Heavenly Hungarians; Part 7 – Hárslevelű from István Balassa


Did you read the post on my visit to István Balassa; one of the emerging stars in the Tokaj region of Hungary. Sure, Furmint is the star here but there’s one more grape that really calls for your attention….

Close to Mád, you will find many of the great and classic vineyards of Tokaj. There’s the Szent Tamas for example and on the opposite side of it, you will find Betsek. The soil structure of the latter consists of Riolit Tufa, a porous volcanic rock, mixed with brown clay. István tells me that Betsek has its own unique character resulting in a complex minerality (which I noticed in a great Furmint Betsek tasted with him in Mád).

Then there’s the Mézes-Mály vineyard close to Tarcal. This one consists of loess soil with the same Riolit Tufa as in Betsek, deeper in the soil. Betsek and Mézes-Mály. From these two great sites, István Balassa produces a Hárslevelű cuvée.

Let me say this right away; the 2009 Tokaji Hárslevelű Betsek/Mézes-Mály is one of the best examples I’ve ever tasted from the grape. A warm vintage, 2009, resulted in ripe and sweet grapes and allowed Hárslevelű to show it’s character of honey, flowers and tropical fruit.

Considering the fact that István Balassa has only been producing wine for less than a decade, one can only but ascertain he has it in the blood. The 2009 Hárslevelű Betsek/Mézes-Mály is only produced in 1,240 bottles. When tasting it I first don’t know what to say; Hárslevelű can be tough to describe. But there’s Alsace Grand Cru greatness over it; some Pinot Gris, a dash of Riesling acidity and then some flowers from Gewurztraminer and Muscat a Petit Grains. It’s expressive, smoky, floral and slightly tropical. Some herbal honey on the nose as well.

Creamy, yet acidity driven and lots of wet rocks on the palate. There’s sweetness in it, 18 grams of residual sugar, but that works so well with the rest of the components. An incredible intensity and pure finish.

I know what you’re thinking. How am I supposed to handle the sweetness? Easy. The 2009 works well with pork dishes and can handle both fat and spices. It will also be a great pairing with fatter fishes like tuna or salmon marinated in soy sauce for example. Also simply fantastic with prosciutto for the combination of salt and slight sweetness.

So, why is this kind of wine still a hidden gem, that only few knows of? Importers, start checking out Hárslevelű!

Hárslevelű photograph by István Balassa.

Sample bottle from István Balassa.