Wine, for all its glamour, is a direct agricultural product. Winemakers have one chance a year to get it right, which depends on what the climate and weather throw at the grapes growing in a specific patch of soil. One summer hailstorm or frost once the buds have opened and a whole year of potential is destroyed, the story for many areas of Western Europe in 2017. Late frosts, heatwaves and hailstorms taking their toll mean both Italy and France are reporting the smallest harvest in decades, while crop losses have reached 40-60% in parts of Spain.

This may be a great opportunity for Hungary. Producers across the country are excited by the sheer quality of this year’s grapes. In Villány, Erhard Heumann avoided frost damage by just half a degree Celsius, but enjoyed perfect weather for the rest of the growing season. A warm summer brought just enough rain to avoid drought stress, and the grapes arrived ripe but with balanced alcohol and acidity. In Eger, Gyuri Lőrincz jr (St Andrea) reports, “A breath-taking vintage! Amazing concentration and ripeness.” Here, extreme winter chill gave way to a warm and drought-prone summer, but enough rain in September allowed picking in perfect conditions. New canopy management techniques helped ripeness in Hárslevelű and Furmint, while results have been particularly impressive for Merlot and Syrah.

Hungary’s biggest exporter, Törley, reported grapes arriving in perfect condition for all varieties and across all regions. In spite of the summer heat wave, there was just enough rain to avoid drought stress, but not enough to cause disease. White grapes like Irsai Olivér may be less aromatic than in cooler years though. Red grapes were picked a few days earlier than normal, but ripe and completely healthy. Overall it appears an excellent vintage.

In Tokaj, reports are a little more mixed. The season was very even, and missed the heat that hit the country further south. Some humidity in August caused development of mildew and later some botrytis, especially in organic vineyards, requiring careful selection. Dry Furmints look promising but Harslevelű suffered a little from uneven ripening. It’s still early to assess the Aszú harvest as some wineries have only just finished picking. Vivien Ujvári at Barta reckons that many producers have picked great Aszú, while István Szepsy Jr is more cautious, commenting that, “Taste is good, volume is good, but it is not the vintage of the century.”

Looking forward to tasting the results in due course.