Your Lake Balaton Guide - This Month's Novel Wines Explorer's Club
Welcome to this month's Novel Wines Explorer's Club, the UK's most exciting wine subscription for the curious drinker. Each month, we will introduce you to a new wine region as part of our promise to deliver no two wines the same for a whole year. Not a member yet? Subscribe here.
What's in this month's Explorer's Club?
Here's what we've got in the Club box for June 2022. You can click on each of the wines below to access the full story, including a tasting video from our wine buyer Ben to introduce each wine. If you have any questions about the wines, get in touch here.
St Donat Magma Rosé Brut (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter), a delicious full-bodied rosé sparkling from the Tihany peninsula in Lake Balaton, vinified by Tamas Kovacs. Food wise, try this with smoked ham canapés, pizza, sushi, seared tuna, crab cakes, or rhubarb and strawberry crumble.
Sabar Keknyelu Komagas Single Vineyard (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter), one of our best-selling white wines made from the incredibly rare Keknyelu, or "blue stalk", variety. Made by the Keknyelu master Bálint Földi.
Somloi Vandor Nagy-Somloi Juhfark (only included in The Globetrotter), a saline and mineral volcanic white wine made by Tamas Kis on Somlo Hill in the Balaton Highlands. Enjoy with roast pork, veal in cream sauce, soy-based stir fries, stuffed bell peppers with rice and herbs, risotto or white fish.
St Donat Marga Furmint Selection (only included in The Globetrotter), another wine from Tamas Kovacs using Hungary's most important white grape variety. Full of zippy lemongrass and green apple. Try it with scallops, fish pie, or goat's cheese.
2HA Olaszrizling (only included in The Globetrotter), a very small production rare white wine from Csaba Torok with only 2,000 bottles made each vintage. Creamy, full and delicious. All sorts of dishes would complement Torok's Olaszrizling. Think along the lines of roast honey and mustard turkey, smoked salmon, goat cheese pasta and chicken, cured meats, smoked fish pâté, scallops pan-fried in butter, or chicken and leek pie.
St Donat Magma Kekfrankos Red (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter), the final wine from Tamas Kovacs is this pure red wine example of Kekfrankos, the most planted red grape east of Vienna. So good that Ben is serving it at his wedding day. Pair this wine with lamb chops and new potatoes, lasagne, or a delicious burrito.
Where is Lake Balaton?
Lake Balaton is in the western part of Hungary and is the second largest lake in Europe. As the main body of water in Hungary, a land-locked country, it is often described as Hungary's internal "beach destination" with plenty of opportunity to sun bathe, swim, and while away the hours under a pergola with a good glass of wine.
However the magic of Balaton for winemakers is its volcanic soil. From the coast of the Lake itself through the Balaton Highlands to the famous Somlo hill, you'll find it's scattered with defunct volcanoes and layers of geologically rich and diverse soils. The vineyards cover mainly the western side of the Lake where they sit on southerly aspects. The main districts declared under the EU's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) are: Badacsony (Sabar Estate and 2HA), Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak (Szent Donat), Nagy-Somló (Somloi Vandor), Balatonboglár, and Zala.
It is home to many indigenous Hungarian varieties, the most exciting being Olaszrizling, Keknyelu and Juhfark - all of which are included in the Globetrotter level of this month's Explorer's Club. There is also plenty of Kékfrankos grown here, the best of which grows on the Tihany peninsula.
If you get the chance to visit Balaton, you'll discover its romantic charm and warm hospitality.
Who are the winemakers and their wineries?
One of the features of this month's line-up is St Donat, owned by Tamas Kovacs. His pride and joy white grapes grow along Csopak on the western side of the Lake Balaton with stunning vistas over the main lake. His reds and rosé wines, made from the Kékfrankos grape variety, grow on the crater of the Tihany peninsula, an area that stretches out into the centre of the Lake of Balaton.
Across the region, these volcanic soils are key to the purity of Kovacs' wines. The vines are forced to deep-root into mineral rich subsoils, concentrating the fruit intensity of the grapes, while the cooling influence of the Lake Balaton and the crater lake help to moderate acidity. This means Kovacs doesn't need to play too much in the winery. It's simply vinified, settled and then bottled unfiltered, giving you one of the purest expressions of varietal Kékfrankos from the area. It's also this level of intensity that makes his Rosé Brut sparkling so unique versus pink Champagne. The wine bagged 94pts at Decanter in recognition of its quality and is a stand-out wine in this month's pack.
The Sabar Estate winery can be found deeper into the Balaton Highlands. It is owned by Gabor Adam, who bought the winery in 2009. He focuses on small production wines in collaboration with his excellent young winemaker talent Bálint Földi, known locally as a specialist in the Keknyelu variety - a rare grape that roughly means "Blue Stalk" in English. There's only 46 hectares of this anywhere in the world and almost all of it is planted in the Balaton Highlands. It will be an exciting one for you to try if you haven't had the chance before!
Gyorgy with Gabor Adam (centre) and Balint Foldi (right).
Adam once nicely summed up the tranquility of Balaton, saying: "I found peace of mind here in Sabar hill, I've always wanted in my heart. I would like to give this feeling to those who come here and sit with us under the old walnut tree."
The 2HA Winery, which now actually owns 4ha of vines in Balaton, is also found on one of the many defunct volcanoes and hills in the Highlands. It is owned by Csaba Torok, who is known for his premium wines. The Olaszrizling from this pack grows on Szent Gyorgy hill, which - probably no surprise here - our buyer Gyorgy would one day like to own a vineyard on!
Somloi Vandor is owned by Tamas Kis and roughly means the Somlo Wanderer. This small volcanic hill is a winemaking hotspot. It's renowned for the indigenous grape Juhfark (meaning "Sheep's Tail") and is made up of sloping and terraced vines on high drainage volcanic soils. Here you will experience volcanic salinity akin to the likes of Santorini in Greece - you have freshness balanced with intensity in spades!
Eating with Balaton wines
All of the Balaton wines in this pack have great pairings, but the common denominator in all of them is freshness and acidity. This means they love salt. Think about well-seasoned lamb cutlets and new potatoes finished in salted butter, or grilled white fish and cherry tomatoes.
The wines will go well with both goat's and sheep's cheese, but also won't get lost alongside a full cheeseboard with extra mature Cheddars or stinky cheese. Veggies should try the wines alongside risotto (with the salt from the stock off-setting the acidity in the wine beautifully), veg deep-fried in tempura batter, or hot and sour style Asian soups.