Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake, offers much to the curious wine traveller with its stunning panoramas, lively lakeside action in summer, ever-improving gastronomy scene, as well as exciting and remarkably varied white, red, rosé, and even a few sweet wines, coming from some top terroir.
The huge body of water of Lake Balaton, which is 77 kilometres long stretching from east to west with a width of 14 kilometres at it’s widest point, exerts a moderating influence and also reflects sun back onto the vines to ensure full ripening, although some grapes can catch a few too many rays! Balaton has four wine regions (Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonfelvidék, Badacsony on the northern side and Balatonboglár on the southern side) that brush it shores and another two (Somló and Zala) that can be considered part of its environs.
The hillier northern side produces predominantly white wine, including some of the finest examples of Olaszrizling in Hungary. These wines, which typically have impressive and refreshing acidity that helps to flesh out the flavours and build complexity, can be found in the mixed (marl, limestone) soils of Balatonfüred-Csopak and the black basalt-based volcanic soils of Badacsony and the Káli Basin, the latter where some limestone mixes with the basalt. Although Riesling is entirely unrelated to Olaszrizling, Badacsony is probably the national epicentre of the German-Alsation grape. This stunningly beautiful region with its sawn off volcanic mesas that were formed as the basalt stood firm and the non-volcanic land around it eroded is also home to the indigenous Kéknyelű grape. This sharply acidic grape makes unique white wine that can be neutral when young but needs time for its true, rich character to be unveiled, and has to be pollinated by the Budai Zöld grape, which itself occasionally produces delightfully airy and floral wines. Rózsakő, a crossing of the two grapes, is now also producing exciting white wines of its own.
Round and fruity whites and big, bold Bordeaux style blends ooze forth from the loess-based soils of the vineyards of the Balatonboglár region on the southern side of the lake which are a touch warmer than the north, while riper single varietal Cabernet Franc, indigenous Kékfrankos and Pinot Noir is also to be found. While the southern side is much flatter than its northern counterpart, the vineyards of the south are nicely undulating with excellent exposure to the sun. Furthermore, the views of the northern side from the south are breathtaking. Red wine is by no means confined to Balatonboglár, with the likes of Pinot Noir and Syrah, as well as the odd Kékfrankos can be very classy indeed as some recent releases are proving.
Lake Balaton will be one of the excursions of the that will be part of the 10th International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC), which will be held April 10-11 in Budapest.
Robert Smyth is a Budapest-based wine journalist, writer and communicator. He is the author of Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World (Blue Guides, 2015). He has been been covering wine for more than 15 years and writes on Hungarian and international wine for the Budapest Business Journal (BBJ), Winesofa.eu, VinCE Magazin and Wine Connoisseur, among others. He’s also served as deputy editor of the Circle of Wine Writer’s Update and edited David Copp’s Wines of Hungary and contributed to the same author’s Tokaj: a companion for the bibulous traveller. He holds the WSET Diploma and Advanced certificates from London’s Wine and Spirit Education Trust, run tastings for Tasting Table and also guide tours for Taste Hungary. He regularly judges at Hungarian and international competitions and also translates wine text from Hungarian to English.
Photos: Hungarian Tourism Agency