A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Irsai Olivér - Buda, Hungary

In the first two months that this blog existed, I wrote about two different wines from Hungary: Bull's Blood, which was actually my second post ever (so be kind if you read it) and a dry white wine made from Furmint grapes.  Since October of last year, though, I hadn't been able to find any new or interesting wines from Hungary.  Sure, there are plenty of Tokaji wines out there and most of them are out of this world, but Tokaji isn't really unusual enough for me to write about here.  I remembered that I had picked up a wine several years back made from the Irsai Olivér grape in Hungary, but the place I bought the wine from went out of business a few years back (it was the Best Cellars that used to be in Coolidge Corner in Brookline).  I wasn't sure if I'd ever get another crack at the grape, but I got lucky and caught Bin Ends when they happened to have a few bottles in stock and I'm glad I got to give the grape a second chance.  My first experience with it was very underwhelming, but this time around, I found the grape much more interesting.

But before we get to that, it's time to talk a bit about the grape itself.  It was created in 1930 in Hungary from crossing two other obscure grapes, Pozsonyi and Pearl of Csaba.  There is very little information available about the Pozsonyi grape, but there is a little information about Pearl of Csaba.  Pearl of Csaba was created in 1904 in Hungary and, most importantly, one of its parents was a member of the Muscat family of grapes, Muscat Courtillier (also known as Muscat Précoce de Saumur).  This particular Muscat variety is often used in crossing experiments because it ripens very early (hence the "Précoce" in the name which means "early" in French) which is a trait that many people want to propagate.  Irsai Olivér inherited this trait from its grandparent and also picked up quite a bit of the Muscat character as well.

I'm not sure about Pozsonyi, but Pearl of Csaba was originally bred to be a table grape in Hungary and Irsai Olivier was intended to follow in its footsteps.  It is still cultivated as a table grape in many places, but it is also finding some popularity as a wine grape as its only viticultural weakness is a particular susceptibility to powdery mildew.  It is fairly popular in Slovakia and the Czech Republic where it is known as Irsay Oliver.  Most resources indicate that the proper Hungarian spelling of the grape's name is Irsai Olivér, but the bottle that I had definitely spelled it Olivier.  I'll confess that I don't understand the diacritical marks in the Hungarian language, so I don't know if the "ie" spelling is equivalent to the "é" or not.  I cannot find any information on the historical basis of the name Irsai Olivér.  The breeder's name was Pál Kocsis and when I enter the name of the grape into a Hungarian translator, the same two words pop back out the other side.

Whatever the source of the grape's name, I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Nyakas Cellars Irsai Olivier from my friends at Bin Ends for about $10.  In the glass, the wine had a silvery lemon color.  It was explosively aromatic with aromas of lychee, flowers (possibly orange blossom?), and ripe peaches.  The wine was medium bodied with acidity on the higher side of medium.  There were flavors of lychee fruit, mandarin oranges, orange peel, ripe pear with just a touch of lemony citrus.  The palate was more restrained than the nose, but it was still nicely flavorful.  When I had this same wine a few years back, I remember being bowled over by the aroma, but finding that the palate was so restrained that it ended up being a disappointment.  This bottle definitely followed through more on the palate without it being overwhelming.  Gewurztraminer and Muscat are the two obvious comparison points here, but this reminds me much more of Torrontés.  It's refreshing, a pleasure to sniff and has a kind of restrained dignity on the palate that doesn't overwhelm you, but doesn't leave you unsatisfied either.  For fans of aromatic white wines, this is a must-try.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just had some of the white wine oliver in buda and really enjoyed it can you get it in england