Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for July, 2011

Nyakas Winery, Buda Hills, Hungary

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

This is the first of a number of profiles of leading Hungarian wine estates – impressions I formed during a recent visit with other wine educators, all members of the Association of Wine Educators.  I’ve written an overview of what we discovered in today’s Journal – the online version will be available very soon.

The first impression of Nyakas is of clipped lawns, and neat flower beds. Everything is clean, tidy and just so. The wines are therefore no surprise: fresh, clean and attractive.

Nyakas in the village of Tök (‘the pumpkin lands’) is a co-operative with 44 share-holders, but is run as a single estate. It has 120 hectares in production and another 20 have been planted. Only the sparkling wines specialist Torley makes more wine on the limestone and chalk soils of the Buda Hills, properly Eytek-Buda. The region, to the west of Budapest, has around 1,500 hectares under vine.

White varieties dominate. Nyakas grow six. The harvest begins in late August with Irsai-Olivér and then Müller-Thurgau, still known to most Hungarian consumers as Riesling-Silvaner (it’s actually a crossing of Riesling with Madeleine Royale, a table grape related to Chasselas). Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay follow during September and into October when Riesling is the last to be picked. If the conditions are right, a few rows of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc are also left until late October to make a late harvest style wine. A small amount of red Kadarka is also picked late in the autumn to make a wine for winery staff and local families.

General manager Peter Nagy showed us round. “People call me Little Nyakas,” he told us cheerfully. ‘The Captain’, Ernö Malya, who founded the business in 1994 (the first cellars were built in 1997), remains in overall charge. The talented chief winemaker is Beata Nyúlnyé Pühra.

The well-equipped new cellars, built in part in attractive re-used brick, bought from the Gypsy families who hold the monopoly in such materials, was 40% funded by the European Union: a grant, not a loan, given to ensure jobs are created for local people. The few small oak casks in the winery were empty. “We haven’t any wines to age at the moment. The 2010 was so small and no so complex. We ran out of wine,” Peter told us. Fermentation is all in stainless steel.

As we continued our tour, Peter was delighted to discover a spanking new Bucher press, still in its wrappers, outside the cellar door. It had just been delivered. Nyakas is very much a work in progress.

Vineyards on a nearby hill could be glimpsed through the trees. Peter told us that Nyakas is managed sustainably, but is considering conversion to organic. “It might make the wine sell better,” he said, “but the risks would be higher.”

In a paddock beside the winery grounds, sleek race-horses grazed in the shade. The local stable had produced winners of the Hungarian Derby in the 1980s. A graceful silhouette of a horse head provides an appropriately elegant emblem for the Nyakas winery. The wines are attractively presented. 16% of the production is exported to a wide number of countries, including the UK. They are bottle under Nomacorc. “We might use screw-caps,” Peter commented, “but we’ll wait to see what other producers do. Most of our wines are opened within six months of bottling and our trails show very little difference between Nomacorc and screw cap over that time. We also sell wine to a lot of restaurants here, where people expect an opening ceremony. They wouldn’t support screw caps.”

We tasted a wide range of wines from the last two vintages, plus a couple of older, late harvest wines. Wines have been sold in bottle since 2002.

Müller-Thurgau 2010, was light fresh and floral, and a little tart in this difficult vintage. Peter commented that the Müller shows higher acid and level alcohol than usual. “It’s a volume variety, but we try to make a quality wine with it,” he said. The yield is around 10 tonnes/hectares (at least 70hl/ha), “but we could do 15 tonnes.”


Irsai-Olivér 2010 is a considerable success for the year: rather like a crisper, lighter-bodied cousin of Gewürtztraminer, with a spicy, banana perfume and lemony, Turkish delight flavour. It used to be grown primarily for the table in Hungary, but is now almost all vinified. It’s easy to understand why it sells well.


Aligvárom 2010 is a rather curious blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Irsai-Olivér and 25% Müller-Thurgau. It’s as well made as any of the Nyakos wines but the indivual falvours of the grapes remain rather distinct, dominated by the peachy ripeness of the Chardonnay and banana and spice of the Irsai-Olivér, with acidity provided by the Müller.


Sauvignon Blanc 2010 has a slightly smoky, distinctly green, vegetal quality, with a gentle spritz and strong minerality. I wondered if it might include some Sauvignon Gris. It is sold in Hungary under a ‘fantasy name’ which means ‘I just can’t wait to have it.’


Chardonnay 2010, from a large single block of 44 ha. also includes some CO2. Crisp, light and citrus, it is correct more than exciting.


Pinot Gris 2009 is much more successful, with ripe melony fruit, a hint of ginger, fairly crisp acidity and no more than 1g/l residual sugar. It sells well in Canada through the Quebec Monopole. Nyakas also make an earlier-harvested ‘Pinot Grigio’. According to Peter, “2009 was a beautiful vintage, with nothing to complain about.”


Riesling 2009 (Rhine Riesling) has atypically low acidity at 5.8 g/l, made to seem even softer, perhaps, by its spicy minerality. It is otherwise clean and citrus. Peter is very keen on it and enthused, “I hope this place is a new home for Rhine Riesling.”


Chardonnay, 2009 Late Harvest, was picked in the second week of October, and was aged 3 months in oak casks. The oak certainly makes its presence felt: the wine is rich and buttery with lemon and lime fruit and a spicy finish.


Pinot Gris 2007 Selection, aged for 6 weeks in third-fill casks, shows great complexity and a hint of botrytis. Rich and honeyed, soft and with a long spicy finish, it is a truly fine wine, showing a lovely balance between 5.9g/l acidity and 21.6 g/l residual sugar.


Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Late Harvest is just as successful: botrytised, rich and elegantly fruity, with a fresh 7.3 g/l acidity and sumptuous 62.8 g/l residual sugar. It was asked in cask for just three weeks – a striking testament to the meticulous care that Beata brings to her work and an impressive finale to an excellent tasting.


Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2009

Monday, July 18th, 2011

No sooner had I posted the last blog than the I received an email from Sainsbury’s to say that the Chapoutier’s Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2009 (see my note below) is to be reduced in their top 170 stores to £12.99 from 27 July to 23 August – a reduction of £2/bottle. OK, it’s not quite a Tesco half-price offer, but it’s nice to have a bit off a wine that’s really worth buying. If you can afford it, grab six and forget about them for a few years. Do make sure it’s the 2009 …

Chapoutier reds

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Here are the rest of my tasting notes from my recent visit to Chapoutier’s cellar at Tain l’Hermitage. Saint Joseph has long been one of Chapoutier’s most successful appellations, so that’s where we began:

Saint Joseph, Deschants 2009 is very deep and purply, a big, juicy young red with classic black cherry fruit, but lot of structure. It has the balance to age and develop well over the next few years.

Bila-Haut, Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2008 ‘Occultum Lapidem’, a blend of equal parts Syrah, Grenache with 10% old Carignan grown on gneiss, schist, and some Kimmeridgian limestone. It is aged mostly in oak oak. A dark ruby, it has a lovely Christmas cake, dried fruits nose, with coffee and chocolate and is then soft, rich, savoury and decidedly mineral in the mouth.

Crozes Hermitages, les Meysonniers 2009, from Chapoutier’s own biodynamically-managed vineyards is very deeply coloured with an intense black cherry ripeness; a rich, powerful wine, but with great purity of fruit. It lacks a little complexity at the moment, but that may come. It’s very good.

Domaine Tournon (so named because it’s ‘across the water’) is the jokey name for Chapoutier’s Australian venture. The 2009 Shiraz from Shay’s Flat Vineyard, Pyrenees, Victoria, from red podzolic soils over iron-rich schist and quartz. It’s big, chewy, soft and ripe, with huge ripe tannins. The fruit has something of a Rhône-like black cherry character, but with a huge irony concentration. I would love to try it again in ten, or maybe twenty year’s time (if if still around and not completely ga-ga). I don’t find it a terribly forgiving mouthful right now – it sure ain’t a typical Aussie Shiraz.

Côte-Rôtie, Les Bécasses, 2007 brings me back to more familiar territory. A deep ruby, 100% Syrah (unusually) it’s perfumed, fine and spicily mineral, with a lovely purity of fruit, and rich, soft, yet finely-grained tannins. Clearly this shows that a dollop of Viognier isn’t strictly necessary to scent a decent Côte-Rôtie.

Hermitage La Sizeranne, 2007 is also deep and fine,  with good minerality and a lovely depth to its black,  herby intensely liquorice fruit, along with a slight hint of black olives.

Ermitage, Le Méal 2008 is as special as its reputation suggests. The bottle had been opened the previous day. Deep and ruby, it shows an exciting concentration of wild cherry fruit with  rose-like perfume and fine minerality. In the mouth it’s softly rich and ripe, almost seductive, but again elegant, perfumed, mineral and supported by fine-grained minerality. It’s evidence for me that the biggest vintages don’t always make the best wines.

Ermitage,  les Greffieux 2001, opened specially, was deep,but showed a little age. As it opened in the glass it showed a faboulous complexity of aromas and flavours – liquorice again, pickled walnuts (there’s something distinctly balsamic about it), iodine, coffee and very black fruits. The texture is as silky as one could wish for, and to seal it all there’s a fine, lingering minerality. In 2001 Michel Chapoutier used more new oak for this wine than he does now, but it was well-integrated and didn’t stand out.





Michel Chapoutier

Friday, July 15th, 2011

The House of Chapoutier not only produces some of the finest wines from the Rhône, but also from an increasing number estates further afield. The quality across the range is impressively high.

Here are some notes from white wines tasted at the winery in tain l’Hermitage on 25 June. I’ll post notes on the whites tomorrow – after a day trying to catch up after a hectic few weeks travelling, I need to get ready for the Vine Visit summer dinner!

Alsace Riesling  Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2009

Fine, ripe lemony fruit, with a hint of honey. Good intensity, fine acids and classic lingering minerality – a wine with potential to age beautifully and an extraordinarily impressive début.

Le Vignes de Bila-Haut, Côtes du Roussillon 2009 (Blanc)

From a property bought ten years ago a blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu. It shows honeyed,very spicy, slightly peppery, peachy fruit and a lot of minerality. The acids are again fine and fresh. The finish is both salty-mineral and quite phenolic.

Saint-Péray, ‘ Les Tanneurs’ 2010.

A classic blend of Marsanne and a little Roussanne (apparently Marcel is no great fan of Roussanne). It shows a lovely intensity of ripe honeysuckle-scented fruit, with clean acidity and a fine mineral persistence. An outstanding effort this year.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2009 ‘La Bernadine’

Pure Grenache Blanc. This has a remarkably deep colour,  an aroma or orange and apricot and a rich minerality and a hint of spicy oak. Despite its big, spicy texture, it’s also focused and fresh.

Condrieu, 2009 ‘Invitare’

Unoaked, fine and complex, with an intense pear skin aroma and a very spicy flavour. Rich, round and really quite soft.

Hermitage, 2007 ‘Chante Alouette’

Already quite an old gold (the Marsanne is pressed very slowly) showing notes of confit lime and lemon and fine minerality. Big, rich but with balanced acids and  typically lingering minerality.

Saint-Jospeh 2007 ‘Les Granits’

More pour Marsanne from this special single vineyard – a creamier more intense wine than Chante Alouette with orange and greengage fruit and wonderful softness and impressive minerality.



Louis Jadot

Friday, July 1st, 2011

I have always been impressed by the consistency, right across the range, of Burgundy wines and Beaujolais from Louis Jadot. They are good, often very good, and though seldom the very best wines of their appellation are always fair and typical expressions of it and of their vintage. They are also easy to find in the UK – distributed in the major supermarkets and Majestic, as well as high-end independents.Their entry levels are benchmarks for Burgundy – excellently made and true to type.

My account of a visit to the cellars in Beaune in June is in today’s Journal

I tasted the following wines with Dominique Mounier, Jadot’s general manager.

Macon Villages 2010

Clean, melony Chardonnay, vinified in stainless steel. Crisply, citrus and fresh with some concentration of fruit.

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009

Richer and nuttier than the Macon, with lemony fruit and fresh acidity – a blend of Cote d’Or and Maconnais fruit, very well put together.

Saint Aubin 2007 (Blanc)

Surprisingly floral, the ripe fruit is well supported by just enough oak. It has tangy acidity and a little minerality – a very attractive wine.

Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Morgeot 2001 (Blanc)

Now quite a deep gold, this is a big, soft and quite powerful wine, and just a little oxidative, with a smell of walnuts. Again it’s oxidative on the palate, rich and a little bitter/phenolic. I don’t think it will improve. I asked Dominique Mounier if sulphur levels have been diminished in recent years – a moot question in Burgundy. He told me that they have been increased at Jadot and attempted to put me in my place by adding that most wine writers have recognised the folly of too low sulphur levels … I am obviously not in the mainstream.

Beaujolais Villages 2010

‘We believe in Beaujolais’ affirms Mounier and this is a fine result: full of bright, crunchy red cherry fruit with a hint of something darker and more concentrated.

Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008

Not too deep, but beautifully perfumed and with nicely balanced redcurrant and raspberry fruit – a very good effort.

Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru, Aux Boudots, 2005

From a superb site, on the border with Vosne-Romanée, this has something of the exciting perfume of its neighbour – violets  with ripe black fruit. It is splendidly complex and rich, with lingering silky tannins.

Corton-Les Pougets Grand Cru 1999

Fabulous aroma of bitter cherries in alcohol with darker fruit underneath; rich, still quite chewy and powerful, it seems young. A great mouthful of fruit, long and fine, Jadot at its very best.