It may come from the Mediterranean region, but it is also possible that it may have originated in the Szerémség, at the confluence of the Danube and the Száva. It is the principal variety in Tokaj-Hegyalja, where its cultivation was recorded in the early seventeenth century. Its spread is probably connected with the rise in aszú production, as it is most amenable to this process. An excellent wine is made from it in several regions that produce mostly white wines; dry, full-bodied, with a pleasant bouquet, it is delicate, well-balanced and complex in flavour. This grape yields a wine of marked acidity which is slow to mature. As well as that of Tokaj-Hegyalja, the Somlói furmint is worthy of special mention.
- Cserszegi Fűszeres
- Sárga Muskotály
The ‘LINDEN-LEAF’ is also an ancient Hungarian variety, and is grown mostly in Tokaj-Hegyalj a together with furmint, but it is also to be found in numerous other Hungarian wine regions. It is fruity and has a very fine fragrance in which, as the name implies, the linden flower and honey dominate. It has a softly, herby bouquet, is quite full-bodied, and its acids are more elegant that those of furmint, with a slightly sharp after-taste. In Tokaj-Hegyalja itself dry, demi-sec and medium-sweet wines are made from it, while in Somló dry and in Villány-Siklós medium-sweet and sweet wines are in vogue. It has gained its true value as an ingredient of aszú wine.
The ‘SHEEP-TAIL’ is of Hungarian origin, and before the phylloxera blight was well-known and widespread in Hungary. Its name is nowadays mostly connected with Somló, but it is springing to new life as an independent variety in several places, mostly on the northern shore of the Balaton. It takes its name from the shape of the bunches, which are slightly curved, like a sheep’s tail. This white hunga-ricum, like furmint and kéknyelű, yields a wine of restrained bouquet but strong character, full-bodied and high in acid. It amply repays being allowed to mature, and ages excellently.
The ‘MUD-WHITE’, as a Hungarian variety, was found in many regions before the phylloxera blight, but mainly in the Dunántúl and on the Alföld. By our day – like several hungarica – it is only cultivated in very few places. It must have been so popular because of its delicate acidity and pleasant, fresh bouquet, reminiscent of the grape. Like its fellows, it too did not care for the directives of the communist planned economy, and under its constraints, cultivation fell to insignificant levels. Its revival is in progress.
The white Cserszegi Fűszeres is a cross between the Irsai Olivér and Roter Traminer, a member of the Traminer family closely related to Gewürztraminer. It was created in 1960 by Károly Bakonyi at the Pannon University of Agriculture. The grape variety has a high yield with high sugar content and is less sensitive to cold. Its wines are dry or half dry and have a distinctive aroma, spicy taste with a harmonious acid.
Although the ‘Italian Riesling’ spread to Hungary from Germany in about the middle of the nineteenth century, it has for many years been the best known and most popular grape variety from which white wine is made. It is grown in every region with the exception of Tokaj-Hegyalja, and as it is found in Hungary in greater quantity than in any other winegrowing country because it adapts excellently to the natural conditions of our wine regions, nowadays we regard it as a hungaricum. It has a restrained bouquet and flavour, is endowed with delicate acids, and through those properties reflects perfectly the peculiar qualities of the soils of the various areas where it is cultivated. Depending on year and place of cultivation, it is liable to shrivel in fine, sunny autumn weather and is susceptible to noble rot, as the result of which it permits the making of sweet and medium-sweet wines. It is a real experimental variety, which can offer great opportunities to the viticulturist. Its aftertaste is often redolent of bitter almonds and sweet mignonette.
The same sort of thing can be said about the ‘THOUSAND GOOD THINGS’, which spread from the Upper Danube in the second half of the nineteenth century and found good conditions for cultivation in a number of Hungarian wine regions. It first became known in connection with the Mór region, but is common in Pannonhalma-Sokoróalja and the Alföld, too. Its wine is acid, firm, with a restrained bouquet, and it is possible to produce from it wine with good intrinsic qualities even on soil noted for wines of less character. In good years it can attain a high sugar content, and then a full-bodied, assertive wine of strong character can be made from it. In exceptional years it can even yield aszú grapes in Mór, which indicates that, like other hungarica, it may be put to a range of uses. Its distinctive acids make a long maturation possible.
The ‘ROCK-PINK’ is believed to be Hungarian in origin, and is primarily cultivated in the Alföld region. Under local soil conditions and despite late picking the wine retains its acid content excellently, which means that it keeps well. Because of its high yield it survived the communist era quite happily, but like the kadarka, this variety too could not maintain quality under mass-production. In recent years more and more attempts have been made to revive the reputation of this wine and its connection with the region. The revelation of its characteristic acids, its distinctive bouquet, reminiscent of mignonette, and of its numerous forgotten positive qualities promise something really special.
The MUSCAT LUNEL which probably came to Hungary from the Near East. It is the world’s oldest and best known grape-variety, and is mentioned in Greek and Roman specialist literature. Under favourable circumstances it can make aszu, and in the process retains its acidity, as it has better acids than the Ottonel. It displays the most refined and delicate bouquet and flavour of the odorous varieties.
We can date the spread of the Leányka ‘MAIDEN’, which originated in Transylvania, to the mid- nineteenth century. It favours primarily volcanic soils, as these encourage its discreet bouquet and soft acids. Thus we find it mainly in the Eger and Mátraalja regions, where the wine from it often becomes nectar-sweet in bouquet and pleasant in flavour. It is an ideal ‘conversation-wine’. In better years it reaches quite a high level of sugar, which makes it not only medium- sweet but also slower to mature.
The Királyleányka ‘PRINCESS’ is also Transylvanian in origin, and is probably the result of crossing leányka and kövérszőlő (‘fat grape’) in the years preceding the First World War. It is a favourite variety in numerous regions. It can yield a wine which is extraordinarily fine, balanced, perhaps, one might say, occupying a ‘central position’ among the white wines. A sharp but unassertive acidic tinge matches the fantastic bouquet of grape-flower and fruit which give it an excellent character. On the other hand, it is not too heavy and acidic, with the result that it may easily be enjoyed by those accustomed to softer wines. It has found its favourite place of cultivation in the Eger region, where it displays its true qualities to the full.
At one time the reputation of the hunga-ricum ‘BLUE-STEM’ was known throughout Europe. In places its wine fetched twice as much as the most expensive 5-puttony Tokaj aszú. (A puttony is a bucket used for measuring quantity of specially selected grapes.) It has female flowers, and therefore crops poorly and is hard to cultivate, and so it is usually planted together with the budai zöld (‘Buda green’) variety. That is the primary reason for its decline, because in times gone by it was mostly found in the big vineyards of Badacsony, as the cultivation of this noble grape was permitted only there because of its low yield. Only in Badacsony can it be found cultivated as a varietal. It has a marked but not intrusive bouquet and a sharp acidity, which leads to a better balance after a long period of maturation.
It is one of the outstanding results in Hungarian white wine breeding in the twentieth century. Due to its numerous advantageous features this wine is very popular. The grapes ripen early, they can be harvested in the first half of September with a reliably high stum content. The wine is rich in odours and flavours in most years, the acids are gentle, delicate and harmonious. Zenith suits the Hungarian palate and milieu really well.
An intraspecific Hungarian hybrid of Bouvier and Furmint. Effectively limited to 62 hectares in Tokaj. Zéta ripens earlier than either Furmint or Hárslevelű, but it is an equally good substrate for botrytis, and a competent sugar producer also noted for its fine acidity. Never bottled under the varietal label, Zéta usually ends up in the base wine blends used in making Tokaji Aszú.
For more interesting information:
> Hungarian wines and wine regions (authors: Zoltán Benyák, Tibor Dékány)
> Terra Benedicta 2003: Tokaj and Beyond (authors: Rohály Gábor, Mészáros Gabriella, Nagymarosy András)