Hungarian wine is as good as it gets. The number of small organic producers is growing. The big guys continue to make the technical stuff and tourists in their droves descend on the major wine regions of Eger, Villány, and Tokaj. But there are plenty of other places, off the well-worn tourist track, smaller wine regions like Somló – which is actually the smallest of the 22 regions in the country – where producers like Kreinbacher work their magic.
Comprised of three hills – Somlóhegy, Kis-Somlyhegy, and Sárhegy – it has fewer than 1000 ha. Actual land under vine varies considerably depending on which website you read. But as wine regions go, it’s small.
We were given a present of a night at the Kreinbacher Estate and made a reservation to celebrate our anniversary. Any excuse to travel and all that. I hadn’t done my homework. I didn’t really have a good idea of where we were going, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the WOW! that escaped me on first sight. Now that I know that founder József Kreinbacher is by trade either a builder or an architect (depending on which story I listen to) and is passionate about his wine-making, it all makes a little more sense.
The massive concrete structure is built into the hillside and rather than upset the balance of what is a very traditional part of Hungary and stick out like a wart on the end of supermodel’s nose, it’s a strangely compelling setting. It’s almost bunker-like in its concrete and steel makeup.
I was completely won over when I found the reception desk. There are no signs to show the way but the building and the network of paths are built to guide you there – it was all a little surreal. Reception – a lone desk and a stool with an old-fashioned switchboard-type phone – sat next to the bar in the restaurant. I approached tentatively and said I had a reservation. The smile I expected; being addressed by my name took me aback. Either there were very few guests or no other foreigners… but it was certainly impressive.
We got the rundown of how things ran, booked our table for dinner (a five-course tasting extravaganza), and went to our room. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven – the sort of heaven I imagine. Lots of stone, wood, and metal. Clean lines. With the contribution of each designer noted.
Kreinbacher fared very well at the 2018 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships taking home a gold and two silvers, and this for a winery that only started bottling its bubbly in 2014.
2011 represents a remarkable milestone, the year when the new central winery and sparkling wine cellars were completed. In 2014 the Kreinbacher Estate introduced its very first sparkling wines elaborated here opening a new chapter in the history of the region.
And I certainly love my bubbly. Heaven. I was in heaven.
We’d been stopped by the local rendőrség (the Guards, the police, the cops) as we drove in the road that leads to the foot of Somlóhegy and I’d been breathalysed. I was highly amused and sorely tempted to point out that this was going to be my first wine stop of the day. But I saved my breath to cool my porridge. Suitably warned, though, rather than take the car to explore, we asked for a recommendation and fortified by a glass of their Classic (for me) and Extra Dry (for himself) we set out to climb the hill, hoping that there’d be a cool cellar with an even cooler dry white waiting at the end. But it was Thursday. Nothing was open. And we did try. An hour later, hot and sweaty and suffering from a mild sunstroke, we made it back to the Estate and settled in for a tasting of our own.
For an additional 3990 ft (€12, £11, $14), we would enjoy a different wine with each course but I had peeked and knew that this wasn’t the full breadth of their offer. So we picked four other whites on the menu, sat outside, and enjoyed being waited on by the very efficient Valeria (Vali) who showed amazing patience with my Hungarian and made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. Our picks of what we tasted throughout the evening were the 2017 Furmint, the 2018 Olazsrizling, and the Classic Brut Methode Traditionale. All were added to our wish list and duly purchased the next morning after breakfast.
Dinner was lovely, really lovely. Fresh ingredients beautifully done, and an absolute steal at 7990 ft (€25, £22, $28). Again, the service was exceptional. Both Helga and Vali hustled that floor and made it all seem effortless. And I loved the fact that they were so patient with my Hungarian and ready and willing to engage…with humour. I’d hire both of them in a heartbeat. My only complaint was that it all seemed just a tad too quick. Slightly longer between courses would have given us more time to enjoy the wine. From the amuse bouché to the smoked ham and fennel, carrot and ginger soup, and shrimp with pea risotto, to the Mangalica tenderloin with baked onion cream and the coconut pannacotta served with fresh raspberries, it was all delicious.
The next morning, at breakfast, several stations were set up offering fresh salads, local meats and cheese, and the traditional eggs, bacon, and sausage. The breads and pastries were excellent. Had I not been driving, I’d have enjoyed a glass or two of bubbly, even at that hour of the morning. It really was all rather lovely. Okay – so the coffee could be a little hotter than tepid, but that seems to be the Hungarian preference.
There are regular tours of the vineyard and the cellars and the production area on Fridays and Saturdays and had we booked in advance, someone would have shown us around. But we didn’t. My bad. Still, there’s always the next time.
Visit at the weekend when the other vineyards are open and you can really get a taste of the white wines from the region. There’s also plenty to do locally with Hévíz and Sümeg not that far away. And of course Lake Balaton. If you’re a fan of designer hotels that play on the traditional, if you’re into your sparkling wines and love good food, treat yourself to a night (or two) at the Kreinbacher Estate. You won’t be sorry.
Thanks, MI – it was a lovely experience.