Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Nyakas Winery, Buda Hills, Hungary

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.


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