Villány positively oozes charm and hands wine travellers a truly warm welcome with its old world cellar rows that contrast with spanking state-of-the-art wineries, while it veers between muscularly robust and refined reds wine wise.
Nestled close to the Croatian border, protected from northern cold by hills and replete with a sub-Mediterranean climate, the barren yet prime site of the limestone Kopár vineyard, which lies on the southern slopes of the pyramid-like Szársomlyó Hill, looks like it could be straight out of coastal Croatia. Another great vineyard is the Ördögárok, which was painstakingly reclaimed from the forest at the beginning of this century. A cool flow of air that blows through this valley keeps things cool enough to prevent the wines becoming cooked and jammy. In all, Villány has more than 2,500 hectares under vine, and which also encompasses the pretty vinous settlements of Palkonya, Villánykövesd, Nagyharsány, Kisharsány and Siklós.
Villany has long been associated with big, tannic red blends made from the Bordeaux varieties. When the grapes are harvested at the right time (which is certainly not always the case), the limestone soils help preserve the acidity, build the structure and ensure elegant wines, although the overripe, over-extracted and heavily tannic style that has seduced many a Hungarian palate is still alive and well today. Among the Bordeaux varieties, it is Cabernet Franc that has emerged ahead of its usually more eminent peers to find its own unique expression in Villány. In spring 2014, a joint effort was launched by many of the region’s winemakers to unite and promote its flagship grape Cabernet Franc, using the Villányi Franc moniker for premium wines from this grape. Vylyan’s Mónika Debreczeni opines that the page that describes what Cabernet Franc needs to thrive is identical to what Villány offers. Cabernet Franc ripens a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon with no green flavours, according to Attila Gere, one of the region’s pioneers, who has now gone fully organic.
The Kékfrankos grape was often an afterthought in Villány and was long considered way down the pecking order topped by the Bordeaux grapes, but it is now coming along nicely after years of relative neglect to make riper wines with darker fruit than usual for the grape, reflecting the warm climate.
Portugieser typically makes youthful light wines bursting with primary fruit that are put on the market soon after the harvest and serve to generate cash flow while winemakers wait for their big guns to come online. While German Swabians played a massive role in the development of Villány over the centuries, it is a new wave of Germans – Wassmann and Hummel – who are proving that you can make high quality wine out of unfancied varietals if you treat them with tender loving care. The German and Swiss owned Heumann have had similar success with the Kadarka grape.
Villány will be one of excursions that will be part of the 10th International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC), which will be held April 10-11 in Budapest in collaboration with Premium Sponsor, The Hungarian Tourism Agency.
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: Furmint Photo