The countryside to the north of Székesfehérvár and Lake Velence hides a small wine region little known outside Hungary. What’s more, this undiscovered region conceals a white variety that few will have come across outside the country. Mór, which is pronounced like ‘more’ in English, is the region that is home to a variety called Ezerjó. Its name can be roughly translated as ‘a thousand blessings or good things’. It’s not a terribly complex wine, so the name probably doesn’t refer to its complexity, but maybe to the fact that it is a good yielder, which was usually considered a good thing in the past. And wouldn’t you know it, it has a range of other names too, including Zátoki, Korponai, Budai Fehér (Buda White), or Kolmreifler. In Transylvania, it is known as Fehér Bakator.
Ezerjó takes its place among those Carpathian Basin varieties considered to be ‘Hungarikums’, meaning things that are considered intrinsically Hungarian (other Hungarikums include fisherman’s soup from Baja and Tisza, Tokaji aszú, palinka, Unicum, fröccs, Erős Pista, Törley sparkling wine, Egri Bikavér, gulyás soup, and paprika). Although the variety now seems like a well-kept secret since very little makes it out of the country, it was once the country’s fourth most planted variety.
Ezerjó originated near the Danube, and by the 19th century it had spread throughout Hungary and the Carpathian Basin. Plantings grew to more than 14,000 hectares by 1970, although this growth had stopped by the mid-1980s. Nowadays, there are only a few hundred hectares planted, most of which are in Mór (the spiritual home of Ezerjó), Neszmély (just to the north), and in the sandy soils of the Kunság on the Alföld (Great Plain). At one time, there was little else planted in Mór, although it is now also complemented with other mostly white varieties, both local and international.
Ezerjó is an early-ripening, high-yielding variety, with big bunches of thick-skinned berries. This is perhaps what made it so popular in the planned economy, although it is sensitive to frost and rot. It produces pale green-white wines which are relatively high in alcohol with pronounced acidity and zestiness. The most refreshing and lively wines—with notes of lemon, apple, and peach—come from the limestone soils of Mór. In the north-west of the country, the grape can also produce lively, dry whites which are perfect for drinking right away.
Perhaps one of the blessings its name refers to is that it’s a bit of wild card and can produce a whole range of wines from sparkling through dry, off-dry and sweet botrytized wines. It can be made using reductive technology or can be barrel fermented and/or aged to smoothen out its zesty kick and add silkiness. It also responds well to ageing on the fine lees, and the final string to its bow is that in the right place and vintage, it can shrivel on the vines and develop botrytis. In the past, Aszú from Mór was highly regarded, yet it is another style that seems to have faded into the annals of history. Sweet botrytized wines are still made, perhaps two or three times a decade, however they are no longer permitted to bear the name Aszú; this is now only permitted for wines from Tokaj.
Csabi Miklós is one of the most well-known producers in Mór and is himself quite a character, with a gaggle of young hipsters always around him at wine fairs. He produces a range of different Ezerjós depending on the vintage, including some from old vines and some vineyard-selected wines. He thinks that Móri* Ezerjó is already a kind of brand name. He also sees its great potential, especially in times of climate change, as it retains its high acidity even in hotter vintages. Having such a high acidity also means that it has great ageing potential. Incidentally, I had the chance to try a 1993 ‘Móri Aszú’, which still retained amazing acidity and freshness, somewhat like a Madeira.
The Mór Wine days, a festival held each year in October, is a great opportunity to meet Csabi and other producers, both large and small. You can taste Mór’s thousand blessings and see how a reductive, refreshing, zesty Ezerjó makes the perfect aperitif. Add a little oak, and it’s a great partner to white meat or perhaps a local Swabian speciality such as pork knuckle with sauerkraut and dumplings. Its acidity will certainly cut through all that fat! The sweet-toothed could sip some sweet botrytized wine along with their alma rétes (apple strudel).
* Adding ‘I’ to a place name means ‘from’, like also Tokaji, Egri, Villányi, etc.