Balatonfüred-Csopak is the Balaton’s, and indeed Hungary’s Olaszrizling hotspot. The region boasts some of the country’s best Olaszrizling, as well as an independent trademark protection system guaranteeing its quality, the Csopak Codex. Although it is one region in name, Balatonfüred and Csopak lead independent lives to a certain extent; many of Csopak’s winemakers participate in the Codex, while the Füred winemakers have a similar association called Rizling Generation.
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The region stretches for around 12 kilometers—to the east of the Kál Basin, along the northern shore of Lake Balaton between Zánka and Balatonalmádi. Geographically, it is the first and second range of hills of the eastern part of the Balatonfelvidék, or Balaton Highlands, but is not included in the PDO of the same name. There are currently 2,027 hectares under vine, far less than in the region’s heyday. Similar to many of the regions around the Balaton, much of the prime vineyard land has unfortunately been lost to holiday construction. The clear difference that existed between villages in the past has disappeared, with built-up areas merging into a string of holiday resorts and eating up the vines.
The curiously shaped volcanic hills of Badacsony and the Kál Basin peter out here. Gentler hills, bisected by valleys and basins, slowly rise from the sand bars, reeds and peat moors north of the lake. The region’s wine architecture is characterized by both large cellars built by the nobility and rows of peasant cellars, such as that in Aszófő, as well as many modern constructions.
CLIMATE AND SOIL
Similar to the other regions along the lake’s northern shore, Balatonfüred-Csopak’s climate is tempered by Lake Balaton’s large surface area. It also benefits from cool air at night from the forests which surround it, producing some microclimates that are particularly beneficial for winemaking. Wonderful, historic vineyards demonstrating its past and the great potential of the region abound. These include Lőcszedomb, Siralomvágó, Nagykút, Meszes, Szitahegy, Sárfánykert, Kertmög, Sóskút and Slikker.
Unlike the primarily volcanic western reaches of the northern shore, the region is characterized by a complex geological mix. Schist overlain by sandstone produces a patchwork of brown earth, red forest soil with high iron oxide content, calcareous marl, dolomite and limestone soils. However, the area just east of the Kál Basin features a basalt outcrop near Monoszló, with slopes covered in a thin layer of loess, thus yielding wines similar in character to those of Badacsony. The region also includes the picturesque peninsula of Tihany, which is of volcanic origin and boasts its own sub-region and PDO – Hungary’s smallest.
Viticulture was most likely practiced in the region before the Romans arrived and then clearly flourished within the Roman province of Pannonia. The roman ruins of Villa Urban bear evidence to this, boasting recurring motifs relating to vines and viticulture. It remained well-established under King St. Stephen with records showing that he presented a cloister in the Veszprém Valley with vines and a serf to tend them. As elsewhere during the Middle Ages, the Church also played a key role in the development of viticulture—with the Bishop of Veszprém owning a vineyard in Csopak and the Tihany Abbey owning the town of Balatonfüred. Viticulture, however, suffered under the Ottoman Occupation as the area was the scene of constant battles.
The early 19th century saw Balatonfüred firmly established as THE place to be on the Balaton, drawing the well-to-do to spend their holidays there, take the waters, and enjoy cultural events, such as the annual Anna Ball. Naturally, they also enjoyed the region’s wines while on holiday and spread the region’s fame when returning home, thus providing good marketing for the local wines.
The area recovered relatively quickly after phylloxera, but took some time to earn the status of an independent wine region. First, it was tagged onto Balatonmelléke and then Badacsony, before becoming independent in 1959. In 1997, it gained Tihany and Mencshely too. Unfortunately, like other regions around the lake, the area under vine is shrinking with abandoned vineyards and speculation rife. Local authorities, winemakers, and the Balaton Circle organization are seeking ways, including legislation and minimum grape prices, to prevent the situation worsening.
STYLES OF WINE
The region is almost exclusively white wine country today, although red wine was produced in greater quantities prior to phylloxera. Olaszrizling is king nowadays in Balatonfüred and Csopak. Both towns and their associated communities have their own organizations to promote the variety and raise its quality. The Csopak Codex is an independent origin and trademark protection system with the strictest requirements of any in Hungary regarding viticulture and vinification. It covers wines from 30 vineyards of five communities and has two levels – village and vineyard-selected wines. Balatonfüred also has its own association, Rizling Generation, who are working towards a similar system.
Given the region’s checkerboard soils, it’s the perfect playground for winemakers experimenting with village and vineyard-selected wines. Csopaki Olaszrizling is elegant and light, with plenty of alcohol and acidity. Wines produced from grapes grown around Balatonfüred tend to be fuller bodied with greater extract, whereas on its western extremes, the wines are more akin to those of Badacsony and the Kál Basin. The red sandstone and clay soils closer to the shore of Lake Balaton yield elegant, light wines. And the white marl mid-slopes and the chalkier soils higher up give more powerful wines with greater acidity and a saline finish.
Szürkebarát (aka Pinot Gris) lags far behind Olazrizling in the region, while the most world’s most loved (or most reviled variety), Chardonnay, has also been gaining ground. Moreover, Furmint, known locally as Szigeti, which used to be widely planted, is beginning to make a comeback. It can be bottled as a single-varietal wine, but up to 15 percent may be added to Olaszrizling to give a bit of acidic zip to its flabbier partner.
The subregion of Tihany—which is an idyllic peninsula, crowned by a white abbey, projecting into the lake—effectively divides the region in half. Tihany is also red wine country. Only red and rosé may be produced from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kékfrankos, and Merlot on the volcanic soils of the tiny 95-hectare PDO. Moreover, Kékfrankos is also making inroads in the region and challenging white varieties’ dominance, with elegant wines being produced on its marl and limestone-rich soils.
Whites: Chardonnay, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Ezerjó, Furmint, Hárslevelű, Irsai Olivér, Juhfark, Királyleányka, Müller-Thurgau, Muscat Ottonel, Nektár, Olaszrizling, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Rozália, Sárga Muskotály, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris), Traminer, Zengő, Zenit, Zeus
Reds: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kékrankos, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Portugieser, Syrah, Zweigelt
Béla and Bandi Winery, Dobosi Winery, Figula, Homola, Jásdi Winery, Liszkay Vineyard Estate, Pántlika Cellar, Pétrányi Wine Cellar, Söptei, Szent Donát Winery, Zelna Winery