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There is a 2000-year tradition of viticulture in the Balaton-felvidek, supported by an unbroken string of archeological evidence since Roman times. Hungarians themselves began cultivating vines here more than 1000 years ago. The region rose to prominence in the early Middle Ages, not least as a source of wines for the royal pleasure of the Arpad Dynasty. The monasteries of Almad and Salfold on the periphery of the Kal Basin also produced wine for their own use, or else had the locals grow the wine for them.
In the first half of the 19th century, what was then called the Balatonmelleke (Balaton District) officially included all the growing areas that are today divided between three wine regions, namely Badacsony, Balatonfured-Csopak, and Balaton-felvidek. Regulations enacted in 1897 renamed this wine area collectively as Badacsony, which engendered several further designations and titles and ultimately led to the separation of the region, in the early 1990’s, into Badacsony proper and the rump western section of the Balaton-felvidek. The actual regional name Balaton-felvidek did not appear in the language of wine legislation until 1999, but now it seems to have finally taken root.
The Balaton-felvidek is essentially a white wine region, with Olaszrizling still leading the list of grape varieties, followed by the fashionable Chardonnay and much less Rizlingszilvani and Szurkebarat. Zold Veltelini and Zenit both seem very promising.
The wines do not display consistent regional character. Those from the eastern wing can be easily taken for a wine grown in Badacsony, while the wines from the western wing resemble those of the Balatonfured-Csopak region. This state of affairs is a faithful reflection of the picture suggested by the area’s geological make-up, demonstrating the power of particular soils to take precedence over grape varieties. In addition to intense, firm Olaszrizling, some full-bodied Chardonnay and zesty Zold Veltelini wines have come out of this region. In better years, Muscat Ottonel, Zenit and Szurkebarat are often vinified in the semi-dry or semi-sweet style. Historically, the Olaszrizling harvested from the Bece Hill was the most highly regarded wine of this region.
In the area of Monostorapáti, the genre of the jobor (“prime wine” or “principal wine”) is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. This is the ancient Hungarian name for Szamorodni-style wines, best known from Tokaj, for which the nobly rotted berries are picked along with grapes unaffected by botrytis (unlike for the Aszu, which is made by macerating hand-selected botrytized fruit in base wine or must). The result of this simplified late-harvest technique is typically a concentrated, high-alcohol wine that often contains residual sugar.
The wine culture of the Balaton-felvidek is symbolized by the cellars and press houses that continue to define its landscape today. Beside the unsophisticated cellars of local villagers, the members of the lesser nobility and the middle classes erected quite a few distinguished buildings in the rustic baroque and neoclassicist style. The Festetics Preshaz in Cserszegtomaj and the Taverna in Gyenesdias are two wonderful examples.
Area: 1497 hectares.
Climate: varied, with mediterranean character, lot of sunshine.
Vine varieties, wines: Szurkebarat, Italian Riesling, Chardonnay – full-bodied, rich in bouquet, lively acidic wines with fine fragrance.
For more interesting information:
> Hungarian wines and wineregions (authors: Zoltán Benyák, Tibor Dékány)
> Terra Benedicta 2003: Tokaj and Beyond (authors: Rohály Gábor, Mészáros Gabriella, Nagymarosy András)