When you hear ‘Balaton’, think of two things: the lake and the wine
When talking about Balaton wines, we first have to introduce the ‘terroir’, i.e. the area where these wines are cultivated. The Balaton wine region is one of Hungary’s six wine regions, a well-delineated area that produces quite similar wines.
Wine district or wine region?
Be careful not to confuse wine regions with wine districts. A region is a larger area that encompasses a number of districts, each with its slightly different characteristics. The Balaton wine region comprises the following wine districts: Badacsony, Balatonboglár, Balaton Uplands, Balatonfüred and Csopak, Nagy-somló and Zala.
General characteristics of Balaton wines
First of all, white wines are absolutely predominant because the local climate favours grapes that produce acidic, fruity and fresh wines. Although wines intended for immediate consumption, produced using reduction technology, continue to predominate, the range of aged wines has been widening, and an increasing number of wineries are producing excellent wines from red grapes. Thanks to the warming climate, the region is now much better suited for red grape varieties that require ample sunshine, such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.
Talking of the climate, it is worth noting that the northern and southern sides of Lake Balaton are usually considered quite different when it comes to wine growing. The amount of sugar stored in the grapes increases as one moves further to the south, and this is reflected in the alcohol and glycerol content of the finished product. The volcanic soil lends a mineral character to local wines, along with an occasional saltiness.
Which wines to try?
It will not come as a surprise that olaszrizling (Welshriesling) is the number one grape variety around Lake Balaton. It is the most planted grape in this region, and it thrives in the local conditions. Its slightly bitter flavour recalls almonds, and is well complemented by minerals, white fruits and, occasionally, floral notes. Most wineries produce very high-quality wines from this variety, which are definitely worth trying, and will help erase the memory of the mass-produced olaszrizlings of the Communist era.
Most people associate furmint with the Tokaj wine region, but an increasing number of wineries around Lake Balaton also cultivate it. It used to be widely planted not just in Tokaj but all across Hungary. Furmint grapes can adapt well to local conditions, and delicately display local characteristics, so the furmint wines you will find around lake Balaton show fresher minerality, and the pear and apple notes that characterise furmint are also more pronounced here.
An ancient Hungarian variety, sadly not especially widely planted. It is most closely associated with Lake Balaton, and produces rich wines. Wine connoisseurs should definitely try barrel-aged kéknyelű, which is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.
The local climate is ideal for producing sparkling wines from the local varieties. Be prepared to pay between HUF 3,500 and HUF 10,000 for a bottle from a small winery that does not mass-produce, but these will be the ideal choice to clink glasses with at an important celebration or on a special night.
Irsai Olivér is one of the most fashionable wines at the moment, especially during the summer months. Its fragrance resembles perfumes and muscat, which contributes to its wide appeal. There are plenty of places around Lake Balaton to try this variety. In addition to Irsai, those who enjoy fragrant, aromatic wines should also try Tramini (Gewürztraminer) and Cserszegi fűszeres.
Red wines by Lake Balaton
If you have your mind set on drinking red wine, try one of the local varieties, such as Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) or Kadarka. Pinot Noir also thrives in the local climate, and many wineries use it to produce rosé wines. You cannot go wrong with picking up one of these varieties.
Visitors to Aranypart Camping will be interested to learn that while Siófok is not exactly famous for its viticulture, if you would like to try local wines you only have to travel as far as Balatonkiliti or Zamárdi, which both boast rows of old wine cellars where guests can enjoy a wide range of excellent wines.