Cambridge Food and Wine Society was a first in a number of ways - not only the Society's first ever Hungarian tasting, it was also their first joint event (in this case with with the Cambridge Szeged Society).
Szeged (pronounced SEH-ged) is a city in the south of Hungary, situated on a great plain and with the country's oldest university, similar to Cambridge with which it has been twinned since 1987. The Cambridge Szeged Society, chaired by Julia Seiber Boyd, kindly provided us with some traditional Hungarian food to go with the wines which were presented by Lucien Lanci, proprietor of Malux and supplier to no less an institution than the Hungarian embassy in London.
Lucien started by explaining that all the wines came from small producers who make high-quality wines in limited quantities. He also highlighted the three main recent phases the Hungarian wine industry has been through, starting with the period under communism in which quantity was everything, through the post-Berlin Wall period in which Hungary tried to make a name for itself with instantly-recognisable international grape varieties and on to the present where the emphasis is much more on local varieties. With 22 wine regions and a clutch of native grapes, Hungary produces a wide range of types and styles.
We started then with a Cserszegi Fűszeres (CHAIR-say-gee FOO-ser-esh) from the Szeged region by Frittmann, Hungary's wine producer of the year in 2007. Light, aromatic and somewhat floral, this was reminiscent of a Gewurztraminer, which is not surprising as, although of decidedly mixed descent, it includes some gewurz in its parentage.
This was followed by a much heavier white called Napbor (Hungarian for "sun wine") - we never did get to the bottom of the name or find out exactly which grape varieties it was made from, but with a very muted nose, deep yellow hue suggesting some oxidisation and plenty of oak, it was like an old-style Burgundy.
The first of the reds was a Kekfrankos, also known as Blaufraenkisch in neighbouring Austria and meaning the same thing - Blue Frankish or Blue Franc; apparently, the wine was extremely popular with Napoleon's troops who used to buy it with their blue Francs, or so the story goes. Kekfrankos / Blaufraenkisch tends to produce wines with a rasp of juicy sour cherries but not too much else, but can be very pleasant if well made, as this one was. Like the first wine, it was also by Frittmann and, unusually, from the Szeged area (most Kekfrankos is grown near the Austrian border).
The last of the dry wines was perhaps the most famous Hungarian wine after Tokaji - Bulls' Blood or Egri Bikaver, "Egri" here indicating the wine comes from Eger in the north of Hungary. Rich, with brambly fruits and smooth vanilla oak, this was the best of the dry wines - an achievement reflected in the fact it has won medals at two Hungarian events (Bukkvinfest 2008 and a gold in Eger 2008).
Finally, we ended with perhaps Hungary's greatest contribution to wine; Tokaj is a town in north eastern Hungary where the climate produces reliable conditions for botrytis, or noble rot, to form on the grapes. Botrytis is a type of fungus that grows on the grape skin and sucks out the moisture from the grape without exposing it to the air so that the grape itself shrivels but does not spoil. The fungus, however, needs quite specific conditions and these are found in only a few areas, such as around Tokaj, near Lake Neusidl in neighbouring Austria and also in Sauternes in Bordeaux.
The Tokaji we tried, however, was not from botrytised grapes, but a blend of late-harvested, super-ripe grapes (equivalent to a Spaetlese in Germany or Austria) giving a much lighter-tasting wine, in this case with hints of guava.
The formalities of the wine-tasting over, we then sampled some excellent Hungarian food, prepared by various members of the Cambridge Szeged Society.
The Wines - all available from Malux Ltd
Csersegi Fuszeres, Frittmann, 2008 (£8.70)
Napbor, St Andrea, 2007 (£11.65)
Kekfrankos, Frittmann, 2007 (£8.45)
Egri Bikaver, St Andrea, 2006 (£10.20)
Tokaji Cuvee, 2007 (£10)
The Food - provided by members of the Cambridge Szeged Society
Sour cherry soup
Korosot Liptoi (a type of cottage cheese with added spices)
Beef gulyas (goulash)
Rakott Burgonya (a hot casserole of potatoes, salami and eggs)
Pork meat balls and soured cabbage
Hungarian-style red cabbage
Jerusalem artichoke salad
Lecso with parsnip
Poppy seed pastries
Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/
Cambridge Szeged Society - http://www.cambridge-szeged-society.org.uk/
Cambridge Szeged Society newsletter with recipes (on p4) - http://www.cambridge-szeged-society.org.uk/graphics/Szeged%20Newsletter%202010%20pdf.pdf
Malux Ltd - http://www.hungarianfoodandwine.com/
Profile of Szeged on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Szeged
Jancis Robinson article on Hungarian wines - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/0fcb53e4-4e63-11df-b48d-00144feab49a.html
Image credit: Szeged montage from Wikipedia, user Uzo19