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Together with Villany, the Pecs is Hungary’s warmest wine region, endowed with the longest growing season and a sub-Mediterranean climate. A hot and sunny summer is usually followed by a mild winter with rare frosts. On the most sheltered southern slopes, fig trees not only weather through the winter but will actually bear fruit. Precipitation levels are low throughout the area.
Viticulture was brought to the area by the Roman legions, and it survived the vicissitudes of the great migrations. This is borne out by an extant Carolingian charter from 890 A.D., in which Arnulf, King of Franconia, confirmed Wittmar, the Archbishop of Salzburg, in his property of vines at the town of Pecs. In 1015, King Stephen, founder of the Hungarian state, presented the Abbey of Pecsvarad with 110 vine-dressers and six coopers. During medieval times, the region’s most treasured vineyards at Pecs were Mons Aureus (the Roman name of the hill known as Aranyhegy today), Tettye, Donatus, Deindol, and Makar.
In 1694, Baranya County was granted its own crest, whose grape motif probably illustrated the heveng, a local delicacy made by hanging ripe clusters on branches of sloe to shrivel and desiccate the berries in the warm autumn sun for longer storage. At about this time, the Provost of Pecs took it into his head to make an Aszu in the Pecs to emulate Tokaj. Not realizing that botrytis would not develop in the local climate, the good clergyman ordered cuttings and even earth to be brought from Tokaj to indulge his sweet dreams—all in vain. This is probably how the Furmint grape first showed up in this southern region. In the 18th century, the variety was mainly planted in Szentmiklos. (The region stopped making Furmint in the second half of the 20th century; the last known examples were intensely sweet and had 13.5% alcohol.)
The 1830’s saw quite a revolution take place. Stakes appeared in the vineyards where the vines had been trained without any form of support, and the Provost tried to meet increasing domestic demand for better quality wines by importing the Cirfandli grape from Austria. This variety— of no relation to California Zinfandel despite the similarity of the name — has since become the near exclusive and endangered specialty of Pecs. The phylloxera at the end of the 19th century destroyed 80% of the vineyards. Despite some new plantations, the region has never recovered from this blow, and has barely a trickle of bottled wines today.
Before the second half of the 20th century, the Pecs constituted part of the official Villany appellation. In 1997, several villages were added to the now independent Mecsekalja region. Although Kadarka used to hold sway in the area, it has been completely displaced by white varieties, particularly Olaszrizling, Chardonnay, Rajnai Rizling, and Zold Veltelim. There is hardly a trace of the formerly celebrated Furmint, and Cirfandli could barely claim five hectares in 2000.
Owing to the warm climate and the scarce precipitation, the region’s wines are generally full-bodied and often contain residual sugar and/or high alcohol. In fact, the Mecsekalja is a favorite hunting ground for devotees of off-dry or semi-sweet wines with a hint of spice. These wines can have charming acidity to offset some of the sugar, but they lack the spine needed for keeping, and will age fast. Almost impossible to find today, the Pecsi Cirfandli has a distinct floral nose evoking a meadow in full bloom, and a spicy, complex taste usually rounded off by a gram or two of residual sugar. Until the 1960’s, a certain cult following sustained the Pecsi Olaszrizling, a very high alcohol (13,5-14%) but low-acid (4.5-5%) white.
Area: 740 hectares.
Climate: sub-mediterranean, sheltered from the north-wind. Hot summer with a lot of sunshine, mild winter.
Vine varieties, wines: Cirfandli – characteristic wine of the region. Flower fragrance, spicy, high alcohol contents, in good years containing not fermented sugar. Italian Riesling – pleasant dry, but not acidic, mild, warming, reseda fragrance. Chardonnay – fragrant, elegant, velvety acidic. Furmint – marked, tart, dry wine. The wines of Pecs are full-bodied, mildly acidic wines with high sugar-contents due to the big number of hours with sunshine.
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)