Monday, 13 September 2010

4AM eternal

It's 4am, I'm sat drenched in sweat with my heart thumping on a stone step next to a nondescript green door. From inside, music is pounding and tendrils of steam seem to be curling out from the club within. Only hours earlier I'd been chatting with the head of the national bank. Yep this is a bit different to other wine festivals.

Back at the Vinoport after party, the cream of Hungary's young wine makers are dancing like a group possessed, shots of Palinka are doing the rounds and everyone is celebrating with relish, and celebrate they should, because Hungary is on the brink. Everywhere you look across the country there are wine makers who, 20 odd years from the fall of communism, are seeing the rewards of painstaking wholesale replanting of their vineyards, of dutifully relearning the nuances of their terroir, of casting aside the production techniques and methodologies that the previous generations had been forced to adopt. The era of the collective ended some time ago, and from those fertile ashes, we're seeing the age of the small wine grower start to blossom.

Almost every region has producers who are leading the way qualitatively, from Zoltan Heimann in Szeksard, Bolyki in Eger, Tornai in Somlo, and countless wineries in Tokaji. However what is frustrating is that the bodies that are supposed to be communicating this revolution to other markets like the UK seem to be intent on doing precious little. In the UK there was a generic Hungarian tasting the year before last. Confusingly for someone unfamiliar with the countries wines and regions, the wineries were arranged alphabetically around the room, making it very hard to taste like with like. Then due to disorganisation the tasting wasn't repeated last year. After forging quite close links with the Tokaji Renaissance organisation I hosted a tasting of their wines at my restaurant early on this year. Yet one of the biggest names in the group decided that they didn't need to be present and one of the smaller merchants who represents several of the wines, managed only to turn up on the day and hassle me (I was very busy putting the finishing touches to a couple of Tokaji and food masterclasses) for something to eat. Considering that I now have possibly more of his wines on my restaurant list than anywhere else in the capital I still havn't heard back from him.

When you talk to Hungarians about the way their wines seem to be presented abroad you tend to get a shrug and possibly a raised eyebrow or two. Which is a shame because there is a lovely sense of self-deprecating humour that runs through the trade, lots of fabulous personalities that would go a very long way to convincing anyone to list their wines (oh and did I mention that the wines aren't bad either).

I'm seeing slightly more press on their wines at the moment, though I know that a lot of it stems from the hard work being done by several devoted individuals, Cseke Gabor is one who deserves a mention here. But in a world where there are a lot of countries all fighting for the same slice of the wine buyers wallet, there are others that are being a lot more effective. Also quite a lot of the wineries that are making the most exciting wines are not exactly cheap, I understand that wine has a certain intrinsic cost and that a very patriotic domestic market keeps the prices quite high, but in the interests of spreading risk across a multitude of export markets along with the domestic one it would seem sensible to target some other countries. If only to garner the proper international repute that the wines deserve.

I'm quite certain that I don't have all the answers but I'm hoping that if I keep asking questions some will be forthcoming....

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