Etyeki Pezsgő: Hungary goes sparkling
Hungary and sparkling wines are synonyms in no-one’s mind. Yet the country is undergoing a fizz revolution. And one region just established a specialist sparkling appellation.
Hungary boasts around 60,000 hectares of vineyards and a winemaking tradition going back to at least the Middle Ages. Output is divided roughly between 70% still white and 30% red wine. Until recently, sparkling wines have been an insignificant part of the mix, though their production started as early as the 1880s, pioneered by the Törley brand with headquarters in Budapest.
Thirst for bubblesIndeed, it’s the Hungarian capital, home to a third of the country population and a popular tourist destination, that has consistently shown thirst for bubbles. Industrial mogul turned winery owner Christian Sauska has just finished refurbishing 10km-long limestone cellars in Budafok, a district of Budapest, for the ageing of this traditional method fizz (made in Tokaj). Wine districts close to the capital, such as the north-eastern Balaton, are also increasingly expanding their sparkling offerings, and Kreinbacher, the largest winery in the volcanic Somló district, has marketed premium traditional method since 2014.
A popular tourism destinationBut one region decided to take its bet on the sparkling wine boom to another level. The vineyards of Etyek-Buda start right at the western city limits of Budapest, and it’s a popular weekend wine tourism destination. Pre-1945, Törley used to source their grapes for fizz base wines from here: early approaches at shortening the supply chain. Since 1991 and the Hungarian wine revival, Etyek has predominantly made table white wine from several grape varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, as well as red Pinot Noir; these have almost completely replaced historical specialities such as Budai Zöld and Ezerjó.
But in a commendable effort to redefine their USP, an association of a dozen local wineries have established Etyeki Pezsgő, a voluntary sparkling wine appellation, in 2017. The Etyek Sparkling Wine Producers’ Association have drafted an ambitious quality charter that includes compulsory sur lie ageing of minimum 24 months and restricts the grape varieties to be used in Etyeki Pezsgő (“sparkling wine from Etyek”) to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc. Although wineries continue to make traditional method and Charmat sparkling wines from other grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and even Muscat, the rules for Etyeki Pezsgő aim towards a more Champagne-like style. Approval by a tasting panel is also required.