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The “Balaton District” wine region consists of three groups of villages scattered around Zala County. The Csaford District on the slopes of the Keszthely Mountains includes Csaford, Pakod, Vindornyalak, Vindornyaszolos, Zalaber, Zalaszanto, and Zalaszentgrot. The Szentgyorgyvar District directly west of Lake Balaton comprises Dioskal, Egeracsa, Garabonc, Homokkomarom, Nagyrada, Orosztony, Sarmellek, Szentgyorgyvar, Zalakaros, and Zalaszabar. The Mura District along the Mura River on Hungary’s western border is made up of the communities of Csornyefold, Letenye, Muraratka, Muraszemenye, Szecsi-sziget, Tormafolde, and Zajk. The wine region occupies a total of 6,079 hectares, of which 4,107 hectares are ranked as Class I growing sites. Only 1,623 hectares are actually planted with vines at present.

Charters and other written records attest to a flourishing local viticulture since mediaeval times. By the late 19th century, this region west of Lake Balaton had become one of the largest sources of generally fine wine in the country. Subsequent to the phylloxera epidemic, this highly evolved culture of wine faded away fast, and the traditional wine grapes were supplanted by direct-producing varieties like Noah, Delaware, and Othello. Also known for its production of table grapes, notably Chasselas, Zala before the Great War formed part of the South Transdanubia-Balatonmelleke region. The region as we know it today was designated in 1997 as Zala, but was renamed in 2000 as the Balatonmelleke region.

In its current incarnation, the Balatonmelleke wine region is still largely unfamiliar to professionals and wine consumers in terms of its quality and quantity potential, since very few wines have been commercially released to date. Among the handful of outstanding producers special credit is due to the Vinum Veres Winery, known for characterful, rich aromatic whites harvested in Csaford, and the very first bottling, in the late 1990’s, of the rare Pintes variety.

A relic of local folk architecture is the boronapince. These characteristic “log cellars” survive today in dwindling numbers along the southern border in Redics, Muraratka, the Vorcsok Hill, and around Alsolendva. National monument status has been awarded to the last boronapince in the village of Nagykavas, but it seems nothing can save another row of crumbling log cellars from eventual demise. With their neat thatched roofs, these cellars used to be quite a spectacle to behold on the wine-hill at Nagykutas.

Area: 1514 hectares.

Climate: Mild, consolidated, wet.

Vine varieties, wines: Italian Riesling, Rieslingszilváni, Zöld veltelini, Piros tramini, Chardonnay, Kékfrankos, Zweigelt, Blue Port

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)