by Rebecca Palmer
There comes a time when you need a grown-up relationship. For a while, Corney & Barrow had been toying with parcels of Aszu and flirting with Furmint, to satisfy a few customers. And even if there was a certain ambivalence for the drier styles, it was clear to me that the seed was growing, and that we should keep an eye out for a proper partner. Fast-forward to June 2016, the day after the Brexit vote and in pouring rain (how apt), I found out rather last-minute about a Hungarian wine tasting and raced there, arriving soaked to the skin in my bike gear but at least in time to taste the wines. At least this seemed to amuse Lilla O’Connor, of Wines of Hungary, and we started talking.
I was quite clear about the type of producer C&B would like to work with and the style of the wines, so Lilla started making introductions. Over the next months my buying team co-pilot Elliot and I auditioned many wines. And while some got close, none was quite right. I had become, I’m afraid, quite fixated on a particular style, to the extent that as time went on I wasn’t even sure if it existed. Fortunately, Lilla is nothing if not persistent, and one day Barta samples arrived: all floral–savoury scent, precise fruit, and fine incisive acids; depth and laser length.
You know when you know. Even the C&B sales team – hard taskmasters – were bowled over! So a few weeks later in November 2017 I found myself driving from Budapest up to the village of Mad in Tokaji, to meet the quietly brilliant, self-effacing Karoly Barta and his talented young winemaker Vivien. We scrambled up the steep slope of the Oreg Kiraly (Kings Hill) vineyard, and tasted the wine it had made, and laughed at how on earth we were going to sell a wine called ‘Egy Kis’ Furmint to the English market.