Tokaj – Stéphanie Berecz’s Kikelet Pince

If I didn’t know better I’d guess it was a ghost town. The tiny village of Tarcal – only a few two or three thousands live here – are completely free of hustle and bustle when we arrive. Are they all working their vineyards? We spot a loose dog climbing a fence so gracefully as if he were trained by a cat. He stops for a second, looks at us only to decide we weren’t interesting enough. Wine tourists. Seen them before.
Tarcal attracts wine geeks. I guess a few tourists in to architecture finds their way to the village as well having in mind that Tarcal once was intimately connected with the noble and aristocratic family of Rákóczi. Two churches are to be found. One catholic, one calvinist. Silent as the grave there as well.
We’re on our way to Stéphanie Berecz at Kikelet Pince and this year’s first visit in Tokaj. Can’t wait. Stéphanie’s one of the most interesting and dynamic winemakers in the region at the moment and her focus on loess based wines is a most welcome one. Not that she’s alone but in general the clay dominated soils has been, a bit unfair, the most highly regarded in Tokaj. Thanks to the likes of Stéphanie and Judit Bott at Bott Pince, to mention just two, the delicate and elegant wines from the loess soil of Tokaj has received a lot more attention.
And Demeter Zoltán. Can’t forget about Zoltán. Funnily enough it’s more or less Zoli, as he’s called among friends, that are the first person we’re bumping in to in Tarcal. Stépahnie’s on her way to the winery and while waiting we’re strolling around the neighborhood ending up looking at the wine research institute. A car stops. It’s Demeter Zoltán. On his way to some of his nearby vineyards. It’s good to see him again. An avantgarde winemaker. Skilled as hell and a great ambassador for Tokaj wines. My hero when it comes to Sárgamuskotály. That’s Hungarian for Muscat à Petits Grains. But now it’s time for Stéphanie. Zoli we’ll meet again in a few days.
Stéphanie Berecz
A short walk back to Kikelet Pince. Stéphanie has arrived. Born in the Loire valley, oenology degree from Bordeuax. The inevitable question is quickly covered; has she been making wine in Loire? No. After studies in the Gironde region she moved to Hungary, to start working for Disznókő which is owned by AXA Millésimes. The idea of having her own vineyards, to implement her own philosophy grew with time. After several years at Disznókő, she started working for Pannon Tokaj Pincészet. At the same time she and her husband Zsolt Berecz, which she met at her first employer, had started working with their own vineyards, creating their own wines.
The weather is gorgeous, at least if you like temperatures around 30 C. We’re sitting outside, in the shadow. Just a slight breeze. I can’t help but to have a look what the two elderly women in the courtyard are up to. One of them is waggling a towel at a bucket filled with frozen fish. Guess it’s tonight’s dinner. Her waving keeps away the bugs as well which seem to show an interest in the sea food. The ladies, one of them is Zsolt’s mother, follows the pace of Tarcal and I’m a bit envious, right here and now. Although life seldomly is uncomplicated, they make it look so.
Stéphanie’s wines takes me back from the daydreaming. We’ve just returned to the estate after a power walk up the hills, to have a look at her vineyards. Some of them at least. The view from the top, at the old mining where there now is a small lake, is simply gorgeous. In the background we spot the south-facing Kassai, a deep loess-based vineyard with some pretty old Hárslevelű.
“I’m not sure Furmint is the great grape of Tokaj,” Stéphanie says. “Not here at least, around Tarcal.”
Tarcal Vineyard
Furmint still is the number one in my book, the small clusters version that is, but when tasting the Kassai or the Lónyai Hárslevelű of Kikelet, I can understand her doubts. These wines are among the best dry versions of the grape in the entire region. We taste the 2012 Kassai Hárslevelű from cask. Did I just complain about those 30 C outside? In the cellar it’s cold and drinking white wines down here doesn’t seem as the smartest idea. Still, what a promising wine. Slightly floral, the restrained way, wet rocks, peaches and a lime zesty feel. Fine balance already on the palate. It’s quite a mouthful but still on the delicate side. And even if it’s a warm year, 2012, the acidity keeps this baby in place. Thank you loess soil. Can’t wait to pour this one next to the beautiful 2011 Kassai.
Tarcal2011 is the finest vintage for dry Tokaj that I’ve experienced and it’s such a joy tasting so many of them, next to the 2012 cask samples. Although the most recent vintage seems promising as well there’s still the fact it was a warm year. A bit like 2009. Some has managed and produced wines of 2011 quality, others suffer from the heat with too a high alcohol level, lacking a bit of freshness and issues with too much residual sugar. Not at Kikelet though.
The star of the dry whites tasting is the impressive 2011 Lónyai Hárslevelű. The essence of top quality Hárslevelű. Lime peel, oozing newly rained rocks, white peaches, the faintest touch of elderflowers. It’s elegant and classy on the nose. And the palate….wow, high apple like acidity, the structure of a great wine, the mineral driven scents. Long, pure. Drink this and you will start believing in Hárslevelű.
Stéphanie and Zsolt produces around 1 000 cases a year. Roughly 11 000 bottles. Still not enough to fully make a living out of it. Even if Kikelet has a fine reputation in Hungary and retailing at decent prices, there’s still lots of investments needed. After all, the winery is not more than ten years old.
HarsleveluNormally an estate wine equals a larger quantity. It’s the entry wine to the producer’s portfolio. In the case of Kikelet’s Birtokbor wines, that’s the estate stuff, there are less than 2 000 bottles of the Furmint and roughly 3 000 of the Hárslevelű. Funnily the 2011 Birtokbor Furmint shows more floral character than the Hárslevelű. On the palate though it’s more restrained with unripe pineapples and Golden Delicious apples. The 2011 Birtokbor Hárslevelű has a creamier structure. Both uncomplicated but well made wines with character and still with a delicate touch and noticeable acidity.
In the cellar we’re also offered to taste the two future wines from the Váti vineyard. Both impresses a lot although the 2012 Váti Furmint at the moment feels like the superior wine. Perhaps I’m keeping the just tasted and so lovely 2012 Kassai and the 2011 Lónyai Hárslevelű in mind, but the 2012 Váti Hárslevelű seems to be a richer wine, more typical for the grape. Is Furmint perhaps the winner in the warm 2012 vintage?
Green label. Furmint. Blue label. Hárslevelű.
Farkas FurmintIf Stéphanie’s trademark is delicate and restrained wines, then the 2011 Farkas dűlő might be her most tropical dry Furmint. Actually it feels like there’s just a slight dash of sugar left. Fermented in oak, aged in stainless steel, this is easy to like for its peaches and pineapple notes, the wet rocks feel and uncomplicated style. Still, I’m a bit uncertain I would call this tropical in its approach – if had next to other Tokaj wines. Around 1 500 bottles produced.
The shadow of the pine tree looks tempting. A glass of Stéphanie’s Lónyai Hárslevelű, rest a few hours and just watch the activity of the old woman unfreezing the fish, following the cat’s adventures in the courtyard seems as the definition of everyday life’s bonheur. Would I have thought the same 20 years ago? Our Tokaj visit can hardly be considered a vacation. 11 producer visits in 5 days. Lots of questions to be asked, wines to be spitted and people to listen to.
SzamorodniZsolt, Stéphanie’s husband, arrives when it’s time to taste the sweet elixir. Not because he can sniff them although I would understand if he had developed such skills. The wines are magnificent, among the best Szamorodni I’ve tasted in Tokaj. The 2005 Szamorodni and the 2008 Szamorodni Lónyai is poured. While the older wine has more acidity feel, delicate apple notes, the 2008 Lónyai has a creaminess that charms your pants off. What a wine. Both shows purity, length and are truly classy in their structure.

Late Harvest
The late harvest wine, 2009 Késői szüret, I would probably have more difficulties placing in Tokaj. Honey wax, candied orange fruits and some dried apricots. 2009 meant little or no Botrytis Cinerea. Quite a refreshing wine thanks to a backing up acidity and a residual sugar level comparable with a Sauternes or Barsac.

6 PuttonyosLack of sugar is not an issue when it comes to the her 2007 Aszú. The 6 puttonyos has resulted in 178 grams of peach and honey oriented sugar filling the palate. A pure joy to taste! What freshness, what concentration. Yet Stéphanie has managed to keep the wine away from absurd intensity and there’s actually some elegance in this one. Not as is the case with the Szamorodni wines but that’s not the purpose when producing a 6 puttonyos. Around 900 bottles produced. A wine for contemplation and one of the world’s greatest expressions of what nature can provide us with – if handled by a passionate and most competent winegrower/winemaker as Stéphanie Berecz.

Kikelet Pince is not an emerging star in Tokaj. They already are.

The website of Kikelet, mostly in Hungarian, can be found here.

If you’re an importer and on the search for personal wines, this is the stuff. Thirsty consumers; use the wine-searcher box in the top right corner of the page to locate Stéphanie’s wines.
More about Tokaj and its producers and wines? Click here for suggestions.