Monday, 13 September 2010

A liquid Tractatus

You know that friend who's just difficult over dinner, who complains that the youthful premier cru Chablis you've served is just too damn fruity, and that Rheingau Kabinett is frankly a bit flabby for his liking. Well don't worry, the answer you've been looking for is right here!

Sömlo. It's a minuscule region in the North West of Hungary, an isolated couple of volcanic hills that sit pretty much alone in an expanse of flat plain. Sömlo is pretty much entirely a white wine region (with one notable exception, which I'll come to later), and it's wines are characterised by a searingly direct minerality. Tasting the wines of Kalonics Karoly with their wine maker Karoly was an exercise in intellectual tasting. They don't really do opulence, in fact they don't really do anything other than just let their very low yields and careful stewardship of the terroir go straight into the bottle. They have plantings of the four main grape varietals Olaszriesling, Furmint, Harslevulu and Juhfark. We started with a mini vertical of the Olaszrisling, the 06 being restrained with a slightly leesy minerality, the bottle age had added a slight creaminess the to palette and there was a bitter almond finish that's quite characteristic of the varietal. The 08 was fresher with a slightly vegetal green bean and slatey nose and a slightly herbal green bean like character on the palette, again there was a core of minerally acidity that drove straight through the wine like an aggressive piece of crossing out. For the 09's they presented tree different barrel selections. Nor folk for following the crowd their three barrels are old 1000 litre Acacia wood that had been taken apart, the tartaric acid deposits scraped off and then re-toasted with increasing increments. However even the highest toast was quite low by others standards, as Karloy gnomically put it, “What are we looking at? God or his clothing?”. Szent Tomas Olasz 09 (oh and the barrels are all named after famous Hungarian kings, though obviously you spotted that straight away...) was giving very little, minerals, slate, the barest hint of something herbal, then a searingly mineral palette, like tasting a shadow play of slate and razors. The Bela III was my favourite of the three, the slightly higher toasting seemed to coax a degree of fruitiness from the wine, with notes of stone fruits and apricot, white flowers and fresh runner beans, whilst on the palette the minerally core was wrapped with a creaminess that mitigted the austerity of the terroir. A bit like listening to Chopin whilst reading Wittgenstein. Finally the Bela IV with the highest toasting, this confused me somewhat as the apricot fruit had me thinking of Furmint, but the salt caramel and white pepper threw me slightly. Again it showed the same steeliness of structure but with more fruit evident.

We then moved onto the Juhfarks, now I don't think that Juhfark is going to be a worldwide superstar of a varietal, but in Somlo it does have it's place, it's a wine that really shows off the poor volcanic soils. If that sounds like an euphemism for lean, acidic and devoid of fruit, then maybe, but they're certainly interesting. The 07 had a mineral and wet wool nose, with some sticky tangerine zest characters on the palette, the 08 was all about flintiness, with the fruit being a little curmudgeonly and refusing to come out. The 09, which hadn't long been bottled, was a little reductive, but still showing some slightly stalky mineral notes along with a fresh and orangy citrus peel character in the mouth.

The 09 Furmint, which again had just been bottled, was being truculent, but from having tasted previous vintages, I know that it tends to a very lean and mineral expression of the grape, with pear and quince characters rather than the riper stone fruits of the Tokaj wines.

Finally the Harslevulu's, these were the stars of the tasting. The 07 showing preserved lemon peel, wet stone, white flowers and a hint of pear, whilst the palette was a shock of powerful leesy minerals, rounded off with an incredible length, intensity and a finish of white flowers, bread and pears. The 09 (there was no 08 on show as someone had tasted it at the winery and bough the whole vintages production) was all lemon zest, Hawthorne flowers, and something almost akin to mint, then a supremely fresh minerality and a finish bursting with citrus peel.

The Kolonics Karoly wines might not be for everyone, certainly their high acidity and mineral like extract would put off someone looking for an amenable fruity white, however I found myself increasingly impressed by their determination to show off the soils of Somlo and the intellectual pleasure of working them out on the palette.

And I that's not enough you can have some juvenile tittering by making jokes about Kolonic irrigation.

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