Hungarian Uprising & Wine Buyer’s Guide to Northern Hungary

By John Szabo, MS

I remember my first trip to Budapest in the late 1970s, travelling with my family to visit my grandparents. Strangely, my memories are etched in black and white; this distant, exotic city behind the iron curtain seemed to me trapped in the past, a remote place that colour television had not yet reached.

Long rows of identical, box-shaped apartment blocks stretched down non-descript streets. Diesel exhaust from Ladas and Trabants smeared stone buildings, turning everything a uniform soot colour. Pock marks from errant bullets were reminders of the failed 1956 uprising, and even WWII; mustachioed men in standard-issue suits sipped black coffee and potent palinka – fruit eau-de-vie – in one of the refuges from the daily grind.

The Danube and the Buda Castle hill in Budapest

In the ensuing forty-odd years since, I’ve been back to Budapest almost as many times, watching it transform, slowly at first, then rapidly, into a gleaming, modern European city, the “Paris of the east” as it’s often referred to.

The multi-decade clean-up project, fuelled by EU funds, has made Budapest almost unrecognizable to my young self, save for iconic landmarks like the spire of Saint Stephen’s Basilica, the baroque Buda Castle overlooking the Danube, or the parliament buildings, symbols of Hungarian independence from the late 19th century, albeit now all scrubbed clean and in full Technicolour. Budapest has become one of the most exciting cities in to visit in Europe, culturally rich, teeming with restaurants and wine bars, full of life.

Hungarian Parliament, Budapest

I’ve also observed the Hungarian wine industry evolve with striking parallels. Wine production is of course nothing new in this part of the world, with evidence stretching back to the country’s founding in 896 CE, and earlier to Roman times. That the Hungarian word for wine – bor – is one of only two in Europe not derived from Latin, testifies to the Magyars ancient connection to wine. During the Renaissance, Hungary produced some of the world’s most sought-after elixirs.

Under the USSR’s command economy, Hungary was designated a wine producer, charged with supplying the vast and undemanding Eastern Bloc market, the Central Committee’s nod to Hungary’s vocation for wine.

(Other countries like Czechoslovakia were tasked with producing railway locomotives and trams, and Russia tractors, for example.)

But these wines, much like drab communist era apartment blocks, were mostly characterless, industrial products, designed for function, not form, churned out by massive state-run cooperatives. Harsh Egri Bikavér and Szekszardi vörös, semi-sweet Debröí Hárslevelü, and bronze-coloured, oxidized Tokaji Aszú, were Hungary’s contributions to Comecon countries (does anybody remember those wines?).

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, foreign and domestic, and EU investment, flowed not only into infrastructure projects, but also into the Hungarian wine industry, and serious rebuilding began. Now a generation into the renaissance and progress made, but with international awareness lagging, Hungary can be considered one of the last great undiscovered, historically important wine producing nations.

Young winemakers are pushing the boundaries of organic, biodynamic and natural wines, and reinventing classics. The full potential of native varieties like whites furmint, hárslevelü, and olaszrizling, and redd kékfrankos and kadarka, is being explored and exploited. Excitement within the industry is a palpable as the energy in a Budapest nightclub.

Today, Hungary counts just over 60,000 hectares of vineyards (just over half the size of Bordeaux), and focus has returned to the quality-oriented, often hillside terroirs. There are 33 OEMs, Hungary’s equivalents of PDOs – Protected Designations of Origin, but during my most recent visit in August 2023, I focused on an arc of regions across the north of the country, from Lake Balaton through Eger to Tokaj in the far northeast.

Sunset over the volcanic landscape of Lake Balaton’s north shore

The Volcanic North: Lake Balaton, Eger, Tokaj

Hungary may no longer have active volcanoes, but it does have a spectacular volcanic history and much to offer volcanic wine lovers. Dozens of mineral-rich bottled water sources and natural thermal pools dotting the Hungarian countryside are some of the bubbling reminders today, as are prime volcanic terroirs running across the country’s north and the salty, gritty, fiery wines that grow upon them.

I’d suggest starting your exploration here, though this is just the beginning. Celebrate Hungary’s latest (successful) uprising by discovering the wines of this colourful jewel of the East.

Below in the Buyer’s Guide are the top wines tasted out of several hundred over the course of a week of winery visits. Ontario agents are listed next to represented wineries; prices are not available – contact the agent for details. Several wineries are not currently represented, so, Ontario importers looking to expand their portfolios into this largely untapped country, take note!

Somlo Ilona Chapel

Lake Balaton North Shore: Badacsony & Somló

About 90 minutes by car southwest of Budapest lies the great Hungarian sea, Lake Balaton, a remnant of the much vaster Pannonia Sea that receded a few million years ago. Badacsony is the best-known appellation, named for the lakeside town and the vine-covered hill of the same name that rises above it. Only hillside vineyards are included in the official appellations, on the slopes of queer, trapezoidal-shaped extinct volcanoes that make this one of the most alluring landscapes in all of Central Europe. This is white wine territory, especially minerally and salty whites. Look for rare exotics such as kéknyelű and rozsakö (“Rose Stone”), or more widespread but highly compelling furmint, olaszrizling, riesling and szürkebarát (pinot gris).

Somló lies about 45m by car north of the Lake on two extinct volcanoes with the same genetics and shape as those from Balaton. The Somló appellation is exclusively for white wine, mainly from furmint, hárslevelú, and olaszrizing, and the oddity of the region, juhfark.

Buyer’s Guide: Lake Balaton North Shore (Badacsony, Somló and environs)

94 Gilvesy Pincészet Rajnai Rizling Tarányi, Szent György-hegy 2020, Badacsony
Gilvesy’s single vineyard Taranyi is an old planting from the cooperative era, over a half century old, planted in the 1970s. The nose is broad and complete, displaying its wood-aged influence through the creamy-spicy range (parts aged in old wood, steel and flex cube). The palate is equally broad and complete, with an appealing range of creamy, white-fleshed orchard fruit, with a chenin blanc-like profile (a positive reference). Terrific power and density, long finish. Top notch stuff., drinking well now, but hold comfortably another decade. Tasted July 2023.

94 Gilvesy Pincészet, Badacsonyi Váradi Furmint, Szent György-hegy 2019, Badacsony
Complete and complex, gently wood-influenced, slowly evolving single vineyard furmint here from Gilvesy – his top furmint bottling, featuring classic grapefruit-citrus flavours, pear and apples of all colours. The palate is medium-full bodied, with ripe acids, creamy and broad, and a gentle phenolic tack – it’s a wine of substantial power, and very long finish, a terrific example of the variety, but more importantly, this unique volcanic region. Drinking well now, but will hold another decade no doubt. Tasted July 2023.

94 Fekete Pince Somlói Cuvée 2019, Somló
From an undisclosed blend of varieties, all native to the hill, offering lovely, fragrant aromatics, acacia flowers, linden, fresh and late harvested fruit. There’s terrific complexity and balance on the palate, lovely sapidity – it’s the best balanced and most energetic of the latest Fekete releases. Magical, high quality wine, best from now to the early ’30s. Tasted July 2023.

93 Szászi Birtok Kéknyelü 2019, Badacsony
2019 was considered a top vintage at the estate, and in the region, and this is drinking really well at the moment, just shifting into the gently candied lemon-lime zest spectrum. The palate is very salty, with cool fruit and resinous herb flavours, very tonic, with excellent length and genuine depth. Aged in 500l, local Hungarian oak, with only about 10% 2nd fill, the rest in older wood. Top notch stuff.  Tasted July 2023.

93 Villa Tolnay Balatoni Csobáncz Rajnai Rizling Kápolna Domb 2020, Csobánc 
A parcel selection, the core of the estate fruit at the top of the hill beneath the chapel (“Kápolna”), this is the top riesling in the Tolnay portfolio. Wood ageing is noted – it’s is a blend of the two best casks (1200l or 1800l) and the wine is evolving, but slowly. It has a lovely, pronounced succulence, great acids, and excellent length – lingers for days. Should continue to evolve beautifully in the bottle for a decade or more. Top notch. Tasted July 2023.

93 Pap Wines Jumis Balatonmeleki Hárslevelú 2021
Orange colour, no sulfites added, clean and engaging on the nose, gently floral in the varietal style, fresh Earl Grey tea, acacia honey, apricot purée, and more – a complex wine. I really like the energy and vibrancy on the palate, perfectly clean, lightly grippy, with terrific length and depth, and saline goodness. Cellar for another year or two at least for the texture to develop – this will be a beauty. Tasted July 2023.

93 Fekete Pince Somlói Hárslevelú 2018, Somló 
Evolving now, with lovely tea leaf, dried linden flower, acacia, cumin and turmeric spice, apricot purée, in a old world style to be sure, with powerful, minerally acids, and long finish. This will be quite advanced/mature for anyone seeking a fruity experience, but even still I’d suggest another 2-3 years in the cellar for more pronounced development – these are not intended to be easy, fruity wines, and Fekete’s best are notoriously ageworthy. Surely a terrific wine for the table. Tasted July 2023

92 Villa Tolnay “GV” Balatoni Güner Veltliner Selection 2022, Csobánc 
3.5ha of grüner veltliner are planted at Villa Tolnay’s home vineyard on the Csobánc volcanic hill, and it’s used in a three wines: a blend, a premium bottling, and an entry level wine, though in this vintage only one ‘selection’ was produced. 2022 was a very hot and dry year, with variable degrees of ripeness, needing 6 passages through the vineyards to collect the ripe bunches. It’s richly aromatic and very ripe, textural, layered, with very fine density and concentration. Acids are on the lower side, but balance is intact with phenols and very fine bittiness. Length is excellent. Aged in a mix of cask sizes and a portion in steel. Tasted July 2023.

92 Hidden Treasures NR3, A Moric Project Riesling-Furmint Featuring Villa Tolnay 2020, Csobánc 
“Hidden Treasures” is a project by Roland Velich of Moric in the Burgenland, Austria, a label under which he shares his hidden treasures from Hungary. Here he has partnered with Philip Oser of Villa Tolnay on the Csobánc hill in the Badacsony region on the north shores of Lake Balaton. The first vintage was 2017. The nose of this 2020 riesling-furmint blend is open and offers a mix of both fresh and evolving character, with intriguing floral-acacia notes, almonds and almond blossoms, and lots of citrus and green orchard fruit. The palate is firm and grippy, with palpable phenolics, and saline character. Excellent length. Top notch, best from 2025 for the full experience. Tasted July 2023.

92 Káli Kövek Furmint, PDO Balatonfüred-Csopak 2021, Káli Basin 
From the volcanic hill of Hálomhegy in Dörgicse, Kútföi vineyard, bottled fined but unfiltered, a part aged in steel, part in cask. Beautiful aromatics here – this has developed nicely, showing a particularly exotic, spicy side, almost cumin and turmeric-like, roasted celery and salsify, salty, savoury and full bodied, a real mouthful of wine, with terrific salinity and succulence. Genuine volcanic essence. Great length. Certainly worth a look. Tasted July 2023.

92 Laposa Kápolna Badasconyi Olaszrizling 2017, Badacsony  
A single vineyard on the Csobánc hill, fermented in 1000l Zemplén oak casks, the top olaszrizling selection of the Laposa estate. The 2017 is showing fine aromatics, floral and fragrant, with surprisingly little evolution for a 6 year old white wine to be sure, though it’s just reaching the stage when the minerally flavours start emerge, the baked earth, wet rock. Fruit is very much a secondary component at this stage, with a touch of caramelized lime zest, but it’s really all about the sapidity and succulence, the saline finish, the saliva-inducing quality. It would be hard to guess the variety, but identifying the region would seem a much easier task – that Badacsony mineral-saltiness is on full display. Excellent length. Tasted July 2023.

92 Gilvesy Pincészet Estate Rajnai Rizling, Szent Györgyhegy 2021, Badacsony
Lovely nose here on this 2021 riesling, a fine and floral-fruity, savoury and complex example, still very youthful. There’s some CO2 noted on the palate, lifting the engaging ensemble of sweet green herbs and flowers, pot pourri before it rots, a stiff sea breeze in all of its salt-laden savouriness. The palate is dry and crunchy, delivering turgid, green fruit flavours; length and depth are excellent. I like the transparency, the translucency and the overall profile. Tasted July 2023.

92 Gilvesy Pincészet Estate Rajnai Rizling, Szent Györgyhegy 2017, Badacsony
An estate riesling made mostly from the Váradi vineyard facing southeast (which is mostly planted to furmint), from vines planted in 2013-2014. The nose is lovely, still very fresh, moving slowly it seems. Fruit has only just started to shift toward maturity, with some gently candied lime zest. But really, it’s about the spring water-like mineral profile, pure clean and fresh, translucent, like an acetate overlay on the Szent György hill. Excellent length. Drinking beautifully now. Tasted July 2023.

92 2Ha Pinot Gris Orange, Szent György-hegy 2021, Badacsony  
Skins here were macerated for about 10 days, which, coupled with the very ripe grapes in this vintage (harvested in mid-August), yielded a pale red colour, not even orange, more of a red wine in white wine packaging. The nose is also more of a red expression: red fruit, red raspberry, the most pinot noir-like pinot gris I’ve come across. The palate is firm and succulent, gently tannic, so much like a red wine – this is orange only in name; anything but in style. A lovely pinot, in the end, a family portrait of the varietal family, juicy and succulent, highly unique. Tasted July 2023.

92 Weingartner Oliver Sapient 2021, Somló 
A small project, old vine field blend of Furmint, Juhfark, Hárslevelű, and Olaszrizling from Somló, made by recent arrival from Austria Oliver Weingartner (who also makes the wine at 5 Ház, a new winery on Somló). It’s a ‘natural’ wine that doesn’t bear the Somló appellation. The nose is clean, and the palate is light and sharp, a very high acid wine, lean, tight and stony, with low fruit and high mineral/non-fruity character. Quite severe in the end, and a long way from prime drinking – I suspect this liquid rock essence will start to drink well in 2-3 years, and hold into the ’30s no doubt. Very clen and precise. Really good stuff. Tasted July 2023.

92 Tornai Top Selection Grófi Harslevelú, 2019, Somló 
Evolving nicely now, rich and complex on the nose, wood spice mingling with caramelized fruit – there’s an almost Madeira-like quality, a unique profile, but complexity is high. The palate is broad and fleshy, concentrated and intense at just 12.5% alcohol – hard to imagine how so much concentration can be grafted onto a 12.5% alcohol frame. This is not a patio sipper by any stretch, but rather a wine for the table, especially the cheese board. I’d decant it now, or cellar into the late ’20s. Tasted July 2023

The Nagy Eged hill in Eger, one of northern Hungary’s most celebrated vineyards


The charming Baroque town of Eger and its wine region lie east of Budapest. Cool climate reds and whites grow here in almost equal measure, led most famously by Egri Bikavér, by law a blend of at least three varieties. Despite its ignominious recent past, Bikavér has been reinvented as Hungary’s flagship red blend, most often based on kékfrankos with varying proportions of merlot, cabernet franc and sauvignon, kadarka, and others. The white equivalent, granted its own appellation in 2010, is called Egri Csilag, “Star of Eger”, featuring both local and international varieties.

Buyer’s Guide Eger: highlights from a St. Andrea portfolio Tasting

St. Andrea is one of the leading producers in the region of Eger, a family operation led by Dr. György Lörincz Sr. and György Jr. The focus is on the traditional blnnds of the area, both red and white, from a wide range of international and local varieties. Quality is excellent across all price points.

96 Szent Andrea Agapé Nagy Eged-Hegy Egri Bikavér Grand Superior 2018, Eger 
A brilliant vintage for this top wine from the St. Andrea portfolio a wine of seamless composition, succulent, sapid acids, and tremendous length. It blends power with finesse in such an impressive way, with a range of flavours than spans the fresh black fruit spectrum into gentle barrel spice and amazing sapidity-salinity. Flavour for days. Not yet released, planned for later this year or early next year. Magical stuff. Tasted July 2023.

95 Szent Andrea Mária Egri Cuvée Grand Superior Nagy Eged-hegy Dülö 2021, Eger 
Szent Andrea owns a superb parcel on the famed Nagy Edged Hegy hill, at the foot of the statue of the Virgin Mary, from whence the cuvée takes its name (“Mária”), “so we won’t have any problems we can’t solve”. It’s a two-variety blend of chardonnay (minerality and creamy textural aspects) and furmint (acids and vibration, mineral), aged for a few months longer than the winery’s other white cuvées, up to a year, with furmint in 500l barrels and chardonnay in 228 and 300l (the latter purchased from Louis Latour in Burgundy thanks to a close relationship with the producer). The nose is discreet, but the palate shows terrific finesse and intensity, energy and poise, refinement and elegance, with terrific length. The ample underpinning of mineral character courses through from start to finish. Best from 2025 or so. Impressive in its transparency, a top white from central Europe to be sure.  Tasted July 2023.

93 Szent Andrea Örökké Egri Csillag Superior 2022, Eger 
Classified only as a ‘Superior” Egri Csillag (not the top category, Grand Superior) as it comes from several vineyards, a blend of limestone (Kis Eged and Nagy Eged vineyards), and rhyolite (Boldogságos vineyard), but it’s positioned higher in the winery’s range, a barrel selection. The main source is the bottom section of the Nagy Eged hill, and it’s a blend of olaszrizling, Hárslevelű and furmint with a splash of sauvignon. Subtle on the nose, but broad and wide on the palate, with fruit ranging from lime blossom to custard pear, passing through citrus and orchard fruit; wood is well integrated. It’s still far from prime and shows ample scope for development. Acids are fairly mild and creamy in this warm, dry vintage. Elegant, fine, complex. Tasted July 2023.

93 Szent Andrea Nagy Eged Egri Bikavér Superior 2018, Eger 
From the bottom part of the Nagy Eged hill. Considered one of the best vintages in the estate’s 20 year history, this is showing beautifully at the moment, with such a fine and refined nose, perfumed and spicy, plenty of elegance. Tannins are particularly silky, framed by lively acids, and length is excellent. I love the finesse on offer, allied to genuine depth and concentration. Top notch in the category. Kékfrankós, cabernet franc, merlot and blauburger. Tasted July 2023.

Tokaj Oremus cellar and bottles


An hour further east from Eger you’ll reach Tokaj-Hegyálja, easily Hungary’s most famous wine region. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, its unspoiled, timeless cobbled streets, ancient underground cellars, peasant farmhouses and aristocratic manors make it a magical place to visit.

Sweet, botrytis-affected Tokaj Aszú is the region’s most celebrated wine with 500 years of history, combining extreme levels of sugar, extract, and acid with astonishing flavor complexity. Long gone are the tired wines of the 20th century, and the current crop of aszú wines are counted among the finest sweet wines of the world, if not the finest.

But among the many sweeping changes that have re-shaped Tokaj, perhaps the most significant has been the development of dry Tokaji wines, once an afterthought to aszú production.

There’s been a real push to research and better understand the clones of the region’s flagship variety, Furmint, along with hárslevelú (and to a lesser extent Muscat and Zéta), which are less susceptible to botrytis and thus better suited to dry wine production, and to re-classify, at least unofficially for now, the crus best suited to fine dry tokaji. The existing cru classification, initiated in the year 1700, ranked vineyards based on their propensity to develop botrytis and are thus most relevant for tokaji aszú. Such efforts have made truly memorable dry Tokaji a reality, in reasonable quantity and with a critical mass of serious players.

Producers like Szepsy, Balassa and even Oremus are focussing efforts in the field to take wines to the next level. The latter, notably, once focussed heavily on aszú, has shifted production to almost 60% dry, while others like Sauska are pinning hopes on top end sparkling with consulting guidance from champagne.

Importantly, the former state-run cooperative, known as the Tokaji Trading House (Tokaji Kereskedö Ház) but now under the name Grand Tokaj, which is the region’s largest producer by a wide margin, has picked up quality considerably in the last decade under highly respected winemaker Károly Áts. This should drag up the median quality of the entire appellation.

Ancient bottles, Tokaj

Buyer’s Guide: Tokaji Traditional Method Sparkling

94 Sauska Extra Brut 2016, Tokaj 
Sauska now produces almost 300,000 bottles of sparkling wine, up from just 5000 in 2011, the first vintage of sparkling at the estate. The impressive cellar was designed for 500,000 bottles in total, and three ageing caves in Budafók were also purchased for long-term cellaring of up to a million bottles – to say Sauska takes their sparkling program seriously is an understatement. Régis Camus from Charles Heidsieck consults; I’m told he had always been pushing for more pinot and chardonnay in the blends, but after a long recent tasting, came to the conclusion that furmint works well for sparkling, and since Sauska has dedicated almost 70% of vineyard plantings to the grape, it will be, and has to be, an important part of all cuvées. This is 2/3 Furmint and 1/3 Hárslevelű, disgorged last year in October. More regional character here, appley, green apple, with yeasty-biscuity-autolysis noted, also in the creamy-sharp texture. Acids are bright but comfortable, and length and depth are excellent. A fine sparkling from local varieties. Tasted August 2023.

93 Sauska Brut White Capsule Methode Traditionelle, Tokaj
The White Capsule bottling is Chardonnay, furmint and pinot noir, the base wine in this case from 2020. 16% reserve wines, 20 months on the lees. It shows quality off the top, a delicate wine, with fine effervescence, a high level bubbly to be sure. Autolysis melds beautifully with bright citrus and white fruit; 7 grams dosage goes virtually undetected. Fine and refined; these will easily be counted among Hungary’s finest sparkling, if not the top. The investment in sparkling has been enormous, and it’s paying dividends in quality. Bottled in a specially made sparkling version of the Tokaj bottle. Tasted August 2023.

92 Sauska Rosé Extra Brut Méthod Traditionelle, Tokaj 
Winemaker Gábor Rakaczki has been to Champagne about 10 times for research, just one tiny part of Sauska’s significant investment into quality sparkling production. The rosé Extra Brut is a pinot-dominant blend with chardonnay and furmint following in this bottling. It’s a pale-medium rosé with an amber tinge, and features delicate aromatics, subtle small red fruit, citrus, alongside gentle autolysis. Refined bubbles all in all; complexity is good if not outstanding, but again, this is first class sparkling form a very serious operation overall. Tasted August 2023.

91 Sauska Furmint Brut 2016, Tokaj 
A pure furmint from the Medve vineyard, though not listed on the label (yields exceed the official maximum for a vineyard designation). It offers slowly evolving aromatics, sharp, crunchy acids, tart green and citrus fruit, limited autolysis character, well integrated, perhaps not as finessed as classic chardonnay blanc de blancs, but this tells the local story nicely. Tasted August 2023.

90 Béres Pezsgö Brut Méthode Traditionelle 2018, Tokaj 
This is the same wine as Béres’s Brut Nature but given three years on the lees and 6 grams dosage. Much more flavour development: fruit, green flowers, still lots of varietal Hárslevelú character, and overall better harmony and balance than the brut nature with only 2 years on the lees. But the 2019 is a better vintage overall. Tasted August 2023.

90 Béres Pezsgö Extra Brut Méthode Traditionelle 2019, Tokaj  
From the very good 2019 vintage, pure Hárslevelű as with all sparklings at Béres, with 5 grams of dosage, and made only in half bottle. Nice aromatics, developing well now. I like the balance and the roundness on the palate, with green and yellow flowers in the varietal idiom, and comfortable acids, even if sharp, and tart in a good way. Dosage is subtly integrated. Solid. Tasted August 2023.

Buyer’s Guide: Dry Tokaji

96 Bott Judit Exczellencziás Tokaji Cuvée 2019, Tokaj 
“Exczellencziás” is a special cuvée made only in top vintages, a selection of one or two barrels, based on a “feeling,” looking for a “good dry wine from Tokaj”, according to Bott. It’s her flagship dry white, whatever it happens to be made of (variety or vineyard). The 2019 is Furmint from Határi (though not listed on the label), a vineyard with diatomite stones – pure white and dusty. It pours a pale-yellowing colour and delivers an intriguing mix of roasted vegetal and fruit notes intense and fullish, with broad, fleshy palate, almost tropical in its ripeness. Terrific acids. Refined but powerful, finessed but strong in character.  668 bottles made. Tasted August 2023.

96 Szepsy Úrágya 63 Tokaji Furmint, Mád 2020, Tokaj 
Úrágya sits just below the Urbán vineyard on the west side of Mád, an area eminently well-suited to making top notch dry wines, and this is considered the flagship cru in the brilliant Szepsy portfolio, and indeed the one that yielded what is widely believed to be the first great dry wine from Tokaj when it was first introduced in 2000. Ironically, the vineyard is officially classified as a “2nd class” cru, but of course that classification was based on sweet aszú production, and botrytis is relatively rare here. For dry wines, it’s clearly a 1st class vineyard. Volcanic breccias are the most common stones. The 2020 offers quiet, understated aromatics – it’s not a wine that will captivate you off the top – stony-mineral character leads over fruit, with just vague lime zest and pith notes. The palate is beautifully balanced, with supreme depth – it’s not a wine of massive power, either, but rather refinement and finesse, and supreme stoniness. It needs time in bottle to evolve – try again after 2025. It’s surely Szepsy’s finest dry wine, certainly one of Tokaj’s, and Hungary’s best. 2666 bottles made. Tasted July 2023.

96 Bott Judit Csontos Tokaji Furmint 2021, Tokaj 
The Csontos vineyard is planted to at least three clones of furmint: 85 (a communist-era clone), 92 and 75, the latter of which is the top in Bott’s opinion. This bottling is made from 85 and 92, different enough to identify and harvest separately (the 75 went into Bott’s “Exczellencziás” bottling). It offers beautiful aromatics, a fine mix of stones and mineral, fresh sweet herbs, white-fleshed fruit. The palate delivers a wash of flavours, tightly wound acids, no detectable oak, though this is fermented and aged in old Hungarian oak barrels. Length is superb. A highly singular expression, and a very good vintage in my view,  sinewy, taut and tensile. Brilliant expression, best after 2026. Tasted August 2023.

96 Szepsy Szent Támas 46 Tokaji Furmint 2021, Tokaj 
From parcel number 46 of the famed Szent Tamás vineyard planted in 1957 to stake-trained vines. This 2021 was only just bottled and somewhat reluctantly opened for me on my insistence, but was shown in any case to give insight into the base wine used for the out-of-this-world Szent Tamás Aszú. But as a dry wine, it’s fully up there with Szepsy’s best – it’s clearly a magical vineyard, and already is appealing bright and fragrant, indeed quite fruity and fresh, lively. Acids are crunchy and succulent, with a real mineral streak and terrific length. This will be superb in time, likely after another 2-3 years minimum in bottle. It’s a more elegant expression, as this vineyard seems want to produce each year, with deceptive depth and power. Marvelous stuff. Tasted July 2023.

95 Istvan Szepsy Urbán 73 Tokaji Furmint, Mád, 2020, Tokaj 
The Urbán 73 is made from official parcel number 3573 of the cru – only distinctive parcels (clones, bedrock, etc.) are singled out by Szepsy on the label when merited. This is a special parcel for dry wines, with very low  botrytis incidence, also Szepsy’s oldest vineyard planted in 1938, with stake-trained bush vines. It’s now pure furmint as the Hárslevelű plants that were formerly co-planted here (as everywhere in Tokaj) were over-grafted to furmint, as Hárslevelű is particularly sensitive to drought and ripeness even within the same bunch is variable, which makes it tough to make dry wine, according to Szepsy Jr., and, “all things being equal, furmint makes the better wine”. The nose is closed at the moment, offering a little whiff of petrol, stone dust, white pepper, very low fruit aromatics. It’s even mo dramatically stony on the palate, barely out of the gates 3 years in, with refined, fine texture, not as sharp as the Hasnosz, nor as soft and creamy as the Betsek – a fine middle ground, classy and elegant. Best after 2025. Tasted July 2023.

94 Szepsy Hasnosz Tokaji Furmint, Tállya 2020, Tokaj 
From an andesite-rich vineyard in Tállya, this is a richer style furmint but still slim in the broader context. It delivers excellent depth and power on the nose, succulent, crispy acids, a much drier profile than the Betsek, also leaner and sharper, analytically the differences aren’t dramatic, but by taste they are. I love the slim, precise lines. Great length and depth – a terrific dry tokaji, best 2025-2030. Tasted July 2023.

94 Bott Judit Teleki 2021, Tokaj 
The Teleki vineyard sits on loess soils on the south side of Mount Tokaji near the top, planted to 70-80 year-old furmint and Hárslevelű. Yields are ultra-low, less than a kilo per vine, and, like all wines at Bott, this is spontaneously fermented in 500l oak barrels and aged about 8 months. Gorgeous nose, open and fragrant, unusually fruity, but it’s really the texture imparted by these loess soils that makes this so appealing: silky, soft, round, without any corners or rough edges. Length and depth are superb, refreshened by a touch of bitterness on the finish. Pure white-fleshed fruit, from apple to peach, dominates the profile.  Terrific wine; sadly just 486 bottles made. Tasted August 2023.

94 Bott Judit Betsek Tokaji Hárslevelú 2021, Tokaj
A new vineyard parcel for Bott, from which 2021 is the first bottling, a pure Hárslevelű selected out of a mixed vineyard (the furmint went to sweet Szamorodni).  The 2021 season started late, with flowering three weeks later than normal, leading to a high acid year, here around 7.5 grams, and no botrytis. This is a bright and particularly savoury-salty wine, tightly wound, much more than the mean for this vineyard in my experience, with fine length and complexity. Fine wine, clean, well made, pure. Should age well with this acid structure. Tasted August 2023.

94 Sauska Tokaji Furmint Medve Vineyard 2019, Tokaj 
Volcanic tuff-based geology. More refined on the nose than the Bírsalmás single vineyard furmint from the same producer, subtle and sharp, with discreet citrus, fine and elegant. The palate is broad, round and creamy with a through line of acids that frame the lemon custard flavours. A really fine example, a wine of refinement and elegance, with no bitterness or phenolic drag. Power with finesse. Drinking well now, but will hold until the end of the decade no doubt. Free run juice only. 14.5%. Tasted August 2023.

93 Tokaji Oremus Petrács Furmint 2019, Tokaj 
Petrács is a 3-hectare vineyard of old vines, with about 200 clones of furmint identified, planted in high-density, 1×1 spacing, bush trained. It sits high on the hill opposite the winery, with shallow topsoil and andesite bedrock; everything is harvested together, meaning differential ripeness across the different plants, and yields are low, .5k/vine. In 2023 it will be certified organic/biodynamic. The fruit was formerly blended in to the Mandolás cuvée but has been bottled separately as a cru since 2017. 2019 was an outstanding vintage for dry wines especially, though aszú was also produced. It’s treated more or less the same as for the Mandolás, though fermentation and ageing are entirely in barrel, about 8 months total. The nose is still quite fresh, showing little wood influence, cool spearmint, limey-citrus fruit. Great structure on the palate, lovely acids, tight and uncompromising, and excellent length. A very fine dry Furmint, drinking well now, but no rush. I love the fine bitterness on the end that lifts the freshness. 3-5000 bottles made yearly. Tasted August 2023.

93 Sauska Tokaji Furmint Bírsalmás 2019, Tokaj 
The Bírsalmás vineyard features rhyolite-based volcanic geology, and the furmint was whole bunch pressed in this vintage, and fermented in both ceramic and stainless-steel tank, then transferred to wood towards the end, 25% new, where it spent about 6 months on the lees with limited battonnage. Malo is only allowed to go through partially, a call made after primary fermentation, to keep some malic acids to “lengthen the palate,” according to winemaker Gábor Rakaczki. Wood is more marked on the nose than the Medve, also more phenolic, and chewy, a more rough and tumble wine, relatively, but tasted without the side by side context would be considered a top notch wine. Length and depth are excellent. 14.5%. Tasted August 2023.

Buyer’s Guide: Sweet Tokaji & Aszú Wines

99 Szepsy Szent Támas Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2017, Tokaj 
“Our best wine in bottle so far”, says István Szepsy Jr. of this magical elixir, a big statement for this historic Tokaj family that has been making wine for 500 years. But to be sure, it does have a degree of elegance and finesse rarely matched in sweet wines from any region in the world; Szent Tamás is surely one of the finest vineyards on the planet for botrytis wines, and this is easily the finest example I’ve tasted. The base wine and the aszú berries both come from the same parcel within the vineyard, a quirk of geology that allows production of top quality sweet and dry wines from the same place. Orange peel, tea leaves, cumin, apricot jam and quince paste, a storm in a glass of flavour. Such fineness and silky texture, such refinement and elegance, always the richest of wines, mouthfilling, everlasting aftertaste. A near perfect paragon of the region – it’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this, a grandiose monument. Tasted July 2023.

98 Tokaji Oremus Eszencia 2009, Tokaj 
550 grams sugar, 14 grams acid, 3.5% alcohol. Remarkable. Such a thick and sweet and silky mouthfeel, like a cloud, swept up by acids. Endless finish. There’s nothing more I can add, an emotional experience. Tasted August 2023.

97 Szepsy Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2017, Tokaj
At Szepsy, the aszú range starts at 6 puttonyos, nothing less. When I ask István Jr. why there’s no 5 puttonyos, he responds: “Why blend caviar into fish stock, or milk into cream?” Why pick berry by berry if you just dilute with more base wine? Point taken! This is a pure furmint, estate selection, so silky and round, smooth, pure and precise, with brilliant length and depth. Acids are so well balanced and this botrytis is so clean. Pure apricot purée, quince, exotic spice, Chinese 5 spice, cumin, noted but integrated wood, length for days. A brilliant wine in a brilliant vintage. Drink or hold half a century. Tasted July 2023.

97 Tokaji Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000, Tokaj 
2000 was a legendary botrytis year, abundant quantity, high quality. It was also the first vintage fully processed in Oremus’s new gravity fed winery. It’s barely starting to show maturity, moving very slowly to be sure (tasted at the winery so the bottle has never left the cellar), the fruit freshness is remarkable, richly botrytis, silky and sweet, balanced as usual with bright acids, though here the palate structure is all about sugar. Marmalade, lightly caramelized lemon-lime, quince paste and other classics. So saliva inducing, vibrant and energetic. Endless finish. Top class, drinking now, but hold another 30 years or more no doubt. Tasted August 2023.

97 Disznókö Tokaji Eszencia 2007, Tokaj
Pure furmint, with a whopping 681 grams of residual sugar per liter, truly an essence. It managed to ferment to just 1% alcohol, so hardly even to be considered a wine, with 10.7 grams of acid. It offers a delectable mix of mushroom broth, dried porcini, dried wood, old leather and cigar, dry-aged beef – so much umami flavour here. the palate is pure silk, like a cloud, so soft and supple, palate enveloping. Long, honeyed-savoury finish – acids are relatively low, further softened by intense glycerol. Massively viscous. Remarkable; drink or hold a half century. 200 bottles made. Tasted August 2023.

96 Bott Judit Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2017, Tokaj 
This is very clean example of 6 puttonyos aszú, 2017 was a great botrytis year, one of the best and most balanced in the last decade. I love the freshness still on offer – this will move very slowly, with its fresh and dried quince, apricot purée, lemon marmalade flavours. Endless finish. What a terrific vintage, timeless, classic. brilliant. Tasted August 2023.

96 Béres Tokaji Eszencia 2008, Tokaj 
A more concentrated essence of Béres’ 2008 5 puttonyos wine, as would be expected, and thus similarly rustic, but I have to say it’s but quite mesmerizing to smell. Meaty, leathery, an essence of umami, soy, fish sauce, hoisin – what an intriguing flavour profile. 550 grams of sugar, 18 grams of acid, alcohol 2.5% alc! Massively savoury and sapid. Well worth a look. Tasted August 2023.

95 Grand Tokaj Terroir Selection Tokaji Aszú Szarvas 6 Puttonyos 2013, Tokaj 
Both the base wine and the aszú berries were from the Szarvas vineyard at the southern end of the appellation where loess soils predominate, an historic single vineyard that had always belonged to the Hungarian crown. I really like the balance and finesse here, the silky loess texture, the refined acids and integrated sugars. Flavours span the classic range of dried apricot, quince and marmalade, with acacia honey and tangerines in syrup. Full barrel fermentation is seamlessly integrated, and the finish goes on and on. A terrific aszú from this important producer, and excellent value in the context. 214 grams sugar, 8.6 acid, 9% alcohol. Tasted August 2023.

95 Disznókö Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2016, Tokaj
100% furmint. Lots of floral-saffron-botrytis character mingles with overripe/shriveled berry notes. I like the lift, the emerging spearmint, not as squeaky clean this botrytis as the 2013, but intriguing in a more classic (old school) style with white button mushroom and earth flavour. Acids are ripping, making the sugar-rich palate seem almost dry and acidulated on the finish, like caramelized lime purée and marmalade. Long finish on Szechuan pepper. Really quite exceptional all in all; drink or hold late into the ’30s. 177 grams of rs, 10.67 acid, pH 3.17, alcohol 12.5%. Tasted August and September 2023.

94 Szepsy Tokaji Édes Szamorodni 2017, Tokaj 
By definition there must be some botrytis in Szamorodni, and this wine shows considerable influence, and the Édes (sweet) category must have minimum 50 grams of sugar. It’s very clean and pure, broad, round and creamy, swept clean by acids. Excellent length. This is brilliant wine. Drink now or hold into the ’30s. 70% furmint, 30% Hárslevelű. Happy to hear from Szepsy Jr. that the Szamorodni category is doing well in the UK, especially as a sweet wine by-the-glass pour. Tasted July 2023.

94 Balassa Villó Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2019, Tokaj 
Pure furmint from Betsek, made only in the best years, and the only aszú made by Balassa. A “severe” selection of aszú berries is added to the Betsek base wine mid-fermentation to balance fruit and extraction. It’s intense and deeply concentrated, very sweet (250 grams RS), like a spoonful of apricot jam with vanilla and cacao. Superb length and depth. Very fine; Cellar another 5 years to allow components to integrate, including wood. More ambitious and demanding than the Szamorodni. 1000 bottles made. Tasted August 2023.

94 Béres Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2017, Tokaj 
Pure furmint, both aszú berries and base wine. Clean, lovely perfume, fully in the classic register, with great balance and long, creamy finish. Classically styled and drinking beautifully now, though of course will live on for a couple of decades no doubt. The best wine in the current Béres portfolio in my view. 200+ grams sugar. Tasted August 2023.

94 Disznókö Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2013, Tokaj
2013 was an abundant botrytis year, one in which the fungus started to degrade the acids, hyperactive as it was. It’s very clean on the nose, starting to shift into the caramelized citrus spectrum, botrytis was evidently very clean. Wood is nicely enmeshed (20 months in 225l), and phenolics are rich but not bitter, which are no doubt contributing to the slow evolution of this wine. Will this unusually low acid vintage age as well as the high acid ones? The ’13 is fresher than the higher acid 2016 5 puttonyos…. Terrific length and depth – a great vintage for Disznókö’s 5p. Succulent, sapid and sweet-tart. 75% furmint, 15% zéta, 10% Hárslevelű. 12% alcohol, 156 grams of residual sugar, 7.6 grams acid. Tasted August 2023.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.