Beyond Tokaji – Pushing the Boundaries of Hungarian Wines

By Published On: September 18, 2023

Hungary’s 22 wine regions offer a variety of wines of remarkable value. Three of Credo’s latest imports push the boundaries of traditional winemaking.

During the past year I have traveled to Hungary three times. When I share that I am going again, the most common response is, “Bring back some Tokaji.” And my reply is, “But Hungarian wines are so much more than that.” Hungary’s 22 wine regions – and the wineries and winemakers within them – offer a variety of wines that include dry, off-dry, and sweet whites and rosés; sparkling (traditional method, charmat, carbonated, and pét-nat); and reds that run the gamut from fresh and fruity to rich and age worthy – most at affordable price points.

Wines made to drink now have a terrific quality-to-price ratio. U.S. importers are beginning to take notice – like Credo Wine Imports. Founded in 2019 by longtime friends Daniel Satola and Matthew Goss, the company’s tagline is “Bringing something unique to the table” – and their focus is family-owned wineries and underrated wines from regions like Hungary. Three of their latest imports spotlight the diversity and remarkable value of today’s Hungarian wines from wineries that are pushing the boundaries of traditional winemaking.

Lajvér Incognito 2022 (SRP $29 – available in NC starting October 2023, NY, and PA)
Lajvér – located in the Lajvér Creek Valley – is a state-of-the art winery built into the hills of Szekszárd. According to the winery’s website, “The building’s straight lines and angular shapes spectacularly highlight the landscape, while the interlocking stepped contours engage in an exciting dialogue with the hillside terraces.” The cellar is 30 meters (almost 100 feet) underground and makes use of the Earth’s natural gravitational influence and temperature control, creating ideal conditions for winemaking. Lajvér’s 26 hectares (65 acres) of vineyards are also unique – there are 30 terraced plots on four levels, each with their own microclimates. In August 2017, Lajvér opened an event space to receive visitors. Its Wine Bistro can host up to 80 guests.

Lajvér’s Incognito – awarded Silver in the 2023 Sommelier’s Choice Awards – is an example of the winery’s creativity and modernity in winemaking. As the name suggests, it conceals its identity – it is a ‘blanc de noirs’ still wine made from 100% Kékfrankos (also known as Blaufränkisch or Lemberger in other countries). Upon seeing the wine, you would not know it comes from black grapes – the clusters are hand selected and pressed immediately, resulting in white wine with a delicate gold color. However, its aromas and flavors of spiced red berries remind us of its Kékfrankos roots.

Feind Play Rosé 2022 (SRP $27 – available in PA)
In 1995, Lajos Feind founded his namesake winery when he purchased his first 14 hectares (35 acres) of vineyards near Lake Balaton’s Balatonfüred-Csopak region. Over the course of the next couple of decades, Feind grew to 130 hectares (321 acres) and 20 grape varieties grown across Öreg-hegy in Balatonfőkajár, Balatonvilágos, Balatonaliga, and Balatonfüred. In 2019, his son Zoltán Feind took over the management of the estate with the assistance of business director István Bacskai. Under their leadership, a 2,000-square-meter (5000-square-foot) modern winery was built in Balatonfőkajár.

Feind’s Play Rosé has fun written all over it – literally. The pretty-in-pink bottle label depicts a play button and a geometric representation of Lake Balaton, one of Hungary’s premier vacation destinations. It’s a ‘mashup’ of 46% Kékfrankos, 36% Zweigelt, 16% Pinot Noir, 1% Bianka, and 1% Zeusz – with just enough carbonation to make it lightly effervescent. Play Rosé is like lively music for your taste buds – think ripe strawberries, wild raspberries, and juicy watermelon – fizzy and fresh. Suggested food pairings include shellfish, fish, and fruit salads – but it will stand alone as an apéritif and add a refreshing zing to a cocktail. “Hit the play button, open the bottle, and GO,” said Satola. This is the good life through Feind’s ‘rosé-colored’ glasses.

Vylyan Macska 2022 (SRP $24 – available in PA)
Vylyan Vineyard and Winery– whose name is the phonetic pronunciation of Villány, the wine region where the vineyards and winery are located – was founded by Pál and Mónika Debreczeni in 1992. When Pál passed away, Mónika assumed ownership. Located in Kisharsány, Vylyan’s winemaker Sándor Tóth makes classic Bordeaux-style reds like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, as well as Csóka, Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir, Portugieser, Syrah, and Zweigelt.

Vylyan makes a line of ready-to-drink wines, whose names and labels boast the characters from the ‘legend of the devil-plowed hill.’ According to the legend, the devil fell for a witch’s beautiful daughter, Harka, and struck a deal with the witch to win her by plowing Harsány Hill in its entirety from evening to dawn, until the roosters crowed. He harnessed a cat and a goat to the front of his plow and made great progress – which terrified the witch – so she went to the chicken coop and started crowing herself to make the roosters crow early – thus, the devil thought he had failed. He fled on his plow, disappearing into the center of the earth. His return to hell in Harkány (named after Harka) caused the Earth to release the area’s famed medicinal waters.

One of those wines is Vylyan’s Macska – whose name and label design depict the devil’s cat – a ‘purr-fect’ example of the region’s fresh and fruity red variety, Portugieser. It’s catlike – spry, soft, and sleek – bursting with flavors like ripe black cherry and juicy pomegranate – plus a smidge of baking spice and dash of salt. Macska’s vibrancy lends itself well to pizza, pasta, and roasted poultry and vegetables. Be the outlier at Thanksgiving dinner and serve this instead of Pinot Noir.

For More Information
Credo Wine Imports
info@credowineimports
credowineimports.com

Republished with permission by Elizabeth Smith.

About the Author: Elizabeth Smith

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Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning writer, copywriter, and wine and writing competition judge. Elizabeth is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento and Sonoma Chapters, the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.