Thus far, and despite having recently become a Distinguished Member of The Wine Century Club, I have been unable to find a Hungarian wine I like (except for Tokai of course). I have questioned whether it is just me and my boring west European palate, or the wines I have tried which are to blame. Until now. For I have now encountered the fiery, savoury, uncompromising delight of Juhfark (pronounced (very carefully please!) “you-fark”).
I produced the following note about this wine on a night when I was meant to be at Browns in Bristol attending a party with former legal colleagues, but my husband was back late from London, so Cinders had to stay at home.
Little to deduce from the minimalist (and largely Hungarian) label, save for 13% abv so this is all my own work, uninfluenced by any prior knowledge of the grape or its origin. I was totally clueless about both.
Firm and unusual aroma profile best described as straw, pineapple, hazelnut, mineral notes and woodiness. The aromas made me think of an en rama fino sherry. The wine is very dry and has tannic astringency. It would make a good appetiser with its mouthwatering acidity. The flavours are pronounced and varied. There is fresh lime, pineapple, red apple peel, perfumed floral freesia notes, and also brazil nut character, with a mineral edge. The flavours linger on the palate and evolve. Overall, my kind of wine.
The wine was savoury in character, had lots of attitude, and seemed to cry out for food. Thai food, and in particular, Thai fishcakes sprang to mind. But as I was meant to be eating out, all I had in the house to try it with was cheese (poor Cinders). Now you know why Arthur is lurking in the photo.
Juhfark & Cheddar
Tasting cheddar after the wine made the cheese taste unusually fruity, sweet and lifted. When tasting the wine after the cheddar, the wine was more full bodied, the tannins were softened, and the fruit and nut flavours were stronger. The finish was longer as well. There were no new flavours, but it was all good.
Juhfark & Parmesan shavings
Now this is where things got funky – albeit that I had to work at it. Tasting the parmesan after the wine made the Juhfark vanish, and at first, when tasting the wine again, all I could taste was alcohol. Not a promising start. However – the wine then struck back with a vengeance. There was a very long finish of what can only be described as a bizarre but amazingly satisfying mixture of strawberry, quince paste, farmyard and anchovy. Yes, anchovy. This delightfully quirky experience was best appreciated upon retro nasal exhalation (when you breathe out again with your mouth closed after swallowing the wine). So bemused was I by this outcome that I repeated my parmesan/wine tasting several times.
So – what is Juhfark?
Juhfark (which means “ewe’s tail” because its distinctive grape clusters are longer than they are wide) is a vanishingly rare white grape variety which is almost exclusively grown on an isolated volcanic hill called Somló (pronounced Shomlo) in north east Hungary, north of Lake Balaton. According to the World Atlas of Wine, Meinklang of Austria are among some of the top producers on this hill – they make one of my “go-to” whites from Gruner Veltliner so my wine-seeking antennae are now well and truly twitching!
This particular volcanic outcrop is comprised of basalt, and this is said to create distinctive mineral character in the wine. The wines of Somló, whether Juhfark or not, are regarded locally as decidedly masculine – so much so that according to Wine Folly, aristocrats and monarchs sent fertile women to Somló to drink its wines in the expectation that this would result in provision of a male heir. No comment is made as to whether this proved effective, and it would almost certainly be contrary to current guidelines for women planning pregnancy.
According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Juhfark needs to age in order to soften its otherwise uncompromising firmness. Fortunately, it ages well.
This particular wine is made by the Tornai family who, according to Blue Danube Wines, began with 1 acre of vineyard in 1946 and now have 56 acres. I could not translate the data sheet on the Tornai website. However, Wine Anorak tasted two of their Juhfarks for a blog about 33 Somló wines, and the use of new oak is evidently one of their practices. I certainly detected some oak in this wine, so I suspect oak, quite possibly new, has been used to mature this wine. Maybe Hungarian oak was used. Hungary was an important source of oak barrels for wine production prior to the communist era and is reappearing.
As for food pairing credentials, I note that Serious Eats describes Juhfark as smelling of apple cider, canteloupe, dried apple slices, yellow roses, mushrooms, and a slightly smoky, toasted almond finish – it made this blogger want to eat stinky cheese. Again, the wine was crying out for food. Others like Juhfark with South-East Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food.
I have since tasted another Tornai wine from Somló, made with Furmint, which is one of the grapes used to make Tokai, the famous Hungarian sweet wine. If you enjoy a drop of Tokai, you can detect some similar flavours in this wine too. I tasted lime, pea pods, jasmine, and on the long finish, stewed apple and honey. Again, like the Juhfark, this wine also has a decidedly mineral edge. Also, the wine is much more elegant in style than the rather musky, pungent furmints I have tasted previously. A furmint first – I enjoyed it!
Wine Anorak concluded that Somló is one of the world’s great wine growing terriors. He believes it deserves greater recognition. He based his assessment upon a tasting of 33 Somló wines. Although my sample size is modest in comparison, the two wines I have tried certainly support his opinion, and Juhfark in particular is something to seek out. Next time I buy it I will get (or even make!) some Thai fish cakes to enjoy with it – as well as lashings of parmesan shavings.
PS I have checked my Wine Century Club list of grapes I have tasted – Juhfark was not there and has now been added. I am therefore up to 166.