Before the phylloxera crisis hit Europe at the end of the 1800s, the variety of grapes grown in The Carpathian Basin (as well as many regions) was much wider, and very different than what is planted today. Many of the ancient grapes that thrived pre-phylloxera are now extinct, and the mysterious names of these wines just live on in literature and legend. Others only exist in small amounts at research institutes.
Fekete Járdovány is one such grape. It’s a rare, almost extinct variety, which was preserved in the gene bank of the Vine and Wine Research Institute at the University of Pécs. The Institute is well-known in Hungary for preserving those ancient Hungarian and Central European wine grapes, which would now be completely extinct if it was not for the efforts of the Institute.
In 2004 the Gere Winery started working with the institute to revive seven rare Carpathian Basin varieties—Kék Bajor, Bakator, Balafánt, Purcsin, Feketefájú Bajor, Csóka, and Fekete Járdovány. Gere got samples of these varieties from the Institute, and planted just two rows of each variety In a small showcase plot, right next to the winery. The first wine he produced from these varieties was a blend called Kárpát Cuvée, which included all of the varieties. This wine was only produced as an experiment, and never sold commercially. It was consumed mostly by the family, and at the hotel and winery.
A few years into the experimental plantation, Gere realized which varieties had the best potential for winemaking. Some of them had very thin skin, which caused them to rot before the harvest, or the bunches simply fell off the vine. Fekete Járdovány showed the best potential and the most reliability, producing good-sized berries with thicker skin. So he planted more of it (half hectare) in two of the winery’s premium vineyards: Csillagvölgy and Ördögárok.
The winery produced 1,300 bottles of its first 100 percent Fekete Járdovány in 2011. During the process, Gere discovered that Fekete Járdovány should not be vinified in the same way as varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It had to be treated more gently, more like a Kadarka. They fermented the Fekete Járdovány at a lower temperature in order to keep its fruitiness, and it had just a short period (six months) of oak aging in 300 liter used barrels (which were second and third use, so as not to overwhelm the wine with oak). With the current Fekete Járdovány vintage, the wine is aged for a bit longer than it previously was (10 months instead of six). Since it is not included in the list of grape varieties approved under the Villány wine appellation, Fekete Járdovány is labeled simply as a red wine without indication of origin.
Not much is known about the origin and history of the Fekete Járdovány variety. A book by Demeter Görög published in 1829 mentioned that it was widely planted, and that it probably originated in Ukraine (which would have been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time), east of Tokaj, near the Ukrainian/Slovakian/Hungarian border, in the triangle-shaped area which is between the towns of Berengszász (Berehove in Ukranian), Ungvár (Uzhhorod in Ukranian), and Munkács (Mukachevo in Ukranian). According to the Institute’s Director Dr. Pál Kozma, the few existing records mostly mention the white (fehér) version of this grape. The black version (fekete) seems to have not been as popular or widely planted. Records from the early 1800s also refer to the variety as Járdán.
Attila Gere’s Fekete Járdovány is a really one-of-a-kind wine, made from an ancient Carpathian basin grape which is hardly grown anywhere. This is the only commercially-available wine made from this grape. In addition to its interesting backstory, Gere’s Fekete Járdovány is—most importantly—a delicious wine! In the glass, the 2018 vintage has a pale cherry-red color with pink reflections. It has aromas of sweet vanilla, caramel, ripe black cherry, and coffee (due to the 10 months it spent aging in small oak barrels). The wine is reminiscent of a Nebbiolo-based wine, with its pale color, elevated tannins and acidity, long finish, and flavors of caramel, cherry, and coffee. It has 13.5 percent alcohol,
Gere’s Fekete Járdovány represents the efforts of generations of winemakers and ampelographers to revive ancient grape varieties. Gere’s success in bringing this variety back to life is something that all wine-lover’s should be thankful for! But only a very few lucky ones will be able to try it for themselves.