There is so much to say about today’s wine it is hard to decide where to begin. So, I’ll start simple: It is really delicious. It’s important to say this at the outset, because the wine’s place of origin is likely a new frontier for most: Southern Slovakia. You’re forgiven if you’ve never tried a wine from this part of the world, but let me tell you—this is a great one to start with.
More often than not, revelatory bottles like this 2017 Kékfrankos come to us courtesy of the intrepid folks at Blue Danube Imports, whose entire business is devoted to the wine renaissance underway in Eastern Europe. Especially intriguing to me are the multitude of well-made, world-class wines coming from ex-Iron Curtain countries like Hungary, Romania, and now, Slovakia. Although the Kékfrankos grape is familiar—more so if you use its Austrian name, Blaufränkisch—the Južnoslovenská growing zone, home of Bott Frigyes, is not. Running up to the southern border of Slovakia, following a stretch of the Danube River just before it turns south towards Budapest, the Južnoslovenská (“southern Slovak”) region is well-represented by this Bott Frigyes red. Had we tasted it blind, I might have guessed top-level Oregon Pinot or maybe Cru Beaujolais from Morgon, but as it was we broke out our wine maps and hunted down Južnoslovenská in a fit of inspiration. It makes me wonder what other revelations we might be missing in this wide world of wine. If you try one bottle outside your comfort zone this year, let this be it. It is that good!
Bott Frigyes and his son, Frici, farm about 10 hectares of vineyards on the southern slopes of the Mužsla Hills, where the Danube, Garam, and Ipoly Rivers converge. The soils here are a mix of clay with some limestone over a volcanic basalt base, with modest elevations of about 250 meters. From his home base in the Danube-adjacent village of Nová Stráž, Frigyes has been active in promoting the surrounding wine country, known as Garam-Mente, as an international destination for gastro-tourism. There is a Garam-Mente trademark, which is attached (like DOP designations elsewhere) not just to wines but also other local food products such as pumpkinseed oil.
The Frigyes family vineyards are populated with the traditional varieties of the region, most of which are most readily associated with neighboring Hungary: Furmint, Hárslevelu, Juhfark, Kékfrankos and Kadarka. This is not surprising, given that much of what is now Slovakia was once part of Hungary (and that the Frigyes family is ethnically Hungarian, like most of their neighbors). Their take on Kékfrankos, which aged briefly in used oak casks before bottling, is more perfumed and elegant than most Blaufränkisch drinkers may be accustomed to. When I think of this grape, which I love, I think of black and blue fruits and a tarry, slightly smoky savor. The Blaufränkisch wines I’m most familiar with, from Austria’s Burgenland, are always reliably dark in color and fruit character, with a pleasing plumpness to them. I wouldn’t typically compare these wines to Pinot Noir—then I tasted this Bott Frigyes version, and a new door opened.
Perhaps it’s the limestone or the basalt bedrock, but this 2017 is a more linear, floral, silken take on the variety, with delicate tannins and lots of aromatic persistence. In the glass it’s a deep purple-ruby (but less bloody/brackish than any other Blaufränkisch/Kékfrankos I’ve tried), with perfumed aromas of black cherry, huckleberry, goji berry, black plum, sandalwood, lavender, dark chocolate, and leather. It is medium-bodied and exceedingly refined, with a delicious wave or purple and black fruits that lingers on the finish along with a note of fresh violet. There’s plenty of vibrancy and freshness but not the bloody, meaty note often found in these wines. I might dare to call it ‘feminine,’ and it’s drinking beautifully now: Decant it 30 minutes or so before serving in Burgundy stems at 60-65 degrees. It’ll be a unique and lively red to revisit periodically over the next 3-5 years, and versatile enough to pair with a broad spectrum of dishes. The Hungarian connection and the warm spiciness have me thinking about dishes incorporating some paprika, as in the attached. What a discovery—I can’t say enough good things about it!
Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) 100%
Clay/Limestone over Basalt