Olaszrizling Part 2 – The experimental, the instinctive wine and the priests’ share

In June we talked to five winemakers from the hilly northern side of Lake Balaton about Olaszrizling. We said farewell by saying that we would continue because there are so many great Rizlings (a derivative form of Olaszrizling) that we wish to introduce from Hungary and from over the border. Now, we’re going to talk about some special wines. Among the winemakers, there are some who make the wines with a set plan, others instinctively; one makes his wines in a tiny cellar in the Mátra, another over the border. Still, the thing they share in common is that among the piles of care, they also dedicate a lot of thought to the cause of the Olaszrizling. 

Pristine purity from the Papjuss (priests’ share) vineyard

Csernyik Mátrai Olaszrizling 2015


“Altogether we have seven hectares, out of which three are mine, four are my dad’s. After the Hárslevelű and the Kékfrankos, Olaszrizling is the third in line, while the fourth is Zenit. We would like to concentrate on these four varieties and grow gradually,” says István Csernyik, owner of the small Csernyik Winery in Gyöngyöstarján. It’s not even a question for him as to why he makes Olaszrizling: “Olaszrizling is a Hungarian tradition, one always has to have some of it.” The winery’s Rizling grows in the Papjuss vineyard. The origin of the descriptive name of the vineyard (lit. meaning the priests’ share) can easily be traced back – the grapes grown here were shared to priests, possibly already at the time when tithes were levied. They harvest low yields of between 1 and 2 kilos per plant, from the vines that were planted in 2009.

“There’s no big secret or trick. I like Rizling when it’s floral. It shouldn’t be sluggish, it should have life and fizzle in it. Oak shouldn’t dominate it. The decision not to put it into the barrel was because of that – though of course I admit it was also slightly dictated by the current trend, but that’s what I also like now, this fruitier, floral, pure style. The 2016 Olaszrizling has even higher acidity and it will be even more floral when it’s ready. It’s not ready yet and what I observed is that our wines require more time to develop. But they also last longer. There are a few bottles put aside from every vintage, we rarely open them and taste them, but I think even the 2011 wine is still good. I use screw cap, but I think it still has good ageing potential under screw cap, the same way as the tank made wines do. Now we are testing a new plot to see what Olaszrizling coming from that soil will be like. Our plan is to have another, a more serious, specially selected Olaszrizling as well… we’ll harvest it this year but it will take about two years for it to become a wine.”  



I took it out from the rosehip”

Levente Pince Szentanna Olaszrizling 2014


“My parents had Leányka and at times I managed to make pretty good wines from it. In the meantime, I checked out Rizling to see how big the differences are between the two grapes… and I thought they were huge,” says cellar owner Levente Major about the beginnings. Besides running the school in Abasár, he makes his own wines in his free time alongside his friend, Kornél Kalapács. “The Szentanna Olaszrizling comes from the Cibike vineyard on Sár-hegy, from the lower lying side of the plot. The vines were planted by the cooperative in the 60s. We don’t even know what clones they are… It’s a small-bunched one, but I didn’t dig it up. More precisely, I did pick them out of the rosehip that had overgrown the vines. It was real shrubbery that I had to clean up.

Maybe the best way to define the training system and the cultivation method is as topsy-turvy; we’re currently trying to set these right as well. Still, the 2014 grapes were nice, ripe and healthy. Old vines and only 600g yield per vine. We always harvest in October and three elderly women from the village help me with that. They really know what they’re doing and we work well together but in the meantime I know that they feel sorry for me for being such a fool. They don’t understand why I don’t leave more grapes on the vines. They keep saying, ‘Levente, if there won’t be enough grapes, there won’t be enough wine either.’ But I don’t aim to have a lot. My aim is to show this funky Rizling and terroir at the same time. The 2014 Szentanna was fermented and aged in 220-litre barrels. The fermentation was really long, it lasted till the spring. I used corks because I think the wine gets tired quickly under screw cap. It became a divisive wine and people either like it or not. It’s also an instinctive wine, as my wines usually are, as there’s no pre-conception of what’s going to happen. Sometimes I make an ad hoc decision. At the same time, I wreck my brain a lot about it. I taste it from the barrel on a weekly basis, always on the same day then I take it to the lab. I think grapes take over one’s thinking. And I like to make and drink the sort of wine which I have to ponder over when I open it.” 



It’s summer, we feel like drinking Olaszrizling”

Bott Frigyes Olaszrizling 2016


Among other things, we like Frigyes for his pure, focussed wines. And we like him a lot. The winemaker and his family work to bring out the maximum from local and international varieties on Muzsla’s Öreghegy. According to Frici, as he is known, Hárslevelű takes the lead because of the hill’s special mesoclimate and diverse soil, but he thinks Olaszrizling cannot be missed either. “It has to find its place, which of course differs in every wine region. Similarly to a lot of colleagues, we try to find its place, because it’s a good variety, we need it as well, and it fits into our philosophy perfectly. It can be the wine of every day, but it’s not an entry-level wine, more like a classic. We also experiment with it, as Olaszrizling is capable of all kinds of twists. Right now we are making one in amphorae which you will certainly get to know during the summer. This time of the year, when it’s warm, when it’s summer, it’s Olaszrizling that we feel like drinking.”



“I coaxed Endre Szászi”

Szászi – Hoffmann Liliomfi VI. 2013


György Hoffmann, originally from Baranya county, had a tiny hobby vineyard in Orfű but hadn’t seriously considered making wine for decades. He fell in love with the Balaton, more precisely with Badacsonytördemic while he worked on the Köröshegy ‘valley bridge’. That’s where he fell under the spell of Endre Szászi’s wines and started ‘coaxing’ the winemaker to also make wine from his 2,300 wines of bush trained Olaszrizling. It took some time to convince him but eventually the agreement was born: in winemaking questions Endre Szászi makes the decisions and they share the wines made. It happened 10 years ago.

“Szászi had already been dedicated to organic growing, and I also became dedicated. In 2007, the first step was that he made me throw away all my nice, old oak barrels and ordered new ones. The next shock came during the first harvest together when instead of the earlier harvested one bucketful, we harvest 1.2-1.5 kilos of grapes from one vine. But I trusted him,” says György Hoffmann.

“We do have a few basic principles that we set, like the late harvest or that the Liliomfi is only made in good vintages. But what makes these wines different than the other Szászi wines and what makes one or other Liliomfis outstanding? It’s also a riddle for me. The fact that the wines are made from bush-trained vines has a lot to do with it. Owing to bush vine training the grapes are really close, about 20-30 cm away from the ground. It’s a sunny plot and the soil is stony basalt, the Balaton reflects back onto it and the soil spouts warmth on the grapes, even at night. We don’t rush it, that’s also important, we’ve never harvested earlier than mid-October. But we only start when Endre says, ‘Now!’ Still, the wine is different every year, and so far it’s the 2013 that leads the field.”



“I think it’s a lucky variety”

Maurer Oszkár Fodor Olaszrizling 2014 / The Collective


“I think Rizling is the most important Hungarian variety and also a lucky variety, because it’s diverse and easy to understand. The Fodor vineyard was originally owned by my great-grandparents and the family is really attached to it. It’s a bush-trained, six hectare plot. We harvested this Olaszrizling on the last day of October, when the dew covered the vineyard and it might have even frozen during the night: in 2014, before harvest, it was hit by the frost twice and even botrytis appeared in the vineyard. Still, nowhere else did we get the same quality, I couldn’t have made such wine from my other vineyards than from this Alföld one.”

This Rizling was made under the collaboration of The Collective team, led by Isabelle Legeron Master of Wine and András Kató (Terroir Club). Together, they wish to assist the Carpathian Basin winemakers with a naturalist approach by providing them more freedom to experiment in a way that means they don’t have to take on the complete financial risk by themselves.  



It started out as an experiment but it became too good

Laposa Olaszrizling Amfora 2015


When Bence Laposa gave his sister, Zsófi, a “wee” amphora made by the Boglár ceramist Attila Légli (who happens to be the brother of winemakers Ottó and Géza Légli), they both thought the same thing: that they are going to put Olaszrizling into it.

“It’s the flagship wine of the winery, there’s constant innovation on the Olaszrizling front. We constantly ponder over whether we should step away from the technology that we’ve regarded as the best so far. Respecting the knowledge we’ve gained, we’re careful, we take it step by step, therefore the aim was not to make a classic orange wine. The 2015 amphora-made Olaszrizling also started out as an experiment and we weren’t even sure that we should show it to audience. But we thought it was good, the feedback was good too, so we bottled a micro batch and also decided to make it in the future.

We do have a few interesting thoughts in our heads in connection with the Rizling that we would like to try out and we will also continue experimenting with different ageing and fermentation methods. For example, we would like to step into the direction of concrete vessels…       



Even more Olaszrizling: