Over three tastings at Richmond and Teddington Wine Societies we explored neighbouring countries, whose wine cultures have taken somewhat different directions.
Hungary, with a long winemaking tradition, particularly around the Tokaj region, has struggled in recent years to establish a position for itself in the modern pantheon of wines. While sweet Tokaji wines have a reputation to match the best Sauternes and sweet wines from Alsace and Germany, white and red wines have found far less success. Doing our best to to put that right we tasted a particularly nice example of Harslevelü and at Richmond a Furmint (the other variety that goes into Tokaji), while at Teddington a Keknyelu showed all the high acidity and minerality one would expect – if one knew what to expect from a grape that has largely been pulled up, and is confined to 40ha on the north shore of Lake Balaton. We had a Balaton wine at Richmond but this was a blend of three even more obscure varieties with some Pinot Blanc thrown in.
The Kardaka (the grape of Bull’s Blood) we tasted at Teddington confirmed this variety may need to wait for drinkers to catch up with its tannic, brooding style, while the Kekfrankos (also goes into Bull’s Blood and known as Blaufrankisch) at Richmond was more approachable.
The Austrian wines we tasted were more ‘conventional’, and truth be told, more enjoyable (with the exception of our final 5 Puttonyos Tokaji which was superb). Rieslings from top winemakers in the superb regions of Kamptal and Wachau, and a Grüner Veltliner from Wachau demonstrated the quality that comes from these small areas that hug the Danube river on its northern banks. A Pinot Noir from Wien (Vienna is a wine region in its own right) completed our Austrian tastings and felt on rather safer ground than the Hungarian reds.
A particular challenge of the first night Richmond was a number of faulty wines. I was particularly surprised at this with a relatively young wine from a top Austrian region, in screw cap, tasting totally different from the wine in the second bottle.
So, a challenging night, but actually, this is one of the joys of wine tasting groups – you get to try things you wouldn’t otherwise try, you find ones you like, and you aren’t stuck with bottles of the ones you don’t. And you have the reassurance of the people around you confirming that a wine isn’t quite right.
Wines are listed on the Wines we have tasted page.