‘Do you mind me asking how old you are? he said. ‘How old do you think?’ I replied. ‘I can’t see how you could be older than 35 or 36’ he said.
Who needs cosmetic surgery if those looking at you have felt the effects of a few good wines. Down in Köveskál this weekend, we stopped by the Pálffy vineyard and partook in a wine tasting. At the table next to us sat four youngish Hungarian lads who were, as they put it, nearly at the top of the mountain while we, on our first sip of an olaszrizling, had just started our climb. They helpfully translated what our host, Pálffy Gyula (who bears more than a little resemblance to Irish actor Gabriel Byrne), was telling us about each wine we tasted and contributed to what was a very enjoyable way to pass a few hours. Apparently he moved back to the area in 1998 to continue the family wine-making and take over his paternal grandfather’s vineyard and has been making steady progress ever since in his efforts to help restore the reputation of the Káli Basin wines, a region which once supplied the House of Árpád kings.
Such was the love of wine present that we learned not just about those from his cellar. We learned that 2006 and 2009 were excellent years for Hungarian reds. That the Patricius 1999 Azsú was one of the best sweet wines ever to be bottled and that a Szekszárd merlot was worth trying. And if ever in Eger again, that the Gróf Buttler Pince is the place to go.
Sitting in this modern cellar late on a Saturday afternoon, sampling ten of the wines on offer, I was surprised to see the walls reflect in the glass tables and wondered briefly if the wine was having an effect. Was I drugged?
But Pálffy doesn’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. He is guided by nature and uses traditional craft methods. Currently, the 4.5 hectares are given over to Riesling, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Furmint, Juhfark, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and more recently a variety of Syrah has been added.
My first-place vote went to the Köveskáli Törökugrató Rosé 2010 with the Késői Szüretelésű Tramini 2008, a félédes (semi-sweet) white coming in a strong second. This surprised me as I’m not generally a fan of sweet wine. The Furmint and the Siller tied for third (siller is quite popular in Hungary – being a little more than a rosé and a little less than a red. I’ve heard it called a Missouri wine in deference to the Missouri Compromise Line 🙂 ) I can’t say that I’ll ever be an expert. I don’t have the bandwidth to take on a whole new vocabulary. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed tasting these wines, and taking notes about what I liked and what I didn’t like. And, even better, we didn’t have to agree. It’s all a matter of personal taste.
In a fascinating travel article on Balaton wine, Bruce Schoenfeld quotes veteran winemaker, István Kiss:
Before I leave, Kiss opens a bottle of Kiralyfurmint from 1978 that has been in his cellar for at least two decades. It has the seal of the Communist government on it—a faded paper collar, all tones of gray now except for a stripe of sky blue, picturing a shield and a star—and it looks to be in nearly pristine condition. Poured into a glass, the wine is such a bright gold that it practically glows. “Wine is the only product in human life that can bring back the years,” Kiss says, holding his glass to the light. “The 1978 sunlight is in this wine, and the great rains, and the cellar’s coolness. The wine can bring back all these tastes. Smell this wine and go back twenty-eight years.”
Alongside bringing back the years sits wine’s contribution to making memories. I’d never heard of the Tramini grape before last weekend but now each time I see it, I’ll revisit in my mind’s eye that late afternoon/early evening spent at the Pálffy pince. Laden down with bottles, we made our exit, happy to have had the experience and happier still with the wine-filled chocolate that caught my eye on the way out. Now, there’s a man who can think outside of the box. Wine AND chocolate AND good company? What more could a girl ask for?
If you’re in the vicinity, drop by and say hi.
Pálffy Pince, 8274 Köveskál, Fõ u. 40.