Just before Christmas I visited the southern Hungarian winemaking town of Villány with Wines of Hungary to attend the 2016 Franc & Franc conference – Villány’s concerted effort to convince the world that it is the adoptive home of Cabernet Franc.
You can read an overview of the trip here. In this article I want to focus on a selection of the more terroir-focused producers whose wines really stood out on that trip – and who I believe have the best chance of succeeding in the fiercely competitive UK market.
One of the over-riding impressions I took from the Franc and Franc conference and associated tastings was that, in many cases, there was a marked overuse of oak. I tasted around 30 premium Villány Cabernet Francs in which it seemed the norm, rather than the exception, for the wines to be aged for 24 months in oak – very often new – before release.
On top of this, some of the wines were very ripe, alcoholic and extracted, which made them a challenge to drink. While these kinds of wine do enjoy strong demand in the local market, there are question marks over their potential for success in the UK market, where the overarching trend is towards fresher, lower alcohol, less obviously oaked styles of red wine (reds being the specialty of Villány).
“If you look at global trends in winemaking there is definitely a move away from too much obvious oak,” Caroline Gilby MW, an expert on the wines of the region, told the conference.
“It also makes financial sense if you use less oak for a shorter time. And if you’ve got really nice fruit, why hide it with too much oak?”
Thankfully, such wines were not the whole story of my Villány visit – far from it. Throughout the four-day trip I took note of a good number of wineries which seemed to demonstrate restraint in their use of oak, which were focusing on terroir and indigenous varieties, exploiting cooler sites (Villány is one of the warmest regions in Hungary), and working with precision in the vineyard and cellar to produce red wines of clarity, restraint and freshness.
In the pages that follow are profiles of six such wineries which, in my opinion, represent a good starting point for anyone interested in discovering the wines of this still under-appreciated region.