The Barta Pince is a small boutique winery, founded in the 1990s by Károly Barta. It is located in north-east of Hungary, in the heart of the Tokaj wine region. Mád has approximately 1,000 hectares of vineyards and Barta Pince owns 26 hectares of it, mostly in prime location. Ten hectares on the Király-hegy (King's Hill) in the terraced, south, south-west facing Öreg Király-dűlő (Old King Vineyard). It was re-planted in 2005, but it was cultivated as far back as the 13 th century. This historic ‘első osztályú’ (First Class) vineyard was abandoned and overgrown in the middle of the 20 th century as the state preferred quantity over quality. Its precarious location, steep and stony structure made it impossible to cultivate mechanically. As a result, it was left to be reclaimed by the forest. The positive consequence is that the land has been left untouched by the decades of unrestrained chemical use. This is how you turn something negative into very constructive, ingeniously. The grapevines are tended and harvested manually. The vineyards are cultivated in an organic way and the winery began producing organic wines in 2017. There are 3,5 hectares in the Kővágó-dűlő (Stone Quarry Vineyard) planted in 2017, the remaining 13,5 hectares are still lying fallow.
About eighty percent of their planted grapes are the local star variety, Furmint. The T85 old-type, small-bunch Madárkás (Birdy) Furmint clones, to be exact. The remaining split between Hárslevelű (Lindenleaf), Sárga Muskotály (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) and Kövérszőlő (Fehérszőlő).
The winery is in the Rákóczi-Aspremont mansion, originally built in the 16 th -17 th century, growing gradually from farmhouse to an aristocratic stately home with Baroque features. The last refurbishment finished in 2015, with a newly renovated guest house, apartments and tasting rooms. By the way, Rákóczi. When you visit Hungary, you will come across in every settlement small or large, a street, a square, a plaque, a sculpture, a building, a cellar or the combination thereof that named after Rákóczi. He was (Ferenc Rákóczi II,) a prominent member of a powerful ruling family with enormous land, castles, mansions dotted around the country. This winery is one of those buildings where the famous prince actually had been for several visits. That is where I came on an early summer night to have a tasting of 9 wines with the very professional Gergely Somogyi.
The majority of wines were from the above mentioned Öreg Király-dűlő with 5 varietal, dry Furmints in a vertical tasting. The 2015 Barta Öreg Király dűlő Furmint Válogatás was truly outstanding, and the 2016 Barta Öreg Király dűlő Hárslevelű was one my favourite. It is not often that you have a chance to try a great, single varietal Hárslevelű. Strongly recommended. It was interesting to experience as well, that all dry Furmints had between 6-9,4g/l of sugar and still tasted dry, even very dry on occasion. It would be counted as off dry if we were purely just assessing the sugar content. If you take it into account that the acidity is between 6,1-8,2 g/l the picture becomes much clearer to explain why the wines still taste dry.
The last three items were on the sweeter side as you would expect. It is Tokaj at the end of the day. The 2008 Barta Öreg Király Fordítás is a peculiar local speciality rarely seen outside Hungary as it is produced in small quantities. It is made by pouring fermented wine or must over Tokaji Aszú paste or more recently full aszú berries, to minimize unpleasant phenolic extraction, left after pressing of sweet wines. After maceration it is pressed refermented and aged. It has at least 45g/l sugar, but more likely to have quite a bit more. (The technique is similar to the Italian ripasso technique that used, although nowadays quite rarely, for Valpolicella.) This wine considered to be sweet by the large amount of sugar, but not overly sweet on the mouthfeel as it is balanced out by the Furmint’s reliable and high acidity.
The next one was the sweet 2013 Barta Öreg Király dűlő Szamorodni. Szamorodni is another speciality of the region that can be sweet or dry. Dry is very scarce nowadays, according to winemakers I have been talking to, because of the overcomplicated regulations for this certain designation. What a shame! Szamorodni means (‘as it comes’), but word itself is of Polish origins funnily enough. I can assure you, that in Hungarian it means nothing like ‘as it comes’. Szamorodni can be made when the grape is very ripe, even overripe and include some botrytized berries that are left in the bunches and not picked out for aszú but processed for wine. If you fully ferment it for dryness, you get dry (száraz) Szamorodni, if you do not ferment it fully you get sweet (édes) Szamorodni. Traditionally dry Szamorodni is subject to some maturation under a film-forming, flor-like yeast and these wines are very much like the Jura’s Vin Jaune. Sweet Szamorodni is aged couple of years partly in oak. It used to be aged on ullage, so it became oxidised. The one I have tasted was barrel fermented and aged in 220 l Szerednyei-barrels, then bottle aged for two years before release with 115 g/l residual sugar. It had a lovely creamy texture, delightful acidity and elegant candid fruit bouquet.
Finally, the ‘piece de resistance’ is the 2013 Barta Öreg Király dűlő 6 puttonyos Tokaji Aszú. One of the best vintages of the past decade produced top quality botrytised berries. Macerated in must for 24 hours then gently pressed. The wine that spent 24 months in Hungarian oak barrels and has 246g/l residual sugar. Pure and sublime!
No wonder why Furmint is the iconic grape of the region. They can be truly exceptional, world class bottles, if they are in the right hands. These were, indeed, in the right hands. They were rich, yet zesty, pure and chiselled, yet complex, intense and still elegant. They embodied something incredibly unique, the essence of their interpretation of this region with a very refreshing approach. Often you find that emerging wineries either sticking to ‘tradition’, which sometimes can cover old and not necessarily great habits, but not reflecting to innovation, current trends, or the demands of the consumers. The other end of the scale is when a cellar goes all modern and international, and losing its identity. I am not saying that either of these are wrong as there is still market for both. I am saying it is delightful to find a place where they can balance somewhere in the middle. Rooted in tradition but not afraid of using contemporary methods with a delicate touch.
I must say that it was one of the best tasting I have been to lately. It was not just about the brilliant quality of the presented wines which were clean cut, well- defined items showcasing what this region can offer at its best. It did make a difference that the host was deeply knowledgeable, the approach was no frills, but a little bit rustic. They all added to the great experience.
Photographs by The Tannin Addict.