Heimann Barbár 2015 - Barbarian

The Hungarian Cabernet Franc blend

Katalin Kiszel-Kohari - June 6, 2020

I have always had a soft spot for Cabernet Franc. Indeed, you could almost say that it is the apple of my eye! Without a doubt the epitome of a Bordelaise blend involving its juice is Château Cheval Blanc, a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend from Saint-Émilion that I have regrettably not had the opportunity to taste just yet.

I have however, tasted a Château La Fleur-Pétrus 2003, a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend from just across Pomerol. That left me with a lasting impression. Intense and muscly with the delicate smell of violets. Captivating. Cabernet Franc does not often come as a single varietal, but in Hungary you can sometimes find them and the best examples are around Villány and Szekszárd. My chosen one is a blend though and comes from Szekszárd.

My first taste experience with Heimann was with their Birtokbor cuvée. That is how I got hooked. It is also a Cabernet Franc based blend, pretty much their signature selection from the entirety of their vineyards. It tastes like a million dollars! Those are not my words, but I cannot describe it any better than that. That is how I got to the Barbár.

Hungarians are thought to be rebellious and fiery. Of course, in a world where you typically name your wine after a grape (e.g. Viognier), varietal, or the place of origin (e.g. La Romanée), in Hungary it is very common to give it a specific name as well. It is your baby after all. This name does not necessarily relate to any of the above-mentioned things. It could be anything (e.g. Daydreamer, Indian Summer, Hemina). We do it our way.

The name of the wine is Barbár, which means ’Barbarian’. Yes, yes! Nomen est omen! It was inspired by the piano piece ‘Allegro Barbaro’ written by the distinguished Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Some critics considered his music at the time (early 20th century) to be too eclectic, too robust or too vigorous. All in all, barbaric! To make a point he composed the famous, frequently played solo piece. The composition is a modern blend of Hungarian and Romanian folk songs, deeply passionate, vibrant, and dance-like, yet somehow still elegant. That piece of piano music influenced the wine I am writing about.

Heimann’s 21-hectare estate is located in Szekszárd in Southern Hungary, between the Tolna Baranya Hills and the Danube. The climate is continental with hot summers, mild winters, relatively low rainfall. The region boasts a long, warm growing season too, where frost is rare. As the climate is dry, the risk of fungal diseases and rot are low, and it is also well suited to early budding grapes with thin skin such as Kadarka and Pinot Noir. Having said that, because of the lengthy season, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon can easily ripen too. In the mainly black grape growing region, the local star is the delicate and fragile Kadarka, which is very much in a minority nowadays compared to any other grapes in this vicinity.

Barbár comes from the aforementioned estate: Heimann. There they cultivate Kadarka, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch), Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sagrantino, Tannat, Portugieser and as an only white: Viognier. All of this on just 21 hectares! To be fair this is quite a selection for small estate and as you can see, most of them could hardly be called indigenous varieties. Apart from Tokaj, in all Hungarian wine regions you are allowed to plant a couple of dozen different grapevines native or otherwise. That is just how it works. The owners brought top quality cuttings of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from Bordeaux, Tannat from the Basque region of south-west France, seeking excellence.

Barbár is a blend of Cabernet Franc (the largest proportion), Merlot, Tannat and Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch). It is an eclectic combination of grapes that are rustic, big, bold, and fiery, to say the least. All the grapes are sorted manually according to different varieties and vinified separately after a long 20-24 days of maceration. Aged in some new oak for 12 months, then blended. It then goes through at least 5-6 months of bottle ageing before its release. Barbár is not made in every year. It is made when every component is just so, healthy and ripe. The result is a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. A gutsy, robust produce with oodles of ripe and velvety tannins and black fruit, a bit of spice, a touch of vanilla, even the fairly high alcohol content is well disguised. Although the vines might be cherry- picked from different parts of France and Hungary, it is able to deliver a harmonious wine that is dense and complex yet somehow surprisingly fresh and graceful. Maybe there is some resemblance to the famous archetypes. Maybe it is not unlike the music that inspired it!

You can listen to Béla Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro performed by the late Zoltán Kocsis on this link!

Photographs by The Tannin Addict.