Looking back on 2016, it’s was impossible to name favorites among the wines that I’ve tasted. I did lots of wine travel in 2016 (some related to Taste Hungary, and some was not), and had the opportunity to taste plenty of good wines from Hungary at The Tasting Table. It was the context surrounding the wines that made wine memorable for me this year. Here are my top four wine experiences of the year (including the addresses of those places that are located in Hungary). I hope 2017 will bring you some special wine travel experiences.
Read: 2016—Our Year in Food Memories
1. The Tasting Table. One of the perks to owning a wine shop is that life becomes a constant wine adventure. We had a great year with our Thursdays @The Tasting Table series, and were honored to have winemaker guests such as Samuel Tinon, Szabolcs Újfalussy (from Oremus), and Vali Hernyák. We put a lot of work into our wine stock, and we added dozens of fantastic Hungarian wines to our shelves … which meant that we always had something new to taste!
2. The #winelover Hungary Trip. In June we organized a five day exploration of Hungarian wine for the #winelover group. Most of the participants had never been to Hungary before. They were thrilled to get such an in-depth introduction to Hungarian wine, and we were happy to show them some of our favorite wines and places.
In visited Eger we started at the Gróf Buttler Winery where we tasted their wines, along with ones from Kovács Nimród, St. Andrea, and Juhász Testvérek. Tibor Gál Jr. introduced us to his family’s wines, and we had lunch at their latest project, Fúzió, which is a combination restaurant / wine bar / wine museum.
The bulk of the trip was spent in Tokaj, where we all became even more smitten with aszú. We visited Disznókő, Royal Tokaji Winery, and Erzsebet Pince. At Oremus we felt like royalty as we sat in the winery’s historic mansion and tasted trough a lineup of spectacular wines. Károly Barta spoiled us with one of the best vineyard tours ever. With him we hiked up to the Király Vineyard (one of Tokaj’s most prestigious), where he showed us his vines, explained the terroir, and opened a few bottles of furmint and hárslevelű for us to enjoy as we admired the spectacular views.
In Erdőbénye, Zita Hotyek, a young cooper, created a barrel with her hands as we watched. We not only stayed at the lovely Oroszlános Wine Hotel, but they helped introduce us to the new wines coming from their village, Tállya, by inviting several winemakers to come show us their wines.
We met groups of winemakers from the Tokaj Renaissance group and the Mádi Kör who generously poured (and explained) their wines. We dined at Sárga Borház and Aszúház. Altogether, the experience forever cemented our love for furmint.
We were seduced by juhfark in Somló where we spent a day tasting amazing volcanic wines, which are so full of personality. We loved the salty wines we started with at Tamás Kiss’ small winery. #Winelover István Spiegelberg took us into his ancient, candle-lit cellar, where we feasted on a whole roasted suckling pig as we tasted his wines and listened to his stories. At the Somló Wine Shop Éva Cartright gave us a masterclass in juhfark, and prepared us a traditional pörkölt.
We were ready for some reds and in Villány we had great visits at Wassmann, Heumann, and Jackfall. Though the wines were not new to us, it was so nice to experience Hungary with our #winelover friends after exploring so many other countries (Germany, Spain, Portugal) with them.
3. Jerez, Spain (in celebration of the #winelover anniversary). It has long been one of my wine dreams to visit Jerez. I distinctly remember my first taste of fino, manzanilla, and amontillado—I was a 19-year-old waitress and a wine rep stopped by the restaurant to do a staff sherry tasting. I was not even into wine at this point, but I immediately loved these wines. On this trip to the “sherry triangle” in February, I learned so much about the complexities of sherry—and the magic powers of flor—from the region’s experts. We tasted some truly amazing wines and visited the region’s iconic wineries: González Byass (home of Tio Pepe), Bodega Lustau, Bodegas Barbadillo, Bodega Delgado Zuleta, Bodegas Osborne, Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía, and Bodegas Williams & Humbert. Each tasting introduced us to a different aspect of sherry—there was a range of Tio Pepe, amontillados at Lustau, an extraordinary vertical tasting at Gutiérrez Colosía, and rare sherries at Osborne, among others. This trip only confirmed for me that a glass of chilled fino is perfect for nearly any occasion (and also that I need to visit more wine regions where flor wines are made).
Tasting Table Budapest
Bródy Sándor utca 9
Nagykőporos út 23
Csiky Sándor utca 10
Royal Tokaji Winery
Rákóczi utca 35
Bem József utca 16
Bajcsy-Zsilinszky utca 45
Rákóczi utca 83
Oroszlános Borvendéglő és Borhotel
Rákóczi út 23
Batthyány utca 53
Somlói Vándor Pince
Somló Wine Shop
Fő utca 42
Ipartelepi út 2
Fő utca 23
4. Volcanic wines in Badacsony. In July we headed to Lake Balaton to swim the annual 5.2 km Cross-Balaton swim. Halfway through the swim I started to crave a lángos topped with cheese and sour cream. Next I began to crave a chilled glass mineral-intense olaszrizling like I had tasted the night before. It was a wine that for me, was definitive of the region. Since we would be at Balaton anyway, we had decided to add a few extra days and do some wine exploration in Badacsony, one of Hungary’s most beautiful wine regions, on the northwestern side of the lake. This is a region with volcanic soil which produces some amazingly distinctive, mostly white, wines. We stayed at the lovely Bencze Birtók, where guest houses are set in the vineyards and we savored the lake and vineyard views from our patio. We spent our days wandering around the hill, where several other wineries are clustered, tasting wine and wandering in vineyards.
We kept finding ourselves returning to Szászi Pince, which also has a small restaurant, where we sat at a table next to the vineyards and tasted our way through their wines, many of which were aged, enjoying the range of mineral intense wines including local varieties like Budai zöld, kéknyelű, rózsakő, olaszrizling, zeus, and zenit.We tasted as many of these complex wines—full of a myriad flavors and nice acids—as we could find. This trip cemented my love of volcanic wines. We’ll be back next summer for sure.