good stuff, the Jufark especially, and the Syrah is exceptionally good but that's not brought in by anyone I know of.  From Pannonhalma-Sokoróalja is Apatsagi, which was another one I thought should make it over and it did too, although from what I've been told, it's not really moving as well as it was. People don't know the grapes or the producers and there's a real education needed.  That particular winery is a beautiful one however, and supposedly winemaking on the spot goes back to 996 or so, which kind of gives you a perspective you don't get from other places.   From Villány is the wine from Atilla Gere and that's definitely brought in. Matter of fact, you should check out the importer - Blue Danube, as he's a really knowledgable guy.

And I must mention my friends at Alana - those are from Tokaj and they're exquisite. One brother lives in the States and the other, the winemaker - Németh Attila Gábor, lives in Hungary.  He has another project in another region and he's making excellent wines there. For example, an outstandingly good Syrah that would be on the shelves at a price equivalent to less than a Crozes-Hermitage and that stands up to almost any of them.  I was pretty shocked first time I had it. But the Alana wines from Tokaj are truly world-class. Drys and sweets. And they're available in the States and worth looking for.

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Reply by dmcker, May 27, 2012.

Perhaps also why Elvis makes a thing of his guitars and switches each one out for a different during each song in any set. His roadies must gripe about all the axes they have to lug around.

Would be curious about your wife's take on that Neuhaus recording, Greg. I have betwen a half dozen and ten different versions of excellent performers on that composition. Gould was of course very special, and Rubinstein some consider the standard. There are others I like, though. This one was particularly poignant that evening.

You dodged my Joly hook, too.  ;-)

Perhaps the main thrust of that post was the flaw that somehow catalyzes aesthetic beauty. Glad to see you fell in with the theme by interchanging Jon with outthere!  ;-)  ;-)

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Reply by GregT, May 27, 2012.

The Joly hook - I have plenty of oxidized wine right here w/out tasting his too! Will ask my wife for her opinion when she's done practicing.

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Reply by JonDerry, May 27, 2012.

Maybe that'll be my niche in the wine industry, helping Hungary promote their wines to the U.S.

 

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