Olaszrizling –It helps to keep us optimistic

It was two years ago when we first noticed that we’d started to look at Olaszrizling in a different light. Like in the case of an old, faithful friend we’ve known for years, who we thought we could rely on – but it suddenly turns out that we didn’t really know that person so well. He or she comes up one or two surprises, like writing a successful novel, which is actually rather good as well. Maybe it’s so good that it could even win the Nobel Prize. Of course, only like in 15-20 years time. Based on the 2015 and 2016 wines, Olaszrizling is just like that for us. 

We’d loved it and appreciated it in the past, but recently it has transformed our opinion about it. We’ve grown curious regarding what those people who are even more familiar with Olaszrizling than ourselves think about the grape, so we hit the northern side of Balaton (where the variety is the most typical) and asked five winemakers what they make of Olaszrizling. We talked to Mihály Figula, Márton Ruppert, Endre Szászi, Zsófia Laposa and István Jásdi.  


Mihály Figula

“It’s capable of a major breakthrough and could also be also recognised as Hungary’s white wine abroad.” 

Mihály Figula’s six Olaszrizlings from six different vineyards greatly contributed to the change in our view regarding Olaszrizling. Out of the six Olaszrizlings, the Sóskút was the sole Olaszrizling that won a gold medal at one of the world’s highest ranking wine competitions, Paris Vinalies Internationales. Visiting the Figulas in Balatonfüred, we tasted this wine again – beside the new, 2016 Olaszrizling.

“We take Olaszrizling seriously. Its great value is that it simultaneously reflects the vintage and the place of growth, and it represents even the smallest plots. People once called it the ‘poor man’s grape’, because even under poorer conditions, or even in bad years, it produces good, tasty wine. This is precisely the reason it was planted during communism, which is why it’s so widespread. But why should that be a problem? We should appreciate that even the ‘bottom shelf’ stuff is good from Olaszrizling. For me though, it’s not basic like the entry-level wines, but as the basic truth. At the same time, if I had to name a wine that I think is capable of making a major breakthrough and one that could be also recognised as Hungary’s white wine abroad, apart from Furmint, I would say Olaszrizling, and in brackets, in third place, I’d name Hárslevelű.

The same can be done with Olaszrizling that the French do with their village wine, vineyard wine and parcel-level wine. We try to keep an eye on, observe and smell the differences within the vineyards. The depth from which Olaszrizling takes up water also makes it unique. In the case of Sóskút, the 30-40-year-old vines take up water from a depth of 5-6 metres. It helps to keep us optimistic even in poorer vintages. However, a big Olaszrizling is rare. It requires a tranquil summer, a nice and long autumn and the harvest at the end of October.”

Márton Ruppert – Martinus

“Why Olaszrilzling? There’s some sort of generosity in it that’s lacking in Riesling…”

When the winemaker for Gilvesy started making wine on his own small plantation on the limestone-based Tagyon Hill, it was obvious to him that he would choose Olaszrizling, as the variety is in Marci Ruppert’s heart. At the time of our visit, the second vintage – the 2016 Martinus Olaszrizling – had been bottled five days earlier.
“Why Olaszrizling? It wasn’t even a question for me. You can count on it and it’s economically viable, even in bad vintages… and there’s some sort of generosity in it that’s lacking in Riesling. It’s also suitable for the soil, which is limestone-dolomite here, which somehow makes the wines denser than on Szent-György Hill. The Tóhely vineyard is not too sunny, it’s windy and cool. It used to be a co-operative plot, and even 5 to 6 kilos of grapes grew on a vine in a curtain system, even though the ideal yield is around one kilo per vine. My vines were planted in 2013 and 2008. This year we cultivated the Olaszrizling by selecting the shoots and only a small batch was made. According to Rob [Gilvesy], the 2015 is flabbier, while this 2016 will be more serious and thicker with a bit of citrus fruit. We’d like to focus more on the place of growth, and it’s also important that it’s made spontaneously. Maybe a 20-hectolitre barrel would come in handy… Whether it can or will become a more serious Olaszrizling? Maybe… there are lots of nice examples – my favourites are the Figula and the Györgykovács Olaszrizlings.


Endre Szászi

“Olaszrizling is a vivacious variety. For me, the Italian joy of life doesn’t just appear in its name [Olaszrizling lit. meaning ‘Italian Riesling’] but also in the wine.”
Although Endre Szászi’s father was also a winemaker, and Endre himself studied to be one, he first opened a wine shop at the foot of Szigliget Castle and only a lot later, in 2000, did the story of his own wines begin. Since then the Hegymagas cellar hasn’t become much bigger in size, but the fame of his organic Olaszrizling most certainly did. Their Badacsony, Szigliget and Szent György Hill Olaszrizlings emphasize the distinctive character of the plots. “They are made every year, they are all different and everybody has a different favourite from among them. The reason why Olaszrizling can be so diverse is that the place of growth greatly defines it, more so than with the other varieties. A lot less was made of the spontaneously fermented Szent György Hill 2016 than in the previous year because of the hail of July 13. Even so, that’s my favourite at the moment – the master. It’s vibrant and fresh with green aromas.
Seemingly there’s a lot of Olaszrizling, but there isn’t enough of it. It grows on 8 hectares out of my 18 hectares and I even buy in some on top of that. There isn’t enough of it, not only in my cellar, but also from the country as a whole, for us to be able to export it because it runs out in Hungary. We’ve tasted a lot of 2015 Olaszrizlings with other winemakers from all around the country and we all share the same opinion that it’s a lot more exciting than it’s used to be.


Kabócás for the summer solstice
One of the legends of the contemporary history of Hungarian Olaszrizling is Szászi Kabócás Olaszrizling. Collectors and fans may still have a few bottles of the Rizling (a derivative form of Olaszrizling) that was last bottled in 2007, but most of us only know it from hearsay. The plot in Szigliget is not officially a vineyard but there are a lot of cicadas which gave the wine its name and make the Mediterranean ambience even stronger. The soil is porous, rich in minerals and olivine crystals, whereby the root exudate* quickly absorbs the minerals. “After a gap of 9 years, I’ll have a Kabócás once again. The 800 bottles of the 2016 vintage will come out of the cellar at the time of the summer solstice. You will be able to lay it down for a long time, I can even sign 10 years for it.”

*The root exudate produced by the root of the plant dissolves the material of rocks into the soil. A part of the minerals taken up with the water is accumulated in the cells of the plants.

Zsófia Laposa

"Olaszrizling can be everything"

Zsófi Laposa is the youngest member of the Laposa winery’s family triumvirate [father, son and daughter]. As she puts it, “there has been a one-and-a-half generation change in the family”, as her brother took over the making of wine from their father, and she took it over from her brother, on the estate that grew up to 30 hectares over the years.
“It used to be an overlooked variety even though it suits the Hungarian circumstances very well. It rewards being looked after, which it in fact requires. Yet, I think, we haven’t truly discovered it yet. Pinot Gris is an easy wine, Kéknyelű is serious. Olaszrizling can be everything. Rizling grows on the largest area of our vineyards. We have seven different Olaszrizlings on the market and we don’t want fewer than that. Now, I have a 2015 amphora-made Olaszrizling as well,” adds Zsófi.
“For now, it’s a one-off experiment; it was made because I got an amphora as a present from my brother. I think the knowledge that is inherited from generation to generation, which would be necessary for top category Olaszrizlings to be made, is missing in this country. Perhaps the time will come, but 15-20 years are required for that.
If this variety were to become famous abroad, it could be a premium wine here as well. Now, our selection is more the classic style of Olaszrizling because that’s what we also like drinking, and because we believe a lot can be learnt from these as well. Rizling is important for us, we believe in it, which is why we have new plantings as well. We bought 6 hectares in a year and a half, which will be planted with Olaszrizling. You need to know when to harvest it in order to keep good acidity; you have to find the right date. We pick Olaszrizling over the course of two months. I don’t believe in a magic formula though. Every vintage is different and plenty of factors can change. For the wine to be a similar style year after year, completely different things have to be done from one year to the next."

István Jásdi 

“It’s important that the Csopak character should be in all of my wines.”

István Jásdi’s best known wine, Csopaki Rizling, is a classic Olaszrizling. From now on it is going to be called ‘Jásdi Csopaki’, partly because everybody refers to it that way, but also because it contains a few percent of Furmint as well. He regards the Furmint more for spicing the wine up, “Rizling tells us a lot more about the place of growth,” we are told again from one of the founding members of the Csopak Kódex, István Jásdi.


The Csopak Codex for the rise of the Rizling
The Csopaki Kódex (Csopak Codex) is an independent PDO (protected designation of origin) and trademark protection system that specifically focuses on Csopak’s traditional grape variety – Olaszrizling. The Csopak winemakers who are dedicated to the variety created transparent, straightforward and factual rules. For example: they ban the use of artificial manure, herbicides and pesticides; set the alcohol content at between 12 and 13 per cent; place the maximum yield per vine at 1.5 kilos, minimum 5.5 g/l acidity, maximum 4 g/l sugar). “2012 was the first Codex year. Since then, it has come up many times that we should change the rules, but I always said we shouldn’t. It should rather not be a Codex wine in a given year if I can’t keep to the regulations. For me, owing to the soil’s minerality, Csopak Olaszrizling is more characteristic, more substantial than Olaszrizlings made elsewhere in the country. This also brings along higher alcohol, but on the eastern slopes the wines are not that alcoholic. As the result of general warming, the cooler slopes are valued higher and harvest is brought in earlier too. Over the last 20 years, it has started earlier and earlier, of course not only in Csopak, but everywhere else,” says István.


Olaszrizling steps on the menu
Every summer dinner is a good occasion to drink wine. However, eating habits have changed, and these days people like lighter and less fatty food. The wines that match such meals are not as full-bodied and heavy as before.
“The Rizling selection at our winery is actually a set of Rizling steps; we can find a matching one for every course. However, it’s not only the food or personal taste that matters. I’ve observed that the tastes of certain nationalities differ. For example, Austrians like the Lőczedombi the best. The Siralomvágó is a divisive wine, few people fancy it but I rather like it,” adds István.


“When there will also be a problem with Rizling in Hungary, I don’t want to still be alive by then,” wrote Sándor Márai. If he were alive today, he wouldn’t have to worry about Olaszrizling. There are so many good Rizlings made in Hungary and over the border that we won’t stop at this, we’ll continue unravelling the secrets of Olaszrizling next time.