Moreish Mór Passing the Acid Test

Drinks

Csaba Miklós at the bar in his Miklóscsabi Winnery in Mór.

A recent visit to two winemakers in Mór (90 km southwest of Budapest) left me begging for more of this tiny Hungarian wine region, pardon the rather obvious pun, but thankfully it didn’t leave me gagging from the aggressive acidity for which it had perhaps become infamous.

“I realized I had to make my wines friendlier after I tasted around a lot, trying many different wines from various [Hungarian] regions,” Mór winemaker Csaba Miklós told the Budapest Business Journal.

This has meant paying more attention in the vineyards to catch the time when grapes reach optimal ripeness and sometimes stopping the fermentation short of dry, keeping a few grams of residual sugar to counterbalance the razor-sharp acidity.

Nemférünk a bőröndbe Chardonnay 2019 has 8 grams of residual sugar per liter to soften the 6.8 grams per liter of acidity. One-third of the wine underwent what is known as malolactic fermentation, which converts the harsher malic acid into a creamy lactic acid, while one-third was vinified in 400-liter used barrels.

Costing HUF 2,750 from Bortársaság, this is well-made, ripe and round with peach, melon and ripe red apple notes, but it’s a tad too soft and overly refined for my admittedly acid-loving palate, somewhat lacking the tension and edginess I crave. However, I believe Miklóscsabi (as Miklós is more usually known, and it is also the name for his winery) when he says this is a real crowd pleaser and is very popular with guests.

The name of this wine translates as “We can’t fit it into the suitcase” and is a play on the Hungarian saying that a misbehaving child can’t fit into his or her own skin. The name was suggested by one of Miklóscsabi’s winemaking idols, Eger’s György Lőrincz.

Miklóscsabi makes the wines together with his assistant winemaker, his cousin, Zsolt Eisenberger, who also has his own winery. Having studied wine marketing in California, Miklóscsabi has many creative labels with catchy names, such as GimmeMór, Demi Mór, Depes Mór and he’s even got the Fab Four in on one of his labels with John, Paul, Csabi, Ringo Star (Yes, Star with one “r”), George Kékfrankos.

Much more my kind of wine compared to the aforementioned Chardonnay is the bone-dry Ezredes 2019 (HUF 3,600 from mikloscsabi.com), which features the vintner’s father, Pál Miklós, on the label. The wine made according to his father’s taste (apparently rather similar to mine), with high acidity (7.2 grams per liter) and real concentration.

Deep Roots

It comes from 44-year-old Ezerjó vines from the Csóka vineyard, from whence the grapes were harvested in the middle of October. One might have expected the acid level to have dropped off by then, but the long-established vines have their roots going down deep into the limestone-clay soil and retain acidity.

This wine was spontaneously fermented in used 400-liter Hungarian Kádár barrels and kept on the lees in these until Christmas, then racked between Christmas and New Year, and aged in the barrels until June.

Miklóscsabi himself didn’t want to keep it too long in oak but I think the fabulous fruit and floral characteristics of this quite full-bodied wine aren’t blocked out by the oak at all. The vibrant citrusy and floral aromas, followed by a juicy, concentrated yet balanced palate (with 13% alcohol that is totally integrated) is complemented, and not disturbed by the oak, while the angular acidity renders the wine both intense and distinctive.

It very much speaks both of the grape variety and its place of growth, and is great example of what the underrated Ezerjó is capable of.

Ezerjó is the flagship grape of Mór, a predominantly white wine region that is nestled between the Vertes and Bakony hills, which benefits from a breeze that keeps air circulating among the vines and helps prevent fungal diseases doing their worst.

The region’s epicenter is the town of Mór, and is where many of the region’s cellars (including the two featured in this article) are located. It has mainly limestone-clay soils.

Tricky Twists

The grape’s name literally means “A thousand good things” but it has one or two tricky twists about it, too. Its thin skins can split after a few days of rain in the run up to harvest, making the wine watery, explains Krisztina Csetvei-Machán, who makes wine for her family cellar, Csetvei Pince.

The cellar has 3.5 hectares in Mór and 1 hectare in Somló (from which she makes a characteristic Juhfark), and is in the process of converting to being certified organic. Incidentally, Csetvei-Machán estimates that Mór has a total of just 440 hectares under vine.

She makes an impressive and full-bodied Ezerjó using oak, EH Ezerjó Hordó, the 2019 of which oozes eastern spices and creamy fruit, although she has found an innovative yet ancient method of vinification that is regaining in popularity that delightfully captures the grape’s purity.

Intrigued by a several thousand-year-old method of vinification, she travelled to Georgia, the spiritual home of amphora winemaking, where the vessels are called kvevri. On her return, she adapted their use according to local considerations, such as pressing the grapes and not fermenting on the skins as is typical in amphora, followed by relatively short ageing, not wanting a heavy wine.

She sourced amphora locally from Attila Légli, brother of Balatonboglár winemakers Ottó and Géza Légli. Csetvei-Machán ages Ezerjó for a maximum of four months in amphora, before the oxidation kicks in, and the vessel serves to nicely take the sharp edge off the wine, enabling oxygen to interact with it without adding any notes from the vessel, unlike when ageing in oak.

The result is a really elegant, medium-bodied expression of Ezerjó with a deep lemon color, aromas and flavors of peach, lemon, honey, lemon zest and pear, with everything in beautiful balance. It is also very good value at HUF 4,000 from csetveipince.hu.

Királyleányka is another somewhat overlooked indigenous variety, and Csetvei-Machán considers it an important grape for Mór. Her 2020 is delightfully fruity (peach, tangerine) and floral (white flowers), light-bodied but with good length. It costs HUF 2,500 from the cellar. This is her only wine that is vinified by cultured yeast, in order to preserve the freshness. The rest are all left to their own devices to undergo spontaneous fermentation from the yeast inherent on the grapes and in the cellar.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 23, 2021.

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