In Budapest certain crowds consider wine bars to be a bit bourgeois, but if you want to sample vintages that outperform the standard swill that tastes like dusty dead spiders and door mice drowned in grape-flavored potato vodka, we oenophiles head to wine bars and balk at class distinctions.
Despite their growing popularity, Hungarian wines are a bit odd to newcomers so it’s important to consider the terroir and ancient techniques which have slowly but steadily evolved since the Soviets packed up their tanks and took off for the Motherland.
Doblo is the best wine bar in town. I befriended the owner one night over too many pálinkas. His jocularity and rotund physique served as a symbol of the hedonistic enjoyment of all things in vino veritas, making him the perfect guide to the landscape of Hungarian wine.
Located in the Seventh district, Doblo’s attractive brickwork, candlelit ambience and no smoking policy provides a nice alternative to the overbearing international hordes getting hammered on absinthe at nearby ‘ruin bars.’
One afternoon I dropped by Doblo when a group of wine critics came in for a blind tasting. The owner invited me to participate but not to the table, playfully muttering something like, “Americans sit at bar by himself,” and laughed like a booze-addled Hussar.
Making your way through a tasting in Budapest is an accomplishment. The pour is quite liberal and after ‘tasting’ six wines or so you will lose your palate.
We started with an ’09 György-Villa Etyeki Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Seven Towers Chardonnay from Neszmely and I found myself wanting to add some ice cubes, or soda water to make a fröccs.The ’09 Csordás-Fodor from Somlo has all the typical characteristics of a furmint: nice golden color, ripe botrytis notes, heavily fruit-driven but lacking that minerality which keeps it dry on the palate…I like my furmints ‘steely.’
The first red, the ’05 Weniger from Sopron, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Kékfrankos, placed last because it tastes like moldy goats blood and cough syrup, but the 2008 Vincze Bela Arcanum Cabernet Franc is full-bodied with moderate tannins, aromas of spice, blue flowers and black currant. This particular vintage is long and delicate with hints of sandalwood and finishes sweeter than most reds from the region.
We ended with the 2000 Patricius Tokaji, which is a definite must for any lover of dessert wines. The apricot and peach hues of the nobly rotted aszu grape and its perfectly balanced sugar, acid and alcohol make for an elegant structure from front to back. You can buy Tokaji in the US but it’s garbage- standard export syrup you find at the duty-free, or brick-a-brack tourist shops where you can also buy a Cosmonaut helmet or a Red Brigade broach.
Doblo’s competent staff will give you an educational experience on the nuances of Hungary’s finest wines. With its finger on the pulse of the national wine scene, Doblo proves that proletariat tastes just take a while to awaken.