- There’s this brilliant quote from the world famous Hungarian-American photographer Robert Capa, Judit says. ”If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
- I think exactly the same about wine: “If your wines aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
- Not close enough to nature, she adds.
It’s easy to like Judit Bodó. The eye catching smile, her passion when she’s talking about her and József’s vineyards and wines, or the humbleness she expresses for working in an unique wine region as Tokaj. Judit and József Bodó owns the boutique winery of Bott Pince which they started only eight years ago, in 2005. They are both from Csallóköz, an ethnic Hungarian region in Slovakia. József studied arts and Judit agriculture. During her studies she wanted to learn to speak German so Judit helped out at two small producers; one apple plantation and one vineyard in the Italian part of Tirol. This took her to Tokaj since the owners in Tirol had just invested in a vineyard in Tokaj – Füleky. Judit was asked to join and start up the company.
- The idea was to stay for just two or three years, as an adventure and at the same time gain some experience, and then go back to Slovakia, Judit says.
- But we felt we were in the right place and the Füleky wines popularity confirmed it. I guess we are very lucky to be in Tokaj at this time. After 1990 we are the first generation to start a new era, a new wine region and I can honestly not imagine having a better job in life, to be a part of this. Tokaj is one of the most important wine regions in the world, number one for me of course, with unique varieties, soil and most of all an one of a kind wine-making technique in the several centuries old Aszú production.
- Add the complexity of the soil, the differing terroirs and it was an easy decision to stay, she complements.
A few years later Judit and József bought their first very own vineyard, Elöhegy, a tiny parcel in Tarcal which gave them a lot of headache the first two years. But lots of work and cleaning up in the vineyard finally resulted in production. Today Bott Pince holds almost seven hectares of vineyards in Tokaj. Most sought after among consumers are their wines from Csontos and Teleki, but Elöhegy shouldn’t be overlooked. Au contraire actually.
The 2011 Elöhegy Furmint continues to charm me. It represents the essence of purity; stone fruits, lots of wet rocks and just a dash of white peaches and apricots. A shy floral note. Then the taste which just confirms how skilled they are, Judit and József. This is so clean, refreshing and a joy to drink.
Still young, the stone fruit notes and peaches hides the acidity well and the slight residual sugar left(around 5 g/l) you never give a thought. Probably even a better wine in two years or so but who can resist the current charm it possesses? The pure peaches shines through in the 2012 Elöhegy Furmint version as well. A warmer year but Judit has maintained the balance in the wine which feels more extract filled compared to the previous vintage.
- You know, nature takes no chances, she says when the discussion on indigenous yeasts inevitably pops up.
As is the case with many wines using the natural yeast, the fermentation often stops with a dash of residual sugar left. If you’re used to completely dry wines, several Tokaji can surprise your palate. Judit tells me they’ve sometimes warmed up the cellar a bit, if the fermentation is slow and when there’s about 30 grams of residual sugar left to work with.
- But maybe Tokaj needs it. The first vintages we made in 2005 and 2006 were semi-dry wines. At a tasting we did in 2011 these wines came out as our best, Judit says.
- I mean in some cases the residual sugar is to prefer for the Tokaj acidity. We are not Burgundy , we have to find our own way, she adds. Maybe the 2 grams of residual sugar belongs to them? We need to strive for balance in our wines and perhaps that small portion of sugar in our wines is needed.
We’re moving on to the Teleki, a tiny vineyard in Tokaj not far from the impressive vineyards of Hétszölö. A bit hidden, this not so well known vineyard of Tokaj. Bott Pince holds 0.7 hectares and that basically leaves them with less than 1,000 bottles every year. An old vineyard planted more than 70 years ago naturally has a low yield as the bunches are few. Teleki is from a loess based soil and the wine differs quite a lot from the others which Judit and József produces.
Elegance and acidity driven taste is the trademark of the wine and the structure indicates a longer life than other Bott wines, something that the 2006 Teleki which we taste, demonstrates perfectly. It’s a beautiful wine with developed scents of wool, yellow fruits and herbal honey. Some vanilla and toasted scents as well since it was the first and second fill of their oak barrels. A semi-dry palate, slightly floral and a great wine now.
Both the 2011 and 2012 Teleki differs in the sense that there’s just a slight residual sugar left in these two. Where the 2011 shows chalky scents with stone fruits character and high steely acidity, the 2012 is a bit floral and greener in its appearance. Almost Sauvignon blanc like in its youth. None of the wines expresses any oak character as the oak barrels used for Teleki now are older.
Teleki is not particularly prone to botrytis. A welcome guest in the Tokaj vineyards but an issue if you strive for dry wines. In blind tastings or if quickly tasted at wine events, few will hold this as a favorite. Give it time and most of all, pair it with food and the impression will change. Teleki is a classy wine and my favorite in the Bott portfolio. Why? Anyone can produce a concentrated and bold wine. It takes skills to deliver elegance of this kind.
- It’s crazy, Judit says when I talk to her again two weeks ago. Normally we harvest Teleki as the first site but now, it’s still out there! We will go today though. Sadly, Előhegy suffered from serious hail damage this year so we will have to pick it like an Aszú. You know, berry by berry. We haven’t picked Határi or Csontos either. We need some dry and cold weather first. But even if we’ve seen some rain the last days here, 2013 looks like a promising vintage.
Bott Pince are mainly a dry wines establishment; 70 percent of the portfolio. The remaining being sweet Szamorodni and extremely small amounts of Aszú. Since botrytis can’t be trusted to show up every year, Judit and József rarely produces more than a barrel of a 6 Puttonyos in years which allows them to. Like in 2006, 2007 and 2008 for example. Judit mostly believes in Furmint when it comes to the sweet wines.
- It has an elegant and subtle nose and allows for the soil and surroundings to speak. The sweet wines are great at expressing the Tokaj sense of place. And for me, Furmint is a symbol and link between the region’s history and the future.
Bott Pince is a boutique winery with only 6.8 hectares divided between six single vineyards. Csontos in Erdőbénye/Olaszliszka, Teleki in Tokaj, Határi in Erdőbénye, Kulcsár in Olaszliszka, Palánkos in Erdőbénye and Elöhegy in Tarcal. 6 vineyards, 6 different soils to understand. Judit and József works with as little intervention as is possible. No herbicides or pesticides is the ambition.
- Now we had to spray with sulfur, orange oil and algen concentrate, Judit adds. By hand of course.
Most time consuming is of course the work with the shoots selection and the green harvest. Judit and József leaves around 1 to 1.5 kilos of clusters on the vine – of course depending on how strong the vine is. In the cellar they try not disturb the wines too much. No enzymes are added and the fermentation is starting by itself with the natural yeast.
- We also work with the same people every year at harvest, Judit points out. This is very important and a part you can’t underestimate, since we need to be sure those working with us understands our ambitions. We also have two people working for us, a big responsibility for me and József.
- Would I like to buy more land? Yes and no. What we have today we can master. We both love to work outside and have control on all vines. Expanding would threaten that. At the moment we have to build safety, a ground to stand on. Maybe the next generation, if they see a future in Tokaj and follow our work, can focus on growth in hectares?
Csontos is perhaps the most regarded site among those who follows Judit’s wines. Previously known as Zsedényi since it belonged to the family with the same name, Csontos at Erdőbénye is the place where Judit and József wants to live and build their winery.
- The atmosphere surrounding the vineyard here is amazing, Judit says.
Bott Pince has reconstructed one hectare of land which was planted hundred years ago. They still don’t know what the result will be like. That will require another two or three years. But for certain the old Furmint vines has great potential and it would be a surprise if we didn’t see a very old vines single vineyard Furmint from Csontos in the near by future. For now Judit and József continues producing the single vineyard Csontos Furmint from the 40 year old part of the site – at the foot of the mountain. To work the volcanic soil at Csontos they primarily uses horses.
The 2011 Csontos is all about class. Impressive concentration both on the nose and on the palate. Yellow fruits, some peaches, wet rocks, almost chalky, and spring flowers. Just a hint of oak. The structure on the palate indicates greatness in being. High acidity balanced by stone fruits and peaches and a mineral driven finish. Yes, there’s a slight residual sugar feel but as Judit says, it seems that Tokaj wines needs it. Long, pure and oh so good.
The 2012 Csontos shouldn’t disappoint fans of the previous year. It’s warmer yes and more Sauvignon blanc like in its current youthful phase. But it’s all there, the balance, the acidity, the fruit. If 2011 is a classic and a bit more restrained year, 2012 was a vintage when winemakers had to show their skills in handling the warm weather. The coming years will tell which style the 2012 develops in to.
A small winery is of course all about sharing tasks although József and their two employees spend more time in the vineyards while Judit is more in the cellar.
- And with time we also learned to work with the administration and finances, she says. It wasn’t easy! After we became a family and at the same time extended the vineyards under our ownership, we had more wine to sell, more administrative work to handle. It’s very time consuming and for someone like me and József who loves to be outside and work in the vineyards, it’s difficult.
Bott Pince uses Hungarian oak and all their wines are fermented in 220 or 300 liters oak barrels. The intention is to also start with 400 liters casks. They’re washed with water only and the thought is to keep the barrels for a long time, at least 20 to 25 years. Judit likes to work with oak as it allows for the wine to breathe a bit, although admitting she would like to produce a wine from steel tank as well in the future.
Few of Judit and József’s wines show any obvious oak. Of course that can in some extent be related to the fact that they now have casks which are six or seven years old. Neither in the Határi or the Kulcsár you will find any notable oak scents but of course feel it on the palate as the oak adds harmony to the wines.
The 2012 Kulcsár Hárslevelű from Olaszliszka is for sure one of the best wines in the vintage.
- The soil at Kulcsár looks so poor, Judit says. Funny, because it’s the most extracted wine of ours.
The wine really shows the potential of Hárslevelű. Spring flowers, peaches, green apples and chalky scents. Concentrated and yet restrained on the palate, the wine leaves you with a pure, apple peel and white peaches freshness in the aftertaste. Impressive.
- The Hárslevelű needs water, Judit adds. Otherwise it will end up in small berries with too much skin.
We’re having two more wines from the grape, the 2011 and 2012 Határi from Erdőbénye. The style differs a lot from Kulcsár. Despite the concentration of the latter it is still a more elegant wine. Határi offers flowers and also scents of a salty sea breeze and some seaweed. A smoky mineral feeling in both the wines. I hold the 2012 as better thanks to the purity. Határi is a south-facing site with quite old vines, up to 40 years of age. We also taste a Furmint from the site which is very promising. Most of the time Határi stands for the basic wine for the Bott Pince’s Aszú.
Yes, Aszú. The elixir of Tokaj. The wine which for most of us is synonymous with the region, although only 1 per cent of the Tokaj wines are Aszús. Judit pours two, the 2007 and 2008 6 puttonyos. Extracted wines with totally different character. On my visits to Tokaj I’ve learned that the sweet wines many times are the perfect indicator of a vintage style. While the 2007 Aszú 6 Puttonyos has sharper acidity, tropical scents, dried fruits and more extract, it doesn’t possess the sheer elegance of the 2008 which happened to be a rich botrytis year. Lavender honey, herbs, oozing rocks, fresh pineapple, dried fruits. The bouquet is to die for in the 2008 Aszú 6 Puttonyos and on the palate the elegance continues leading the way. Lots of things going on but Judit has managed to keep it all under control. This is pure world class, the 6 puttonyos from 2008.
The 2011 Szamorodni is also poured. A blend of juice from the Csontos and Határi vineyards. Candied fruits, lemon, herbal honey and wet rocks. The acidity is high, the taste intense. Again lots of extract but so well kept together. Sauternes and Barsac in all honor, the Aszú and Szamorodni wines from Tokaj are much more in contact with their terroir and do express a sense of place.
- Look, our car is so old and falling apart, Judit laughs when we’re standing outside the winery about to end a great visit. We had two choices. Either buy a new car – or go to the US to meet customers and travel around to promote our winery. The choice was easy as you can see.
Find the wines of Bott Pince? They can of course be found in wine shops around Budapest but also at German Wein-Komplott. In the US, the Blue Danube Wine Company, a wholesaler, sells to retailers and restaurants in California.