The Pécs region is one of Hungary’s warmest growing areas, boasting a sub-Mediterranean climate and a protracted growing season, just like its more famous neighbor Villány. It is perhaps no longer one of Hungary’s most famous wine regions, although it was famed as far as the Royal Court in the Middle Ages. However, the city of Pécs, which gives the region its name, is one of Hungary’s most lively university towns. The lovely city center has been thoroughly renovated and much of it pedestrianized. It was a European Capital of Culture in 2010, which also helped to boost its renewal, when it gained a new concert hall and a cultural quarter, the ‘Zsolnay Negyed’.
Unfortunately, many of the former vineyard areas have been swallowed up by the growing city, and only a small percentage of its potential growing area is planted with vines. However, Pécs University boasts one of the country’s foremost research institutes for viticulture and oenology, which has the sixth largest vine gene bank in the world and cultivates some 1,500 varieties in its vineyards. This includes ancient Hungarian varieties it’s trying to revive—such as Csókaszőlő and Fekete Járdovány—as well as modern crosses, such as Jázmin and Zenit. The region is also known for a curiosity not grown elsewhere in Hungary, or indeed anywhere else except a small region in Austria, the white variety Cirfandli, or Zierfandler as it’s called in Austria (not to be confused with red Zinfandel)!
The region stretches 80 kilometers from east to west in Baranya County along the sheltered southern slopes of the Mecsek Hills, the rolling hills around Szerderkény and Mohács, and the southeastern slopes of the Zselic Hills. The 673 hectares of vineyards are generally found at altitudes of 110 to 300 meters above sea level.
Climate and Soil
The Pécs region’s sub-Mediterranean climate is influenced by the Mecsek Range as well as both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It benefits from mild winters, warm, early springs, hot summers and relatively low rainfall. The forested Mecsek Hills also generate balmy winds which help mitigate the risk of frost in spring, ensuring that vines benefit from warm days arriving early in the year.
The region’s bedrock and geology are varied. Permian red sandstone and Triassic calcareous rock, like that found in Balatonfüred-Csopak, are most common in the Mecsek. Soils here are characteristically loose sands, shale, and patches of limestone, as well as acidic, iron-rich brown earth overlying red sandstone. There are also weathered sandstone and loess parent rocks, which evolved lassivage brown earth, as well as rendzina soils over limestone and marl, while southern slopes are characterized by loess and adobe soils.
As elsewhere in Europe, the conquering Roman legions brought viticulture with them to the region and made Sopianae (Pécs) its commercial center. Ecclesiastical estates dominated winemaking during the Middle Ages, with records showing that the Archbishop of Salzburg owned vines in the town of Pécs in the 9th century, while King St. Stephen gave the Abbey of Pécsvárad over 100 vinedressers and half a dozen coopers in 1015. One of the most treasured areas for cultivation at that time was Mons Aureus, which is today known as Aranyhegy, or Golden Hill.
Kadarka was brought to this predominantly white region by settlers from the Balkans fleeing the Turks, while Germans settling here after the Rakóczi War of Independence brought a more sophisticated, market-oriented approach with them from their homeland.
The importance of viticulture in the county can be seen by the coat-of-arms granted to Baranya County in 1694, which features a local delicacy, heveng, made by drying bunches of grapes hung on sloe branches in the autumn sun. Around this time, the Provost of Pécs decided to try to emulate the sweet Aszú wines of Tokaj, ordering cuttings and soil to be brought from Tokaj. However, this was all in vain as, of course, Pécs’s climate is not conducive to the development of botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, which is necessary for producing these naturally sweet wines. Thus, Furmint made its way to this southerly region and was planted mostly around Szentmiklós. However, the Pécs terroir was not particularly suitable for producing Furmint and cultivation of the variety ceased in the mid-20th century.
In the early 19th century, local growers began to switch from bush training the vines to training the vines on stakes. And the Provost attempted to meet growing domestic demand for quality wines by importing the Zierfandler grape from Austria, which came to be called Cirfandli locally.
Naturally, phylloxera didn’t spare Pécs, and around 80 percent of its vineyards were destroyed. There were some new plantations, but the region never fully recovered and now counts among Hungary’s smaller wine regions. Indeed, until the mid-20th century, it was lumped together with the Villány region, before being carved out as the Mecsekalja (Mecsek Foothills) region and later renamed Pécs in the early 21st century.
Styles of Wine
Kadarka used to be king here, but has now been almost completely displaced by white varieties, primarily Olaszrizling, Chardonnay, Riesling and Zöldveltelini. The acidic, iron-rich brown earth and warm climate yields full-bodied wines with plenty of alcohol and somewhat low acidity. They frequently also contain some residual sugar. However, despite the dominance of white varieties, the region’s mild climate and warm summers mean that red varieties also ripen well, producing rich red wines with elegant tannins.
Cirfandli is the region’s flagship variety, and its exclusive domain here in Hungary. It can make wines in both dry and sweet styles. Pécsi Cirfandli has a delicately floral nose with a spicy palate, but generally lacks the acidity and structure to age well.
Pécs also has a long tradition of producing traditional method sparkling wine, or pezsgő. Although Törley in Budafok was one of the leading protagonists of the Hungarian pezsgő scene, Littke in Pécs, founded in 1859, was the first continually functioning pezsgő factory in Hungary. Sparkling wines are still produced here today, in both white and rosé versions, in the impressive 5-level, 2.5-km-long Cézár-Pannonia cellar, which boasts 20 individual passageways.
Whites: Chardonnay, Cirfandli, Csomorika, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Furmint, Hárslevelű, Irsai Olivér, Juhfark, Királyleányka, Olaszrizling, Muscat Ottonel, Pinot Blanc, Rhine Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Zenit, Zengő, Zöldveltelini
Reds: Blauburger, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Menoire, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Portugieser, Rubintos, Syrah, Zweigelt.
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