Gábor Kiss 2017
Code – Enigma – Signal
Utter the name of Gábor Kiss and an image pops up. A snow-white dog running around a perfectly kept and awakening vineyard, a winemaker with a huge smile who is dressed smartly even when working among the vines and a spotlessly clean cellar replete with French barrels. And such contemporary meticulousness, a cosmopolitan view and taste on which one can build a brand and a winery. Something becomes more refined at Gábor’s at all times – the improvement is continuous. We talked to him about this refinement in connection to the 2017 vintage.
When was the first time Code and Enigma were made?
Code happened first in 2006. I was 26 years old and I felt that Cabernet Franc is good. That it’s a good variety, good in Villány, and it’s great when you work carefully with it. The first Enigma Merlot was made in 2009.
How did they get their names?
It happened in the spring of 2006. I was leaving for Budapest at dawn and while brushing my teeth, I started thinking about what makes a good wine – whether it’s that people can feel the wine region, the variety or the work of the winemaker in it. It’s like a code – unique and unable to be copied. By the time I was sitting in the car, the wine had its name. If there’s a code, then there’s a mystery alongside it, hence the enigma. We planted half a hectare of Merlot, it yielded first in 2007, but a terrible drought almost finished off the young plantation. In the end, we selected three bunches from six per vine in order to save the vines in the Bocor vineyard, which is hot anyway. At the time of the harvest, we agreed that the small bunches were due to the drought. Later, it turned out that the French clone behaves like this here. Thus, when I made a wine from it by itself, there was hardly any juice in it: it became thick and very concentrated, but it had good acidity. Every year, this Merlot is the most massive but also the most acidic, which gives it great ageing potential.
And now here is Signal. Did it also come to you while brushing your teeth?
I’m trying to be shrewd at every point of my life, even if often it can’t be seen. Maybe in the case of Cabernet Sauvignon, it can. It grows on two hectares, I planted four clones on them, so that I could try out several styles. I have one Hungarian and three French clones. For years, we harvested the four clones together, we vinified them together, even though their ageing time would have justified otherwise. Still, it became a strong ‘entry-level wine’, restaurants and buyers like it. It always put a smile on my face when I heard that the older the vines get, the better wine they give. But it’s true. The Sauvignon is getting nicer, so in 2017, I selected the most beautiful French clone separately, and aged it in first-fill, 500-litre French barrels. There was only one base of the selection: what I liked the most, and which barrel can I imagine it in. The earlier ripening Lócsi-kind of Sauvignon graft with its larger berries was vinified separately, and the sibling of the Enigma and the Code was made from it, with the name Signal.
Why was the first such wine made in 2017? And will there be something ‘above’ the Code-Enigma-Signal trio?
What can I say about 2017? It was exceptional. Special. Or even more: it was outstanding. It gave a push, or another layer to the results of my experiments with grape growing and winemaking. It was a rare moment, when I could say that the wines are exactly the way I want them to be. One needs to make innovative wines on all levels. Now, there is body alongside the freshness and the good acids that give the elegance. It was a push for the Sauvignon that under the name Signal, it could align with the Franc (Code) and the Merlot (Enigma). The first opportunity for this came in 2017, and maybe in the 2019 vintage it will happen again. On top of that, I fell in love with this vintage so much that the ‘missing first’ wine will arrive at the end of the year.
Where do you get inspiration from?
The only thing that inspires me is when I taste and when I move. I taste loads, and when I can, I move around a lot. Now, I can’t, and it really annoys me, but tasting is unbroken, or even better than that. And one can taste from all around the world. When I taste a wine, it immediately passes through my mind how it was made. What’s the code in it? I think it through, trying to analyse how it was treated when it was grapes, then how the wine was made from it. If I like it, it gives me the direction.
What is it that’s about you in a wine?
Juiciness. It’s important that even an entry-level wine is juicy and flavoursome, just like the 364, which is a wine that people can drink on any day of the year. Also, that even its top should stand firmly, it shouldn’t be without acidity or oxidized, it should have enjoyable texture. Wines should be innovative on all levels.
With whom and with whose wines can you associate yourself?
There are wines that I really like. At the Geres in Villány there are lots of good wines these days, at the Sauskas I like the preciseness and the zestfulness of the more mature wines of older vintages. Marcell Bukolyi’s current Pinot Noir gives a lasting experience, even though with a Villány eye, I don’t like the variety. Gergő Böjt’s Kékfrankos is magnificent. Misi Figula and I think similarly about wine, we pursue the same thing with completely different varieties. My all-time favourite is Masetto, I’ve never drunk a wine better than that in my life. On a couple of occasions, I was lucky to taste vintages alongside one another. Still, I’m primarily besotted by Australia and New Zealand. Somehow precision, accuracy and the serious work comes together there for me. They don’t build on myths, they don’t spend money on them, but instead on professionalism. I got to know most of the French barrels I now use for my wines in Australia. After I returned, I worked for years to get hold of some of those barrels and try them out with my varieties.
What do you think about Villány, the grape varieties and its outlook for the future?
I was talking about barrels, but the first thing that comes into my mind is not oak, or too much of it. I’m seeking a new Villány style with juicy, dense and fruity wines. One of Villány’s core values is that I think it’s one of the best Hungarian red wine regions. On top of that, proportionally, it possibly has the most modern vineyards, nicely cared for, conscientiously cultivated vineyards. We don’t fill them up with the copious varieties of the old system, instead the town is surrounded by astutely planted, nice vineyards. We are on the road of slow development, but we are developing. There is a second generation, we do step out into the light, but in attitude we don’t step out enough from the shadow of the parents. The wine region is shaping up gradually towards its two or three important varieties. I’ve had faith in Cabernet Franc since 2006, I can accept the idea of Villány Franc very much, and we have to take this through together in the wine region. We shouldn’t dilute it but strengthen it. For, that’s when it stays alive and becomes successful if we are strict with ourselves. That’s exactly what I strive for with Code. Most of my parcels are Cabernet Franc, as I believe in it a lot.