Zoltan Szabo

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By Zoltan Szabo

I am back! And very happy about it! Not like I did not enjoy my travels...Shanghai was a great experience, but I parted ways with Osteria and I have decided not to ever work in a partnership again. However, I do still believe in collaborating, but with the right people...only. Anyway, I have recently attended the X.th edition of Pannonhalmi Bormustra in Hungary. All went so well, but on the last day of it I found out about serious family matters and instead of heading over to Austria's Wine Summit I needed to attend the situation. I much regret not being able to attend the 2009 Wine Summit despite the generous Austrians paying for my travels and such. I am a huge fan of Austrian wines and I oblige myself to go next year, tour, taste and write, even if on my own expense. Family is important, they will for sure understand that.

Here we go...The 2008 vintage was a pretty difficult one, and uneven, in Hungary. Many of the whites (some lighter reds and sparklers) entered in this year's competition were from this challenging year. It was really hot in the south of the country resulting quick ripening of the grapes, lots of sugar therefor alcohol, but disjointed structure, immature flavour development, adjusted acids and some seriously bitter, extracted tannins in the reds.Excess (phenolic) bitterness could be tasted in the whites too, especially those made from aromatic varieties, and due to generous oaking in other cases. Rained in September, in the north and northwest, less in the northeast, at Eger for example.

Despite all these not-so-happy conditions some good to very good (white) wines were made by those doing accurate vineyard management, expertly choosing harvest dates and dealing with the situation with more care.

Whites and reds from the very good 2007 vintage showed well.

I was much impressed by many of the reds from the 2006 vintage! Lush fruit, great depth of flavour, balanced acid - tannn composition characterized the best ones. There were some debates among colleague judges about the lack of terroir, sense of place and origin in few of them, although I did not question mark that aspect.

The reds from Szekszard seem to be improving every year, the Bikaver category was also much superior in quality compared to last year's competition, some of the Tokaji Aszu were superb as always (especially those from 2000), and a lot more, and surprisingly good, sparkling wines were entered this year as well.

Overall, the Xth edition of Hungary's finest wine competition turned out to be a winner from all points of view: quality of wines in general and most importantly, glorious facility for the judging itself in the 1,000 years old abbey, organization and all logistical aspects, meals (especially the one prepared by Kalman Kalla and his son, Richard at Lesence) and entertaining and such...And for all these circumstances my score for this year's Pannonhalmi Bormustra is clearly 100 points! So, Parker will attend next year, I hear....

Below are listed my top scoring wines throughout the competition. Remember, all wines (total of about 400 split in half) were tasted blind with their vintage date as the only indication. I am really curious to see how many of my favourites will actually make it into the official top 20... Although, there were two panels of judges, tasting different wines, with our panel's members consistently scoring 15% lower.... However, I stand by the wines I've liked...I would drink them at any time, buy them, write about them and would highly recommendem them to anyone. I bet nobody would regret once trying them neither....


2007 Tokaji Kabar, Chateau Dereszla

2007 Vorcsok Furmint Reserve, Kerkaborum

2007 Sargamuskotaly, Soptei

2008 Badacsonyi Muscat Ottonel, Szeremley

2000 Tokaji Szaraz Szmorodni, Tokaji Kereskedohaz

2007 Furmint, Szentkereszt, Andrassy

2006 Tokaji Harslevelu, Gundel

2007 Metha Thema Kesoiszuret Szaraz, Bolyki


2008 Rose, Varsanyi


2007 Villanyi Terra Tartaro Cuvee, Heumann

2007 Szekszardi Domaine Grof Zichy, Baron von Twickel

2006 Zweigelt, Wunderlich

2006 Fekete Hegy Selection Cabernet Franc, Bock

2006 Carriopela Cabernet Sauvignon, Wunderlich

2006 Villanyi Audens Cuvee, Gere Tamas

2006 Mandolas, Vylyan

2006 Elixir Cuvee, Polgar


2006 Szigeti Cuvee TJ

2005 Chateau Vincent Evolution Rose, Garamvari


2007 Mesterunk Szekszardi Cuvee, Eszterbauer

2007 Egri Bikaver, Paptag Dulo, St. Andrea


2003 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, Nyulaszo, Royal Tokaji

2000 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, Szt. Tamas, Uri Borok Pinceszete

2002 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Disznoko

2000 Tokaji Muscat Lunel Aszu, Paulecki-Vin

2007 Toppedt Sargamuskotaly, Soptei

After the morning tasting of reds at the X. Pannonhalmi Bormustra I was driven to Budapest to attend a tasting organized by the Madi Kor, an organization of a body of producers aiming to differentiate, promote, market and showcase the unique terroir characteristics of Mad and its wines. Acclaimed Hunarian winemaker, Istan Szepsy was in attendance and who's among the founders of this group. Something like the Tokaji Renaissance, but with more "sense of place" and "place of origine" approach. "Trademarking terroir". Smaller producers as well. So, I've tasted mostly dry Furmint and dry Harslevelu (and some dry Sargamuskotaly). I truly believe that these two grapes could be the next "big hip" in the world of wine. Superb wines are produced from these grapes, with delightful aromatics, slightly oily texture and mouthfeeling fruity flavours, refreshing acidic spine and unmistakable minerality. Just delicious! And so great with food!

They were a dozen or so producers at a packed affair held just by the Danube's Buda side at a beautiful event facility very nearby the Lanc Hid. I could not find one wine that I did not like really. Arvay, Szepsy, Mad-Hill, Karoly Barta, Gabor Orosz, Vince Gergely, Budahazy, Demetervin,...they've all impressed me much. OK, I admit tasting the 2007 Oreg Kiraly Dulo Furmint by Barta three times... Seared branzino for dinner after in a cellar-like gallery of the same venue...that has a "showpiece" and functional, antique coffee machine...for the acquisition price of 60 million Hungarian Forint...approx. $200,000...you go figure...! Would I ever hire that F & B director who got that if I'd own the place...?! I am so funny...!

After the closing ceremonies of the X. Pannonhalmi Bormustra I was diven to Somlo-Hegy, an 800 + ha. wine region (and 3,000 producers!) centered around an extinct volcano, consisting in a raised platform of rock, basalt, planted with steep, terraced vineyards as high as 800 meters above sea level, with mineral-rich, sandy, gravely top soils, and well drained structure. The lower parts of the mountain are covered by forrest. Almost etirely a white wine region, home of Juhfark, there are also plantings of Szurkebarat (P. Gris), Olaszrizling (Riesling Italico), Furmint, Harslevelu and some Tramini. The only red I've tasted was Kreinbacher's 2008 (in barrel) and 2007 Syrah, see below.

Kreinbacher Birtok: boutique property with very good wines, showing a somewhat modern approach, and winemaking expertise, clean, precise wines are made here by a young winemaker, Csaszar Atiila. I liked all the wines I've tasted from barrel and from among the ones from the 06 and 07 vintage Very neat Syrah...lighter style, spicy - floral with great acids, soft tannins and polished oaking...for its novelty-sake I'd score the 2007 ...90... (1,000 bottles made) and wait, the 2008, still in barrel right now, might turn out to be even better. White cuvees (blend of Riesling, Furmint, Harslevelu, some from single vineyard and made in best years only) really good here, perhaps just a tiny bit one-dimensional...winemaker must be fan of "assemblage", and he is good at it indeed. Liked the varietal wines as well, tasted the 2008's from barrel. Acacia barrel aged 2007 Tramini under screwcap is unique (now discontinued to be produced)...for me anyway as I've never tasted one aged in such type of wood before.

Tornai: 54 ha. since 1946, a larger winery. The best Juhfarks I've tasted...! Big, bold, intense and expressive...ripe, almost candied fruit, floral - honey notes with almost salty minerality, bursting acids...not even showing 15% alcohol...! Liked best the 2007 Grofi Juhfark Top Selection and 2006 Juhfark Top Selection. Most wines I've tasted here were good to very good, Olaszrizling, Szurkebarat, aged and some partially fermented in large Hungaian oak barrels, new and neutral ones. Considering the size and total production of the winery, and that is used to be a commercial operation, the quality aspect of the wines here is strikingly high.

Hollovar: Proprietor-winemaker Lajos Takacs bought 4 ha. worth of land here since 1992 from about 35 land owners...! He is a character, seemingly excentric (fashion-wise too!0 with a healthy "I do not give a damn" attitude. His wines reflect that attitude for sure...and they are not for everyone's taste. He harvests based on sugar-ripeness and some of the wines are on the lees for 3-4 months. They are more bodied, alcoholic, minerally, leesy...funky, just like Takacs. Uncertified organic, and he is very proud of that. I liked the 2008 Harslevelu best, the 2007 Furmint good too, with 15% alcohol, and the 2006 Furmint Aszu certainly interesting...and Lajos shared the last bottle of it with me. 4,000 bottles/year average production here. "Garagist"...and or you like them or you don't! "Ennyi"!

After Somlo-Hegy I headed over to Lake Balaton's northwest shore, more precisely to Balatonfelvidek region.

Lesence: one of the larger Hungarian wineries owned by Kalman Kazsmer, a 75 year old former Swiss financial entrepreneur, a risk taker with a somewhat cynic ideology, dry, but realistic overview of life and sense of humour. And listen to this...he does not even like wine! The winery produces an average of 1.5 million bottles of wine per year, off 75 ha. of own vineyards + grapes sourced from elsewhere. Mr. Kazsmer sells in bulk to my friends at Pelee Island Winery in Ontario, Canasda, although the last shipment was refused due to reasons triggered by the current economic turmoil. A whole range of wines are made here in different style and quality designation. Mostly commercial stuff, including some wines made from odd varieties such as Trilla (for sparkling, a grape apparently developed at one of the oenology and viticulture institutes of the country,and cultivated only by Lesence, and I have not even heard about it before...), Turan ("Lambrusco"...?!)...others from unexpected grapes such as Barbera. Others are labeled as Muscat Sylvaner (Sauv. Bl.) Pignola (P. Noir), Franconia etc. They do experiments with canopy, trellis and other vineyard management techniques ala Scott Henry, and I saw steel coated wood, temperature controlled, computer guided fermenters with unique (own design) settings for pumping over, micro-ox etc., etc. Zoltan Csonka is the winemaker. I liked the "Prime" and "Yellow Chapel" (Sarga Kapolna) label designated, premium brand and respectively single vineyard wines the most. Also liked the Barbera. Lovely dinner followed the tasting, a fine fair prepared by
Master Chef Kalman Kalla (former Gundel and Washington Hungarian Embassy) and his son, Richard. A meal that made my colleague from Argentina cry.... carpaccio of smoked breast of goose, Balaton pike-perch so perfectly cooked, breast of chicken seasoned with paprika, duck liver of perfection and "vargabeles", sweet sponge cake with vanilla and raisins.... God, I love my job! Dishes were also paired with wines, of course... I liked the 2007 Fume Blanc with the chicken, 2007 P. Gris with pike-perch and the Sauv. Bl./ P. Gris Late Harvest with the dessert.

Other wines that I've tasted in Hungary recently, outside the X. Pannonhalmi Bormustra at dinner functions and gatherings that I was "moved" by...and would have scored them 89 - 90...and above...! See below.

1999 Villanyi Cabernet Sauvignon, Molnar - still youtful, soft black fruit, marachino, mint, cardamom, pencil shavings and flavoured tobacco, soft-sweet tannins, tiny dry heat on finish.

2002 Sessio, Konyari, Loliense - very elegant, fresh fieldberry aromatics mixed with fersh herbal and spicy notes.Loliense is the old name of Balatonlelle.

1999 Somloi Harslevelu, Gyorgykovacs - lemon preserve, leesy, mineral...almost salty, long sour quince finish.

2007 Kekfrankos, Eniko Luka, Sopron - ripe fruit, cherry-berry, spicy, fair amount of oak, but polished, well balanced acid - tannin. Stylish. Feininine...?

2007 Kekfrankos, Sauska, Villany - Very modern, but just outstanding. So pure fruit! Atypical maybe...?! Who cares!

2002 Szaraz Szamorodni, Hetszolo Dezsofi Kasately, Dessewtfy, Tokaj-Hegyalja - dry, marcipan, nutty, coconut with fruit pitt, yeasty - orange notes on its finish.

2000 Edes Szamorodni, Oremus, Tokaj-Hegyalja - just like a very good 5 Puttonyos!

Also tasted the 2002 Riesling Trocken Hochgewachs, Gobel-Schleyer, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - wow! Stunning Riesling! And you know that I love Riesling! Sour lemon, bee's wax, white blossoms, wet slate - mineral, crisp and persistent.  

And my first ever Fruhburgunder, a 2002 from Ahr - do not recall the name of producer...

These last two wines are obviously not Hungarian, but as they were seved to me by my gracious host and Bormustra's organizer, Zsolt Kalman, well, I was "forced" to drink them... Just like the great David Copp would say: "I really try to drink less nowadays!"...However, sometimes we just can't resist the temptation(s)! Amen!


So, here are the official top wines of X. Pannonhalmi Bormustra, highlighting the category winners. The way it woirks at Bormustra: the top 25 wines from each category (or less in accordance with number of entries) are awarded "Bormustra Top Wine" sticker that you can look for on the bottles when buying. One overall winner is selected as the champion wine of the competition. One important rule of entering wines for this competition is that all wines must be commercially available and at least 5,000 bottles produced. As for the champion wine I've chosen Sauska's as well, from the three (white, red and sweet) that were brought back on the last day of the competition to establish the overall Creme del a Creme. None of the three were wines tasted by my panel, and as it seems many of the other top wines were also selected, picked and therefore pushed up into the bests by the other panel of judges...judges that scored a little higher...meaning that they've pretty much decided the whole outcome...


Béres Tokaji Furmint Lőcse 2007
Bolyki Metha Thema késői száraz 2007
Borpalota Mátrai Hárslevelű 2008
Bussay Rajnai Rizling 2008
Bussay Tramini 2007
Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Kabar 2007
Dörgicsei Chardonnay 2008
Figula Csopaki Nász 2007
Figula Muscat Lunel 2008
Gál Tibor Tramini 2003
Gundel Tokaji Furmint 2007
Kerkaborum Vörcsöki Hárslevelű 2007
Kovács Nimród Winery Chardonnay Battonage 2007
Nyakas Budai Chardonnay 2008
Nyakas Budai Chardonnay sel. Barrique 2007
Nyakas Budai Pinot Grigio 2008
Patricius Tokaji Sárga Muskotály 2008
Royal Tokaji Furmint 2007
Söptei Sárgamuskotály 2007
Tornai Top Selection Apátsági Furmint 2007
Tornai Top Selection Grófi Hárslevelű 2007
Tornai Top Selection Grófi Juhfark 2007
Tornai Top Selection Olaszrizling 2007
Varga P. Aranymetszés Badacsonyi Kéknyelű 2006
Wekler Pécsi Chardonnay 2007


Baron von Twickel Domaine Gróf Zichy Szekszárdi Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Bock Cabernet Franc Fekete-hegy Selection 2006
Bock Cabernet Sauvignom Selection 2006
Bolyki Bikavér 2006
Bujdosó Ibituba 2006
Cezar Merlot Extraordinarii 2006
Ebner 3-as hordó Cuvée 2006
Esterhazy Tesoro 2006
Eszterbauer Mesterünk Szekszárdi Cuvée 2007
Feind Prémium Cabernet Franc 2006
Gere Attila Cabernet Franc Selection 2006
Gere Attila Cabernet Sauvignon barrique 2007
Günzer Zoltán Villányi Ördögárok 2007
Heumann Villányi Cabernet Franc 2007
Heumann Villányi Terra tarbaro cuvée 2007
Jackfall Pillangó 2006
Konyári Páva 2006
Maul Taurus cuvée 2006
Molnár Syrah 2007
Rád-Ikon Ikon Cabernet Franc Evangelista 2007
Sauska Villányi Cuvée 7 Siklós 2006
Sauska Villányi Cuvée 7 Villány 2006
St Andrea Egri Bikavér Paptag dűlő 2007
Takler Szekszárdi Bartina Cuvée 2006
Takler Szekszárdi Cabernet Sauvignon reserve 2006
Takler Szekszárdi Regnum Cuvée 2006
Vincze Cabernet Franc Arcanum 2005
Vincze Kékfrankos Arcanum 2006
Vylyan Pillangó 2006
Vylyan Villányi Montenuovo cuvée 2007


Bujdosó Aranyhíd 2007
Degenfeld Andante 2007
Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2002
Dobogó Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2004
Királyudvar Tokaji Cuvée Ilona 2007
Oremus Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2002
Pannon-Tokaj Muskotályos Aszúeszencia 2005
Pauleczki-vin Tokaji Jégbor 2007
Royal Betsek Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2003
Royal Nyúlászó Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2003
Tokaj Kereskedőház Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 1993
Tokajicum Borház Reneszánsz cuvée 2004
Úri Borok Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos Szt Tamás 2000
Úri Borok Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos Szt Tamás 2003


Szigeti Muscat Ottonel 2005
Törley Nyerspezsgő 2006
Garamvári Ch. Vincent Evolution Rose 2005


Eszterbauer Tüke Szekszárdi Bikavér 2007
Fritz Szekszárdi Bikavér 2007
Gróf Buttler Egri bikavér Nagy Eged 2005
Gróf Buttler Egri bikavér Nagy Eged 2006
St Andrea Merengő Egri Bikavér superior 2006

CHAMPION (BEST OVERALL): Sauska Villányi Cuvée 7 Villány 2006


My travels are done. I will be settling down, looking for a good job...found a new place to live at St. Clair & Aveanue Rd....and awaiting my wife to arrive.
I am really ready and much looking forward to part-take in "Thrill of the Grill" weekend event on July 3 - 5 featuring Rob Rainford from The Food Network, and other chef's and a number of  beverage suppliers up at Deerhurst in Muskoka. It's promising to be a great affair, so come and spend the weekend with me. For more info and attendance fee (something more than fair) please contact the resort directly.

And I have a new website...www.zoltanszabo.org

Or follow me! http://twitter.com/zoltanszabo


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