Gábor Kiss on the 364 days of the year

“An entry-level red wine should be rich, flavoursome and zesty. I don’t believe in light bistro wines,” says Gábor Kiss vehemently, getting straight to the point. We also talked about the Rouge 364.

“He’s Gábor Kiss, isn’t he?”

I became a Bortársaság Klub member when the shop in Lánchíd utca opened. It was always on my route when I was in Budapest. The team was great, there were lots of good wines on the shelves and I tasted one almost every day. Then, Baldaszti’s opened next door and sometimes I went to Budapest just for that reason. I like to taste things, I love flavours. Cheese, ham, olives, wine, great talks… Years passed, at times I sent samples to tastings but you always said they were raw, overly tannic and never bought them. Then came the breakthrough: I was talking to my friend, Etyek winemaker Pál Rókusfalvy, when Attila Tálos came up and asked Pali: “He’s Gábor Kiss, isn’t he? Can you introduce us?” A few days later I received a message from Attila saying that he was in the Mátra and he was tasting Rouge 365. And he said it was really delicious. When we met again, we started talking. He asked me if I had some wine. I said, I happened to have some now. He said he would buy some then. By March, my wines were at Bortársaság. That was in 2013. 

 

“The openness remained, my taste has changed”

In a cellar of this size, I can afford for my wines to change the way I do. Foreign experiences, lots of tastings, good wines from good friends. Lots of positive impulses. I’m driven by curiosity – we can say I love flavours. And as my taste changes, so do my wines. Australia, for example, had a huge impact on me. The most exciting thing about the New World is that possibly there are fewer mistakes made there. The French love of tradition is also inspirational. I’m captivated by something in every wine region and every good wine. With time I had to realise that, although I’m interested in a lot of varieties and there was a year that I dedicated solely to Pinots, I’m mostly excited about the two Cabernets and Merlot. And also Kékfrankos. If I have a wine with dinner, eventually it’s one of the Bordeaux varieties that makes it into my glass, no matter how hard I try to choose something else. The openness remains, my taste has changed. If I look at the 2006 range, they are bloody good, only 12 years have passed in the meantime. They were a lot more pronounced with a lot more tannin, owing to the long maceration and the denser soil of Kisharsány. I started experimenting in 2007, the change came in 2009 and I possibly achieved what I'd like to have in 2011. And now I’m fine tuning. It’s that kind of profession, every year there is a possibility for one or two decisions.   

 

 

The good in everything
Professionally speaking, my winemaking has only changed in that I don’t leave the wines to ferment on the cap till the end. I keep an eye on the tannins, I press at 70-80 grams of sugar so that nothing should be over-macerated. The structure builds up during the second half of fermentation, which is finished in tanks without the skins and seeds, on the lees. I fine the wine after malolactic fermentation, then barrel ageing starts with the complete wine with perfectly pure aromas and flavours. What I also refined was the oak use. I use 500-litre French barrels; this size and this style has proven to match my wines the best. The fruit and the grape character, and the terroir, if there’s such a thing, are kept the best by these barrels for me.

 

The details are being fine-tuned 

I seek balance when I’m making the wines. It’s important to have an inner need for good. As I don’t deal with anything else but my winery, I like spending on my wines. It’s worth it because better quality comes back. It’s an incredible joy for me when I can buy nice new barrels from my French cooper friends. Or when someone likes the label. I don’t mind working in the same little cellar while the details are being fine-tuned.     

 

365 became 364

Why? Because someone else liked the same name. It didn’t bother me at the beginning but when I received the 30th picture that my new sweet wine is good, I visited my friend Zsolt Unger who makes my labels. He said that Rouge sounds good but on one day of the year, you can drink something even better than this, so let’s call it 364. That’s how the new name was born. I think in 2017, I grasped the main point. Just because it’s an entry-level wine, you can’t make compromises in the vineyard – the same way as with big wines. The difference is only less maceration and shorter ageing. I believe in dense fruitiness. There can’t be 70 different wines in such a small, one-man winery – I didn’t see anything like that anywhere in the world. Three or four varieties, but then they should reach their potential in every category and provide an unforgettable experience.