Winning Strategy – Csopak Blaufränkisch

Terroirism has swept aside blendism. The stocks of Burgundy and somewhereness soar high above those of Bordeaux and blending varieties. Should one set the task of finding a formula for success in winemaking today to a machine learning algorithm then the results would surely resemble the Burgundian set-up: one white variety + one red variety + worship of the climat.

In Csopak the white variety is a historical given, the boundaries of lieux-dits have been sanctioned, but what about the red variety? Well, if you’re looking for a native, well-established and potent variety, Kékfrankos is a no-brainer.

I have no information on when the decision was made or when the first prototypes left the bottling line, but having tasted 8 Csopak Kékfrankoses from 3 vintages our overall impression is best summarized by the expression „quick learners”. The best Csopak Kékfrankoses immediately take their place among the best Hungarian Kékfrankoses. And their emergence has the potential to galvanize the somewhat stale Hungarian Kékfrankos scene. The best of these wines reminded me of the new wave of Austrian Blaufränkisch presented at VieVinum in 2008: suave, aromatic, smooth and appetizing wines in a Burgundian mould.

Thanks to Tamás Kovács (Szent Donát) we received 8 wines. The wines were tasted blind, this time our evaluations showed very little variation with four out of six tasters placing the same wines at the top:

  1. Homola Kékfrankos Selection 2015
  2. Szent Donát Liebling 2018
  3. Homola Kékfrankos 2017

Before the tasting I told my friends to expect high quality, fresh, elegant, fruity and spicy wines. And called their attention to look for wines which offer something extra in structure, length or character.

Blind tasting, at least on my part, was somewhat compromised by my decision to start with the youngest wines and end with the oldest.

Jásdi Kékfrankos 2018

Screwcapped. There is a whiff of the less than welcome scent of dill pickles but in all other respects this is a delightful wine: balanced, fresh, smooth, fruity, spicy and with its saline undertow you might even call it mineral. So it practically ticks all the boxes for a modern, appealing, food friendly red scoring high on drinkability. Next to the Heimann’s excellent 2017 Kékfrankos the price may seem a tiny bit steep but that shouldn’t diminish the wine’s merits. 5 points

Szent Donát Liebling Kékfrankos 2018

Screwcapped. Its great individual character is made apparent from the get-go. Top quality and bursting with energy. Intense fruit flavours, great complexity and great persistence. The nose displays waves of wild strawberries, floral and spicy notes with some herbaceous elements suggesting whole bunch pressing. Complex acidity, drive and good vibes all around.

6-7 points (11 euros). Happy confirmation of my earlier impressions. And I wasn’t the only one waxing lyrical about it.

Guden Kékfrankos 2018

Screwcapped. Rather sweet toned nose and sadly the palate makes good on this promise. We were wondering whether the sweetness was due to the alcohol or the extract but my guess is that it’s simply residual sugar (not much but still). Other than that it’s a most enticing and approachable wine with opulent cherry and strawberry notes and deliciously refined tannins. I suppose an average customer would fall for this style but we felt that the overt sweetness was a let-down. 5 points (probably not yet available).

Guden Kékfrankos Selection 2017

Pale in colour, intense on the nose with a substantial palate showing rich, ripe, opulent fruit and some heat on the finish. Not the most structured wine but tannin quality is beyond reproach. As it got warmer, I seemed to pick up notes of VA and then on retasting it half an hour later my initial suspicion was proven right: it’s not just alcohol that lifts the nose. Volatile acidity is not something I associate with bottle variation so there and then the need to check the backup bottle didn’t even occur to me. However two days later I decided to give the 2nd bottle a chance and it was brilliant. At first I was rather cautious and focused hard on detecting the fermented strawberry notes and signs of VA but thankfully they were absent. So based on the second bottle, this is a top blaufränkisch: complex and inviting aromas, wild strawberries and juniper intermingling with saline notes, excellent balance, round and ripe acidity, sophisticated chalky tannins.

My score for the first bottle would be 4 points and then 7 for the second bottle. I’m still puzzled. VA and bottle variation? And if my diagnosis is wrong then what was the malady that effected the first bottle?

Homola Kékfrankos 2017

There is nothing showy about this wine, but it exudes quiet authority. Sipping this wine we all relaxed and perhaps this was the moment when I concluded that after more than a decade of doubts it was time to acknowledge that Kékfrankos is a variety capable of greatness. Uncovering the bottle had also revealed that Attila Homonna is a top dog not just in Tokaj and not just with whites (he is the chief winemaker at Homola). A round, civilized, balanced wine; everything about it just feels right. The complex nose offers cherries, sour cherries, oregano, bay leaves, licorice and a bit of stemmines. The palate is vivid and smooth with excellent acidity, a fruity core complemented by briny taste and a long, rich aftertaste. 6-7 points and 12 euros.

Szent Donát Magma Kékfrankos 2017

The nose seemed rather promising with great depth and complexity however on tasting this wine the bright and sharp acidity made us all cringe. As if a fine dish at a top restaurant was sabotaged by someone sprinkling an extra portion of vinegar on it. The otherwise imposing edifice is ruined by grapefruit like acidity, even sourness. Potentially a 6-7 point wine, pared down to 4. 16 euros.

Homola Kékfrankos Selection 2015

A mature artist at the top of his game. In some ways it may even push the envelope for „just a varietal kékfrankos”; the overall impression is akin to a really good village level Burgundy. Intriguing, elegant, fine boned, pure, vigorous, floral, red fruit interwoven with saline notes leading up to a resonant, long finish. As soon as it was unveiled we decided to order from the online retailer which was offering them at 50% discount. (As it turned out, their webpage is not exactly up-to-date so out of the 23 bottles we had placed an order for 8 were eventually delivered.) 7 points (nla).

Szent Donát Magma Kékfrankos 2015

Like an age old chianti. Fruit off, balsamic vinegar, game and juniper in. Rather assertive citric acidity and drying tannins. To make sure this wasn’t an off-bottle I opened the second one a day later and sadly it was even worse with tiny bubbles gathering at the rim. Not much to enjoy, so I refrain from scoring it. (nla)

Unless we have reached the end of history, there is bound to come a time when fruity, lithe, moreish, low alcohol and low tannin reds fall out of favour. However at the moment this seems a rather distant and highly speculative scenario. In the current global imbibing situation varieties like Blaufränkisch are thriving, and its stockholders have every reason to consider themselves fortunate or smart investors.