by Elizabeth Gabay MW
One of the results of war and Communism in Hungary, has been the break in continuity in long established family domaines. The big names we see today have only been around for 30 years or less.
Karoly Barta has approached setting up his two new domaines with an eye on heritage, history and quality. Since 2003 he has been buying up the steep, terraced vineyards of Öreg Király (old King) site in Tokaj and re-planting. In the village of Mád he has been restoring the beautiful old 17th century property, once owned by Prince Rákóczi, as the Barta Tokaj headquarters. The old part of the house has been stunningly restored, preserving the old wall paintings and atmosphere and the rooms are available for those wishing to visit the area.
The Tokaj wines, made by star winemaker Attila Homonna are, admittedly at the higher end of the Tokaj price range, but they too are works of art. The aszú wines are deceptive with delicate fresh perfumed fruit and floral characters hiding great richness and intensity. The sweet szamarodni a wonderful balance of ripe sweet fruit and a core of firm mineral acidity. The dry Furmints and Hárselevelű show that these varieties are up there with the top international classics.
The second domaine, started in 2009 is very different. Called Nagygombos, it lies at the southernmost edge of the up-coming Mátra region, on the foothills of the northern mountains and is run by Barta’s daughter Anna Takács-Barta. The main building of this estate is another 18th century manor house, which the family also wants to restore. The large estate founded by Antal Grassalkovich. He used his influence as a count and trusted supporter of Maria Theresa to secure enormous estates., lies 30km east from the royal palace of Gödöllő, and 60km from Budapest. It had once belonged to Tibor Gál, one of the early pioneers of modern Hungarian wine, who planted varieties found on his travels, aiming to discover what thrived in Hungary. Sadly, Gál dies in a road accident in 2005, and his research halted. Today, Anna makes red, white and rosé wines, slowly replanting sites, as she continues Gál’s work, with the varieties that work best. The vines are still young, but her infectious enthusiasm bubbles through as she works on lightly oaked Gamay rosé (did the vines come from Beaujolais or the Loire – no-one knows), a vibrant Kékfrankos rosé and reds made with blends of Hungarian and international varieties. The Nagygombos top range is named after the first owner, Grassalkovich.