Egri Csillag Superior – Tóth Ferenc Winery
Though Eger has long been known for its red blends, since 2010 winemakers have been attempting to breathe new life into the region’s whites with the new Egri Csillag blend. What is Egri Csillag, and what makes it peculiarly Hungarian? It’s a complicated and potentially very variable blend based on Carpathian-basin varieties, such as Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, Leanyka, Királyleányka, Zengő, Zenit, and some Hungarian crossings. There are many possible directions winemakers can go with this wine, but generally it should be fruity and floral, but not too aromatic, with no single variety dominating. The wine should show the essence of the fruit and the terroir. This Egri Csillag Superior from the Tóth Ferenc Winery is a blend of five different varieties, harvested from two vineyards—the Marinka and the Almagyar. The wines were aged separately before blending. The Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Rajnai Rizling wines in the blend were aged in 500 liter barrels for five months, while the Leányka and Királyleányka were stainless steel-fermented and aged. Egri Csillag can come in three levels (which signify quality and style), and this Superior is the middle level. It is a complex, yet refreshing, and fruity wine, which is well-worth tasting. It is a perfect pair for a variety of cheese and pasta.
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One of Hungary’s red wine bastions, Eger, the home of Bikavér (aka Bull’s Blood), also boasts a diverse geological make-up which includes rhyolite tuff. It is also Hungary’s northernmost red-wine-producing region. Historic vineyards planted on these volcanic rocks make some of the biggest, fieriest wines in the region. As in Tokaj, this tuff lends itself perfectly to the carving of cellars. It hosts 99 percent of Eger’s cellars, including networks of passages dozens of miles long and the famous cellars under the city’s fortified castle.
Although historically a white wine land like its volcanic counterparts, red varieties displaced the whites and finally after the blight of phylloxera, Eger’s flagship red blend, Egri Bikavér, attained a worldwide reputation at the start of the 20th century. Winemakers here take this traditional blend seriously.
It has improved tremendously and has little in common with those past Bikavér’s which were exported to the West during the Communist-era of mass-produced wine. Varietals that find their way into Bikavér are Kékfrankos (Blaufrankish), Pinot Noir, Portugieser, Merlot, and Kadarka, and all of these are also bottled as single varietal wines.
At the start of the 21st century, Bikavér gained a white partner, Egri Csillag (‘Star of Eger’). Approximately 50 percent of the region’s vineyards are planted with white grapes and as no one variety dominates, so it was logical to make Egri Csillag a blend, in keeping with the region’s traditions. It is a very variable blend based on Carpathian-basin varieties, such as Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, Leányka, Királyleányka, Zengő, Zenit and some Hungarian crossings. A minimum of four of these varieties must be included and make up at least 50 percent of the blend and each must represent a minimum of 5 percent. The blend may also include up to 30 percent of fragrant Muscat varieties, such as Cserszegi Füszeres, Zefír, Irsai Oliver, Tramini and Muscat Ottonel. With their blend of history, volcanic minerality, and native varietals, there’s a lot to explore in Eger’s cellars.
Ferenc Tóth—usually referred to as Feri bácsi, or “Uncle Frank”—was born and raised in Eger, and now has nearly seven decades of harvests under his belt. Tóth made his first Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) at the age of 16. But under the Communist regime, he wasn’t allowed to be a winemaker. Instead he worked in construction, but always made wine on the side. In 1983 Tóth and his wife, Marika, were able to acquire a 1.5 hectare vineyard, and started their little family winery. The Tóth family now has 30 hectares of vineyards on some of Eger’s best slopes, and the next generation joined the winery—their daughter, Katalin, and her husband. Ferenc Tóth is a big advocate of the Kadarka grape. He was named “Winemaker of the Year in Eger 2012,” and the family always aims to keep a balance between preserving the old-school Eger styles and traditions, while using the most modern technology, to make outstanding wines.
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