Gróf Degenfeld, Tarcal – ‘The duty of nobility’

A rather elegant tasting

Katalin Kiszel-Kohari - May 8, 2020

The fully refurbished stately home is in a lovely park at the edge of Tarcal with a winery and a cellar, the works. It is hemmed in old trees at the foot of the Terézia Hill, surrounded by endless vineyards and the Mária Terézia Chapel perching on the top of the slope.

The Degenfeld family has German-Hungarian origin leading back to medieval Switzerland. They arrived in Hungary and Transylvania at the start of the 19th century. They played an important role in the history of Tokaj-Hegyalja as being one of the most influential Tokaj landowners. Count Imre Degenfeld was the founder of the Tokaj Region Wine Producers Association, established in 1857. After the II World War, the Hungarian heir, Count Sándor Degenfeld, was stripped of his wealth and his family moved to Romania than Germany. Their daughter, Countess Mária Degenfeld married Dr. Thomas Lindner and in 1994, started purchasing vineyards in the Tokaj area, then re-established the century-old cellar and set out producing wine. In 1996 they built a modern winery. In 1999, Gróf Degenfeld Winery has partially switched to organic wine production on 35 hectares in Tarcal and Mád zone. They own approximately 100 hectares vineyards in the area. They bought first-class vineyards such as Mézesmály near Mád and Zomborka, Galambos, Szemere, Borkút, Terézia. The former Royal Vintners’ College re-opened in their property and the four-star Degenfeld Castle Hotel, the former Degenfeld Palace, opened in 2003 with a restaurant and wine shop after a full renovation.

The interior is period furnished with original paintings and tasteful, elegant décor. We settled in a plush, airy salon for our tasting, which was rather awe-inspiring. There were freshly baked cheese scones, locally known as pogácsa, and mineral water provided to compliment the selection of eight wines. We tasted a 2016 Furmint and a vineyard selected Zomborka Furmint from the same vintage. A 2018 Hárslevelű, a 2017 Muscat Blanc, a 2016 Fortissimo Late Harvest, a 2014 Sweet Szamorodni, a 2014 5 puttonyos aszú and a 2016 Botrytised Furmint called Andante.

Great selection! Furmint is the flagship variety of the region. You can find numerous dry versions of it from any winemaker, some vineyard selected, some barrel aged, some lees aged. I really loved the spicy, creamy Zomborka Furmint. You can taste the new oak with a light touch, bâtonnage, refreshed by searing acidity. The Hárslevelű and slightly off-dry Muscat Blanc were also excellent. Spicy, floral, perfumed, fresh, still intense with zingy acidity. These grapes not often can be found as single varietals, so it is well worth trying.

Tokaj is often associated with sweet white wines for a good reason, but just to keep that in mind, the majority of the production is dry. Botrytis which can lead to aszú a magical happenstance which does not come easy or every year. To extract the right sweetness and flavour is a time consuming, very expensive and extremely labour-intensive process which is generally falling out of favour world-wide unfortunately. I found it noteworthy, that the two late harvest wines were quite different in style. The Fortissimo is a blend of Furmint and Hárslevelű. It is a fresh, light, vibrant, fruity sweet wine with the trademark snappy acidity and a modest 80g of sugar made in stainless steel. Although it is made with heavily botrytised bunches, the grapes were destemmed but pressed together like a szamorodni, but not aged in wood. On the other hand, the Andante is 100% Furmint. They picked the heavily botrytised bunches, and after a gentle crushing of the botrytised berries, two hours skin contact, then pressed and the wine matured in oak barrels for a few months. In a way it was done like an aszú, but with less cold soaking and much less barrel ageing. The result is a round, full-bodied, spiced, honeyed nectar with a whopping 192 g/l sugar that would be equal to the sugar levels of a 6 puttonyos aszú! The high 9,5 g/l acidity and the low 8,5% alcohol smooth it out to a long, lingering, quite unforgettable wine.

The sweet Degenfeld Szamorodni and the Degenfeld 5 puttonyos aszú were both very modern, somehow coming across as light, or at least lighter than expected. Both fermented in stainless steel with selected yeasts but matured in zempléni oak barrels, 18 months in old ones for the szamorodni and 36 months in some new for the aszú. Both fruity, honeyed, ripe still crisp and powerful with a different level of intensity.

I can highly recommend having a tasting here. Wines with great quality and character!

Photographs by The Tannin Addict.