Pannonhalmi Infusio 2018
“We died, but celebrated afterwards”
“When’s the new Infusio coming?” That’s the question we possibly hear the most in the shops. The good news is: now! Ever since the first, 2006 vintage, the Arch Abbey’s top wine has been an icon. It always runs out quickly, one always has to wait for the next vintage. In connection with the 11th vintage, we got hold of winemaker Zsolt Liptai at the end of the harvest. We’ve never seen such a thing at the beginning of October: Zsolt’s face was smooth and he smiled. “The 2020 was the calmest vintage of my life. Every time, everything arrived healthily, in the most perfect state to the cellar,” he started the conversation.
… What about 2018?
We struggled against the elements. I remember one Sunday afternoon our trailer had a flat tire on Road 82, which was then closed down because of us, on another Saturday we were trying to save the grapes from a turned-over tractor, and it just rained, rained and rained, like in Forrest Grump. Then the nightmare turned into a gift vintage – we lifted our heads above water in mid-September, towards the end of the white grape harvest. When it came to the black grapes, the panic was gone, the sun started shining, and it turned out to be a brilliant year. I’m serious, we died before then, but celebrated afterwards – such an Indian summer came that was a gift for the Cabernet Franc and the Merlot. So, the harvest ended on an unforgettable note and its real winner became Infusio, as these bunches ripened for the longest time in the balanced autumn sunshine…
Has anything changed?
The vines became older. That’s the most important thing. We planted them in 2003, first harvested from them in 2006, and for me the first, 2006 vintage, became unforgettable. It hit the high notes, it was lush, Mediterranean, but owing to the young vines, it had a short life. If Infusio had been made every vintage, it would have been the 13th, but in fact, it’s only the 11th in the line. We skipped 2010 and 2014. What we can feel year after year is that the vines are maturing and the age of vines is never as important as it is in the case of big red wines. The other thing that has changed is the weather. Fifteen years ago, a harvest lasted for 50 days, now we finish it within a month, even though we are in a really northern wine region. Due to the warmth, the Merlot is getting subdued, we need to put more Cabernet Franc alongside it in order to keep the dynamics and the power. Earlier, one-third of it used to be Franc, now the proportion is almost half-half. The question is not what the Merlot and the Franc are doing in such a cool region – even though at the beginning Tibor Gál calmed us down by telling us that if these varieties grow next to the Loire, then they could live here too – but also how to get the harvest right so the bunches give full-of-power big wines.
Have you changed anything in the winemaking?
This Infusio required the longest ageing so far – it spent 19 months in oak. I feel that as the wine thickens, it cannot be made in less time. We only use Trust barrels, first- and second-fill ones. The majority of the Merlot ages in Zemplén oak, complemented by 10% American barrels. The Franc shows its best form in such barrels that are made from staves that arrive from several parts of the country. I avoid green flavours, while always the same aromas and flavours come from the medium-toasted barrels, which complement but never dominate what’s in them. Half of the wine always goes into new barrels, but second-fill barrels are also necessary for the other half.
How about grape growing?
Nothing changes there. We don’t want to be larger, we have 45 hectares, that’s the top, now the grapes are only renewed where it’s necessary, and the black varieties will receive slightly more emphasis in this renewal process.
What makes this wine Infusio?
You get to the maximum with lots of little steps, by the time you can really call it the Infusio that is put into the bottle.
It comes from the Écs place of growth, fundamentally from the Babszökő vineyard. Of course, there always comes such a Merlot from the cunning Tavaszó vineyard, which after barrel ageing and constant tasting always gets higher up on the list and eventually makes it into the blend. Every year, we start working on these two plots from the pruning stage, so that the small amount of black grapes we have on them are meant for Infusio. We give them everything until the very end, so that they should be good for Infusio. During the summer, we do the bunch sculpting: the trisecting of the bunches happens in August, then comes the pruning of the unwanted bunch parts, because it’s not just setting the yield that’s important, the refining within the grapes is also important. Lots of work, tons of manual labour, no use of machines. We’re already picking the white grapes, we’re in a hurry but when we have a break for a couple of hours, we remove the leaves on the Franc and the Merlot bunches in order to bring out the maximum from them. We only harvest by hand. That’s the only way you can feel if a bunch can be put into the case. You feel its weight, you can see if it has any problems – if it’s overripe, it cannot be put into the press. In the end, you can again get help with the quality on the sorting machine, which discards the unripe grapes.