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Villány PDO: A Guide to the Wine Region
Villány is the home of big bold reds, which are generally based on the Bordeaux varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. It is one of Hungary’s most popular red wine regions, boasting some of the most expensive reds in the country. This is no coincidence, since Villány was the first region where small growers began to bottle their own wines and produce quality wines that could compete with similar reds from Western Europe. Thus, some of the big names in Hungarian wine can be found in the appellation.
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Because of its southern location, Villány is no longer known for whites, but the Siklós part of the region was famed for its Olaszrizling in centuries past. The attractive village of Villány and its lovely white-washed cellar row stretching along its main road is a magnet for the wine-loving tourists who descend there on weekends. It boasts the first wine route organization in the country, hence its flourishing wine tourism. And it helps that the wineries and cellars are located close together and can easily be reached on foot or by bicycle.
The Villány PDO is the southernmost wine region in Hungary and is located close to the Croatian border. It stretches around 25 kilometers across the south-facing slopes of the Villány Hills. Its highest hill is Szársomlyó, which is 444 meters above sea level. It can be divided into two districts: Villány, which comprises the village of Villány and four other neighboring villages, and Siklós, which extends over twelve settlements. The region has 2,476 hectares of planted vineyards, and boasts important historic vineyards, such as Kopár, Jammerthal, Csillagvölgy, Remete, and Ördögárok.
CLIMATE AND SOIL
Villány is known for its sub-Mediterranean climate and is the warmest region west of the Danube. The area around Villány is known as Ördögkatlan, or Devil’s Punchbowl, thanks to its searing summer temperatures. Winters are relatively mild, and spring generally comes early, particularly on the southern slopes of the Villány Hills. This long growing season favors late-ripening varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which can ripen fully here. The region is generally dry and sunny; however, there is a relatively high risk of hailstorms. The hills are modestly high, but block the cold air from the north, thus creating special microclimates favorable for quality viticulture.
The region is characterized by dolomite and limestone bedrock formed during the middle-Triassic from Jurassic marine sediments, and during the Lower Cretaceous, which evolved mostly chernozem brown forest soils. Lime rich loess bedrock also weathered easily and evolved fertile clay loess soils rich in lime, in places mixed with dolomite and limestone debris. There are patches of red clay at the bottom of slopes, whereas higher up the slopes there are heavier, water-retentive rendzina and chernozem soils. There are also areas of bare limestone and dolomite, where it is not possible to cultivate vines.
Remains of an altar in a Roman villa near Nagyharsány document the existence of vineyards under the Romans, although there is evidence of sporadic viticulture in the area dating back to the Neolithic Age. Viticulture flourished during the early years of the Hungarian Kingdom and, as elsewhere, was associated with the Church. The Mongol invasions destroyed the vineyards, which were later replanted. And the Ottomans restricted production without completely banning it, although constant battles in the area decimated both the vineyards and the population.
Once the Ottomans were expelled from the area in the late 17th century, the abandoned vineyards ended up in the hands of the Viennese Court. They were considered ideal for serving as gifts for deserving subjects, such as Eugene of Savoy, whose huge estate comprising 26 villages reverted to the daughter of Maria Theresa and then her husband Archduke Carl Albrecht (since Maria Theresa died without any heirs). This, the Bellye estate, and another estate owned by the Batthyány family, had a decisive influence on Villány’s economy for centuries.
Waves of southern Slavs fled north, as elsewhere in Hungary, and settled in Villány. By 1715 there were at least 40 Serbian families living in the village. They were followed by German settlers who brought advanced viticultural practices and a culture of hard work. They also brought a variety now known as Portugieser, which became a key variety in the region. By the end of the 18th century, Villány was a German-dominated village, with 74 percent of its 2,200 inhabitants of German origin. The Germans’ hard work paid off and the village experienced a golden age in the mid-19th century. After phylloxera there was another boom, thanks in part to Zsigmond Teleki, who planted an experimental vineyard in the region. Teleki was known for breeding the rootstock Berlandieri x Riparis, and cuttings grafted onto resistant American rootstocks were exported nationwide.
White varieties were more common than red prior to phylloxera, but the balance was tipped towards red after replanting. By 1935, Olaszrizling was the most common variety, followed by Kadarka, Portugieser, Chasselas, Müller-Thurgau and Bánáti Riesling.
Villány suffered the same 20th century tribulations as other Hungarian wine regions. But following the change of regime in 1989, the region was one of the first to realize the importance of working together as a community. By the end of the 1980s, winemakers had already been working together to promote their region and wines, and to realize the importance of tourism. Many growers rushed to plant the Bordeaux varieties at this time. They were also early adopters of a protection of origin system, and created a trademark in 2006 featuring a crocus as the symbol of the Villány origin protection.
STYLES OF WINE
Villány is best known for its big powerful reds, often with a generous seasoning of oak, primarily from the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc), either as single varietals or in blends. They are generally characterized by high alcohol, richness, and warmth. They have ripe tannins, high alcohol and full body, although some producers are now creating wines in a lighter, fruitier style.
The region’s producers decided several years ago to make Cabernet Franc their flagship variety, since it seems to perform particularly well here, so velvety Villányi Franc is one the region’s key brands. More recently, the younger generation have created another community brand with the region’s historically most famous grape—Portugieser. RedY is a youthful red wine based on Portugieser blended with other permitted local varieties, such as Kékfrankos. The wines bear similar labels and are marketed together. Incidentally, Villány is still Portugieser’s stronghold in Hungary.
Villány origin protected wines come in three quality levels – Classic, Premium and Super Premium. Premium wines must be aged in oak for at least one year (or six months in the case of Kadarka or Portugieser), while Super Premium wines may only be made from Cabernet Franc and must be aged for at least two years, one of those in oak.
Kékfrankos is increasingly planted in the region and produces wines full of black berry fruit, with plenty of juicy acidity.
Although no longer a white wine region—its southerly location means that the wines generally lack acidity—Olaszrizling performs well in the slightly cooler Siklós district, while Hárslevelű can produce very opulent wines in the Villány sunshine.
Whites: Chardonnay, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Hárslevel, Irsai Olivér, Királyleányka, Muscat Ottonel, Müller-Thurgau, Olaszrizling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sárga Muskotály, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, Zengő, Zenit, Zöldveltelini
Reds: Blauburger, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Menoire, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Portugieser, Syrah, Zweigelt
Bock, Attila Gere, Tamás & Zsolt Gere, Zoltán Günzer, Tamás Günzer, Jackfall Manufaktúra, Béla Jekl, Malatinszky, Polgár, Vylyan, Tiffán, Wunderlich, Gábor Kiss, Hummel, Wassmann, Sauska, Heumann, Polgár
Many wines from Villány 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.