If anything in this category can be called a hungaricum the kadarka certainly can. It would really deserve a whole chapter to itself, as Hungarian wine tradition has for centuries been based on this variety. It began to spread over the Balkans with the Turkish occupa­tion of Hungary in the sixteenth and seven­teenth centuries, and was considered the dominant black grape in Hungary until very recent years. In its most famous place of cultivation, Szekszárd, even in the 1960s more than half the vines were of this variety. In the face of the heavy-industrial agriculture of the communist period, however, it clung on, and only from the 1970s has the amount cultivated gradually fallen.
Kadarka is firmly established in all the red wine regions of Hungary, preserving its strong qualities. It is therefore no surprise that for centuries it has been the definitive variety, yielding a pleasant wine both as the basis for ‘Bull’s Blood’ or as aszu. In traditional culti­vation – although much affected by climate -it possesses excellent, incomparable elements of bouquet and flavour. Its herbiness, high acidity and slightly restrained complex of flavours make it an excellent accompaniment to traditional Hungarian cuisine, in addition to which – especially in ‘thinner’ vintage years – it is eminently drinkable by itself. In outstanding years it is capable of offering a quite remarkably complex taste of chocolate, morellos and paprika. Although this has been for the most part unknown to drinkers of recent years, more and more winemakers are beginning to take this Hungarian variety seriously. It has much greater potential than many winemakers and wine-writers think even today.

As in recent years kadarka has lost the hegemony of black grapes, its place has been taken by Kékfrankos ‘Blue Frank, a variety of no less stature and one which still holds much promise. In the prolonged communist race for ‘markets’, in which the absolute emphasis on quantity caused several hungarica to lose their former places, perhaps the only fortunate exchange of position was that between kadarka and kékfrankos. Its origins are obscure, and it became widely known only in the mid-nineteenth century, but its advantages were appreciated even before that in the Sopron region. According to legend it received its name during the Napoleonic wars, when French soldiers billeted in Sopron bought wine from local Germans for francs, but only the better sort, the blue francs, were accepted. ‘Let’s have blue francs!’ was the watchword, and from then on this grape and its wine have been called kékfrankos.
As it adapts well to a range of natural conditions it has spread to almost all wine regions, but yields a quite distinctive, always characteristic wine. In addition to being the grape used everywhere for Hungarian roses, its styles are now being sketched as a red wine. In addition to the ‘chatty’, light-hearted tone with its crisp acidity produced by the quite graceful red fruit, big kékfrankos wines are now appearing which are substantially fuller, more robust, with nuances of tobacco, coffee and pepper. It is no exaggeration to say that, although it will take a few years, there may very likely emerge a kékfrankos that will compete at both domestic and international levels with the cabernets that dominate the world of red wines. Not only as a varietal, however, but also in blends it displays excellent properties, preserving its distinctive character, and is a defining element of most Bull’s Bloods.

It is a Hungarian grape variety, the result of multiple crossing. Irrespective of the vintage it is deep coloured, velvety, very rich in tannin. Even if it is harvested late the fragrance of flower and honey – inherited from Blue medoc – can be felt. It is harmonious, soft, matures quickly and improves the quality of blended red wines.

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)