Hungarian rot: French nectar

Grapevine
Click to follow
In the past five years, Western incomers have completely changed Tokay, the Hungarians' sweet national wine treasure, their "Sauternes". And many Hungarians are miffed at the change. Since the East opened up, and vineyards and wineries were privatised in 1990, a number of the great, historical Tokay estates up in the hills by the Czech border have been snapped up by some of the most famous names in the French, British, Spanish and Italian wine industries. Even before they had time to renovate cellars and vineyards, they had put a clean, fresh, modern stamp on the wines. And Hungarians who had grown used to a flatter, oxidised style made by the state monopoly during the years of communism did not like it.

Shrivelled, nobly rotten grapes from the 130-hectare estate of Disznoko, classified in 1700 as one of the Tokay region's "first growths" were lost for nearly 50 years in the state monopoly brew. Then the estate was bought, early in 1992, by the French insurance company AXA, which already owned chateaux all around Bordeaux, including the Premier Cru Classe Sauternes Chateau Suduiraut. Its new winery and restored, ancient cellars opened last month in time for the new vintage. But even its first, new-style vintage, made in the old cellar, is stunning. The intriguing, complex flavour of 1992 Tokay Aszu 5 puttonyos, Disznoko (pounds 9.99 for 50cl Oddbins and The Wine Society) could command a much higher price - dried apricot and plum, with hints of almond, honey, greengage, smoke and caramel, sweet, but with a lovely, tangy acidity to prevent cloying. Drink it now or keep it for ages.

Much of Portugal is equally in need of an injection of modern winemaking know-how if the wines are to suit the fruity tastes of foreigners. The buyer of Portuguese wines for Wine Rack, Thresher and Bottoms Up has recently discovered a number of immunised spots. The new red 1994 Fiuza Cabernet Sauvignon, Ribatejo (pounds 4.99) is excellent value, really aromatic, lively and fruity, made by Australian Peter Bright, and Monte Velho Alentejo Reguengos 1995 (pounds 4.79) is also a snip. This is young wine that will keep and improve for a while, but is nevertheless yummy to drink now, with its rich plum and almond flavours and obvious but soft tannin. It was made by David Baverstock, an Australian who worked for years for a port firm before turning his hand to Portuguese table wines. Raspberry-fruity and attractively oaky, the 1995 Espiga Red, Estromadura (pounds 4.59 from Wednesday) is likewise underpriced. You could drink this now, but it would be lovely at Christmas. Look out also for the 1995 Bright Brothers Douro Red (pounds 4.99), a delicious, firm, dark, damsony wine that will also benefit from a little age. Other Fiuza wines are among the best value Portuguese reds elsewhere, too. 1994 Fiuza Merlot, Ribatejo (pounds 4.49 Safeway) is a savoury, tarry red packed with fruity flavour, and the firm 1994 Fiuza Oak Aged Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 4.49 Asda) is ripely blackcurranty, with a grassy overtone. On a budget, go for the strawberry-fruity Sainsbury's Do Campo Tinto (pounds 2.99), an easy, fruity glugger.

While at Thresher, Wine Rack or Bottoms Up, there's also a real bargain from Bulgaria: the 1990 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Iambol Region (pounds 3.99 Wine Rack, Thresher or Bottoms Up) is a really smooth, creamy and blackcurranty red, with attractive, discrete oak flavour - better than many wines which are pounds 2 more expensive.

Drinkers of New Zealand wines will know Montana as a company that has until now concentrated on mass-producing good pounds 4.99 wines. Now there is also a set of new estate wines, much more expensive, but underpriced for their quality. Look out for the new, savoury, elegant 1994 Church Road Chardonnay, The McDonald Winery, Montana (pounds 7.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), and the wonderfully rich 1994 "O" Ormond Estate Chardonnay, Montana Estates (pounds 10.99 Bottoms Up and Wine Rack). "O" is quite oaky at the moment and still a little young - I'd keep it for a few months yet.

Comments