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Badacsony PDO: A Guide to the Wine Region
Badacsony is one of Hungary’s iconic regions. Along with Tokaj and Somló, Badacsony was famed across Europe for its characterful, full-bodied, minerally, white wines. These three regions form a kind of Holy Trinity of Hungarian volcanic winemaking regions, with unique, concentrated wines capable of long ageing. Badacsony wines are typically white and dry, but sweet wines are also made from late-harvest or shriveled grapes.
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Located in the Tapolca Basin on the western reaches of the northern shore of Lake Balaton, the magnificent truncated volcanic butte of Badacsony Hill can be seen dominating the horizon across the emerald green lake from the flatter southern shore. At 438 meters high, it is the highest point in the region. Vineyards girdle the hill and are characterized by small, often terraced plots with beautifl press houses and villas. The scenery is reminiscent of an undiscovered Hungarian Tuscany.
The region includes other buttes and cones that were formerly volcanoes, such as Tóti, Szent György, Csobánc, Szigliget, and Gulács, creating a stunning and somewhat surreal landscape of unusually shaped hills.
CLIMATE AND SOIL
The region has a special microclimate thanks to its steep, southern slopes. They are sheltered from the northerly winds, and light is reflected on them from the lake. Fig trees also flourish in this sub-Mediterranean climate. The lake’s waters ensure cool breezes, enabling the air to cool in the evenings, thus preserving acidity in the grapes. The wines are otherwise full-bodied, characterful and fiery thanks to their high sugar content guaranteed by the basalt hills and the lake’s proximity.
The region’s bedrock is predominantly heat-retaining basalt, overlain with sand and clay from the Pannonian Sea, although there are also some brown forest soils. The vineyards are mainly on the hillsides as the peat flatlands are not suitable for viticulture.
Read Lake Balaton PGI: A Guide to the Wine Region for more on the larger wine region.
Viticulture has flourished here since the time of the Romans, as evidenced by the road around Badacsony Hill, known as Római út (or Roman Street), which was formerly a military route. During the Middle Ages, vineyards were owned by the church, royal estates, and the noble Altyusz family who built the fortified castle on Szigliget. Viticulture in the region declined during wars with the occupying Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries as people fled the area. It rapidly recovered by the 18th century, however, with modern winemaking methods and newly planted vineyards making the region famous.
Many noble families had estates and press houses on the volcanic hills, creating a bucolic landscape with vineyards surrounding white-washed buildings. The region was so renowned that families even travelled from the other side of the lake to work the vineyards. The Badacsony region was far larger then than its current 1,400 or so hectares of vines. It stretched the length of the northern shore and was known as Balatonmelléke (Balaton District). In the 19th century, Badacsony was famed for the romance between Róza Szegedi and poet Sándor Kisfaludy, names which are still evident in the region today. The region shrank over the 20th century, losing the villages associated with Balatonfüred, Csopak, and the Káli Basin, which are now part of Balatonfelvidék.
Like every other wine region in Hungary, Badacsony suffered due to the forced collectivization following World War Two and the lack of demand for quality wines. However, it also began losing vineyards following World War One thanks to the region’s conversion to a holiday area, resulting in vines being ripped up to build holiday homes, with the situation only worsening later in the century. This is still very much a problem today, as around the rest of Balaton, with prime vineyard land often succumbing to development. Badacsony Hill is now part of a national park with strict building regulations, but the damage from the last half century will be difficult to undo.
STYLES OF WINE
Kéknyelű, unique to the region, had become the region’s star grape by the 18th century. But in reality, it was only produced by a few noble families due to the variety’s fickleness. Mostly other Hungarian varieties, such as Szigeti (aka Furmint), Juhfark, and Sárfehér were interplanted. By the 19th century, Olaszrizling had taken over. Interestingly, Portugieser also enjoyed a brief period of popularity, although red varieties were then forbidden by the Wine Act of 1893.
Like the rest of Lake Balaton, plantings are nowadays dominated by Olaszrizling, followed by Pinot Gris (known in Hungary as Szürkebarát), which may be produced in either Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio styles. You’ll also find some Furmint, Budai Zöld, and Kéknyelű. The latter has recently been rediscovered and is now on the way to becoming the region’s flagship variety, with plantings on the increase. Budai Zöld, another grape that is only really found here, is generally interplanted with Kéknyelű just to ensure its pollination.
Badacsony wines generally boast plenty of minerality and a frequent saltiness thanks to the basalt bedrock which releases minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium into the soils. The sand and clay in the soils ensure that the wines are also elegant, smooth, and round. The wines were traditionally sold using the name of the hill, with each having its own character. Szent György Hill, standing at 415 meters high, produces particularly characterful wines.
Wine legislation at the end of the 19th century, when the region was replanted following the devastation of phylloxera, helped to turn Badacsony into a predominantly white wine region since only white varieties were recommended for replantation. Nowadays, however, a handful of red varieties are grown, but in miniscule quantities.
Badacsony boasts another regional specialty, which can still be found today. Ürmös, a kind of aromatic, sweetened wine flavored with bitter herbs, that is somewhat reminiscent of Vermouth. Like Somló’s Juhfark, it was often sold in pharmacies in the past thanks to its alleged curative powers.
Budai Zöld, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Furmint, Harslevelű, Irsai Olivér, Kéknyelű, Muscat Ottonel, Nektár, Olaszrizling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Rózsakő, Sárga Muskotály, Traminer, Vulcanus, Zenit, Zeus, Zefír
Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir
2HA Vineyard and Winery, Borbély Family Winery, Folly Arboretum and Winery, Gilvesy, Isvándy, Laposa Wine Estate, Sabar Winery, Skizo Wines, *Szászi Winery, Szeremley First Hungarian Wine House, Sandahl Badacsony, Válibor, and Villa Tolnay
A range of wines from the Szászi Winery are available for sale at The Tasting Table Budapest
Want to taste and learn about Hungarian wines? Visit The Tasting Table Budapest. Order from our menu, or book one of our daily tastings: Wine, Cheese, & Charcuterie Tasting and Essentials of Hungarian Wine Tasting).
Want to experience it firsthand? Taste Hungary has daily wine tours featuring the Tokaj, Balaton & Somló, Villány, and Eger regions.