Gabor Kardos' wines from the Hungarian region of Tokaj were not only the first wines we stocked at Novel Wines, but his dessert wine was the inspiration for starting it in the first place.
My business partner Gyorgy has known and worked with Gabor Kardos for many years, importing his wines to the UK. In 2016, I first tasted the Kardos Tundermese, a late harvest Tokaji dessert wine, and started to show it at all my tasting events. It was an instant success, and so when the idea of Novel Wines came around, I asked Gyorgy to be my business partner. A few months later, Gabor's wines were the first two on our original list, and both of them - the Dry Furmint and Tundermese 'Fairytale' Late Harvest - remain best-sellers even today.
Gabor Kardos can trace his family's winemaking history in the village of Mád, Tokaj's main village for fine wines, to more than two hundred years ago. Kardos Snr laid the foundations for the modern winery in 1989 and started to sell Kardos-branded wines from their cellar.
'From the mid-2000s, I became more involved in managing our family vineyard and boutique winery,' Kardos said. 'We introduced quality improvements like stricter yields, selective harvesting, and focusing on the uniqueness of Mád's terroir.
'Our aim is to create characteristic, dry white Tokaji and late harvest sweet dessert wines. We only produce Tokaji Aszú in exceptional years and then only in limited quantities.
'Our philosophy is always "The creation of as natural wines as possible from concentrated, healthy raw materials, in a clean environment and with as little intervention as possible.'
Tokaj has the oldest vineyard land classification in Europe, established 1737, and Mád is the main village of 27 in the wine region. Kardos' vines are 40-60 year old plantations, and making wine in Tokaj was part of his upbringing - where else should he make wine?
'I did plant 0.5 hectares of new vines in 2013 in the Betsek vineyard, a highly prised 1st class single vineyard and one of the top cru plots in the region. There was no question but to do it!'
Joining his father in the business in 2008, Gabor's most rewarding highlight came nearly a decade later with the 2017 vintage.
'As a winemaker we have never had so perfect a vintage before. We had perfect weather and produced so much Aszú. It was a pure joy to do the harvest and everything happened like a dream.'
As with all the winemakers we spoke to, not every vintage is a fun one. 2002 was a 'very challenging' year thanks to the excessive rain and problems all over the region with white mildew.
'Harvest started very well, in the middle of September, and only a few showers stopped work. However, by the start of October the second part of harvest was a nightmare and it rained almost every day. I decided not to risk it and we harvest everything for our dry wines. In hindsight this decision was a good one, and those producers who waited for sunshine lost almost all their grapes. 2020 was certainly not a lucky year for botrytis or noble sweet wines.'
Looking to the future, Kardos is optimistic. 'I am a very optimistic person,' he agrees, ' I believe we can have a beautiful future. We have survived 2020 and Covid. Even in this difficult year we had better sales than I expected so I think we can survive anything now.
'Our new winery is finally ready and we have an excellent work place. We have some of the finest terroir on the globe and an experienced team, so altogether we are expecting a bright future!
'We are keeping it simple, but maybe an aged traditional method sparkling wine is missing.'
We'll look out for that one day, then!
We also have a limited supply of Kardos' excellent Tokaj Aszu.
They are brilliant introductions to the excellent wines being produced in Mád. Kardos believes Furmint's magical flavours mean there is no good answer for a food pairing.
'You can build up a 10 course menu paired with TOkaji wines! You can make it your perfect welcome drink, or match it with starters, seafood, poultry, boar, even game. As the ancient proverb goes: A good Furmint makes any food more memorable!
'Personally I am a big fan of Asian food, especially sushi. I recommend to try a fresh Furmint with it. And if you like curry dishes, like a spicy lamb curry, an oak-matured Furmint can lead you to paradise!'
Written by our buyer, Ben Franks.