🇳🇱De Franse Maître Sommelier Bruno Scavo deelt graag zijn grote liefde voor Hongaarse wijnen. En hij proefde niet de minste!
🇬🇧French Maître Sommelier Bruno Scavo likes to share his great love for Hungarian wines. And he tasted some of the best! 

My very first sip of a Hungarian wine

My very first encounter with Hungarian wines sends me back to 1988, an emotionally rich period of my life. I was then studying in Tain l’ Hermitage to fulfil my BP Sommelier Diploma. I remember one weekend, on the 3rd of January, after one day tasting Côte Rôtie at the Ampuis “Marché aux Vins”[1], we decided to go to Lyon with my classmates to the SIRHA Gastronomy fair. We were advised by Alain Rosier[2] to attend a Tokaji tasting held by Jean-François Ragot, an importer specialized in rare wines. He was the first ever to have commercialized Tokaj wines in France with his company called “Dyonis”.

We did not have any invitations, but we mentioned Alain’s name as a pass, and it eventually worked. It was a unique chance for me to taste this old sought- after wine, which had nearly been forgotten during the communist era. Wines were “old style”, combining oxidative notes balanced by high sugar content and incredible acidity that refreshed the long finish. Some famous French sweet wines producers were there including Château Gilette from Sauternes and Domaine Schlumberger in Alsace. We finished the tasting with a 1947 Tokaji Eszencia[3]

Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 1975 Château de Sárospatak

Amber colour, ethereal nose combining candied and dried fig with deliberate oxidative notes of walnuts. Sweet and supple attack, counterbalanced by the vivid and bright acidity, long and clean finish of a classy Tokaji wine.

Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 1972 Château de Sárospatak

Deep amber with slight haze. A rich nose exposing honey, gingerbread, candied orange, with both concentration and airy volatility. Rich and dense, with depth and fresh acidity bursting on the finish and boosting all the spices and honey fragrances on the interminable finish.

Bruno Scavo Chateau de Sarospatak - Aszu Eszencia 1972

I first set foot in Hungary in in 2012, escorting my wife Julia to attend the “Central European Sommelier Championship” in Dunakiliti. No other occasion occurred between my first sip of Tokaji in 1988 and my first trip, however I have never stopped dreaming of this beautiful country, so different from all its neighbours in the Central- Eastern European area.

Meanwhile I had the chance to work with 5 different Tokaji producers: Château de Sárospatak, Château Pajzos, Disznókő, Château Dereszla and Oremus. I also had the opportunity to list some Kékfrankos, Kékoporto[4] and the famous Villanyi Kopár of Gere Attila. I even served the latter for a Charity Gala in Monaco, the Rose Ball in the Monte-Carlo Sporting.

My first trip to Hungary

Now, let us go back to the most awaited moment – the trip to Hungary. The day before the trip we were still working on the last details and doing the “rehearsal” for the contest. This training consisted of a blind tasting of a Kadarka and Szekszárdi Bikáver from Csaba Vesztergombi and a Romanian intruder – a Cadarca from Balla Geza[5].

Szekszárdi Kadarka 2007 Vesztergombi

A developing wine with fine tertiary evoking leather, meaty scents, figs. Layers of candied red fruits come as the wine breathes and intermingle with typical capsicum notes. Supple and silky palate, spiced up by paprika and refreshed with balsamics, with lively acids that counterbalance a somehow generous character. Firm, dryish tannins coated by candied fruit, slightly bitter finish with spices and almonds.

Szekszárdi Bikáver 2005 Vesztergombi

Deep garnet, intense and ethereal, with ripe cherries, raspberry jelly, and some tertiary notes of mushrooms, forest floor, wet wood. Pleasant evolution. Clean, silky, with fresh fruit and complex development, lean, with rounded up tannins and elegant structure.

Julia´s training before the contest

The next day we were flying early to Vienna where we rented a car to drive to Dunakiliti. Julia eventually succeeded in winning the competition. As for me, the trip better legitimated my self-made knowledge of Hungarian wines which I then continued to enrich through tastings and 2 other voyages – one in 2014 and the latest in 2020.

My first visit to a Hungarian winery

The morning before the finals, we all headed to the Pannonhalma Abbey in the eponymous region, for what was to be my very first visit of a Hungarian winery! The Benedictine monks came here in 996 and established themselves on the Szent Márton Berg (Saint Martin Mountain) where they eventually built their monastery. The monks mastered vine-growing and winemaking, also possessing vines in Sopron, Somlo and Tokaj. After a 50 years unfortunate break under Communism, Pannonhalma Abbey- Apatsagi Pinceszet has been revived in the dawn of the millennium. 52 hectares divided into 4 vineyards amongst which 37 ha of new plantings thrive in a rather moderate continental environment with magical position on the hills surrounding the majestic monastery on the hilltop. It is the late Tibor Gal who helped in resurrecting this thousand – year – old wine – making tradition.

Pannonhalma Abbey - Magyar Bor credit

Photo credit: Magyar Bor

There was such an extraordinary light while we were driving the sinuous road to the holly realm. A mix of sedimentary and crystalline rock testify to the old geologic past: a bedrock covered by the Pannonian Sea with thick deposits of limestone, and more recently, loess and sand.

Two thirds of the plantings source white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Rhein Riesling, Olaszrizling, Viognier, Tramini, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc while the reminding third is mainly planted with Pinot Noir and completed by some Cabernets and Merlot. The impressive gravity- driven winery was built in 2003 for Gal’s “apprentice” Zsolt Liptai.

Consistent wines reflecting the high-end technology and a skilful, rather technical vinification. The Prior 2011 Riesling (considered to be among the best in Hungary) came from selected batches and exposed a typical green apple, citrus nose with stony depth and airy herbal scents on floral background. Fresh and delicate, with silky palate and aromatic zesty character, the finish was sapid, holding on pleasant bitterness with lemongrass, verbena lingering finish. Hemina 2011 was a Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir[6], Olaszrizling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc Blend fermented with Montrachet yeasts and barrel matured for 3-4 months in Hungarian oak. A full-bodied, buttery, creamy wine with pronounced banana, golden apple and acacia flowers, the palate is highlighted by the acidity brought by the Olaszrizling and Sauvignon, cutting through layers of texture and refreshing the oaky spiciness. The Pinot Noir 2011 was varietal driven with cherries complemented by smoke and meaty hues, with fresh palate, silky mouthfeel and firm oak tannins tightening the finish and bringing spices on the juicy red fruit finish.

I have followed the winery through the last vintages and learned that the quality has continuously raised through new projects and improvements so that I really look forward to visiting it again.

More tasting notes…

Back to Dunakiliti for the last instants of my trip – the gala dinner that crowned the winner and closed the event. Another opportunity for me to try a rich panel of Hungarian wines[7].

Garamvári Sparkling Wine Estate Chateau Vincent Prestige Brut 2005

Charming nose showing pears, pastry notes, acacia, smooth palate with fine bubbles imbuing the silky texture. The fresh acidity reminds some Rieslings, so do the flavours reminiscent of apple, pear, and citrus, as well as the finish imprinted with zests.

Koch Winery – Hajós- Bajai Cserszegi Fűszeres 2011

Aromatic nose with honey, spices and pear, a touch of ginger, delicate citron fruit scents. Rose and litchi reminiscent of some Tramini[8]. Clean, straight-forward palate, with fineness, freshness, flavoursome character and long rose petal finish.

Kreinbacher Estate – Somlói Juhfark 2010

Citrusy, floral with flinty profile and herbal glints. Rich attack and vivid acidity, dry and vertical with lots of zests and herbal hints.

Rápsi – Soproni Siller 2011

Discreet, fruity nose showing raspberry, redcurrants, and fresh strawberries. Dry and ripe, with elevated acid structure and firm phenolics, it reflects the same red fruit as the nose, complemented by spices and balsamic notes. Generous and fresh, the floral and spicy finish made me think of some Loire Valley Pinot d’Aunis.

Szepsy – Tokaj Furmint 2008[9]

Goldish colour, intense nose with ripe, and somehow extra-ripe character of apricots, a probable hint of botrytis and flinty, smoky mineral background. Pure and dry palate, with bright acidity offering purity, boosting the silky texture, in a superb crystal-clear style, with citrus, zests and stony finish providing sapid salivation.

Vida Family Wine Estate – Szekszárdi Őreg tőkék Kadarkája 2009

Ruby coloured, with spicy nose, adding layers of paprika to the cherry character. Satin- like mouthfeel for a dry and elegant wine, like a Pinot Noir, with fresh acidity, firm and coated up tannins. Spicy finish with sour-cherry and cinnamon, a well-defined and balanced wine.

Szeleshát – Szekszárdi Kékfrankos 2009

Vivid ruby- crimson colour intermingling red fruit and spices, clean and dry palate with fresh acidity, supple texture, gentle tannins imprinted in the lean mouthfeel, not bold, just offering a juicy volume.

Disznókő – Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2007

Intense nose with deep flinty smoke, oily minerality, apricots and honey, quince jam. Luscious, fabulously balanced by the superb acidity, with elegant mid-palate, delicate mouthfeel, offering candied apricots and quince, honey, and orange marmalade, long, outstanding noble sweet wine.



Hungarian wine, except for Tokaji is still relatively unknown to consumers in France and lightly documented compared to the “wine of the kings, and king of the wines”[10]. Incredible improvements have pushed it on an ascendant curve almost ever since the moment I fell in love at first sight with it, at the end of the Communist era. Wines are getting more and more complex and deeper with every single vintage I have been following and I am happy to promote them in my country. Two other trips completed my threefold initiation through my first tasting, my first voyage and my first visit to a winery. The quality and consistency of the wines is indeed on their way up, but there is also something else to be impressed by: the charming Hungarian people, always warm and welcoming. 

[1] Annual wine fair of the Côte Rôtie producers, some also crafting other ACs from Northern Rhône

[2] 3rd Best Sommelier of the World 1986

[3] Who would have guessed that 30 years later I would serve the Château de Sárospatak 1972 Tokaji Eszencia – see pictures

[4] Portuguieser since the EU- enforced name change.

[5] See picture

[6] Blanc de Noirs, kind of Weissherbst vinification as they told us

[7] See menu in Appendix and photo

[8] Local name for Gewürztraminer

[9] 2009 on the menu, but a 2008 actually

[10] Tokaji ´ surname „Vinum Regum, rex vinorum”

*About Bruno Scavo 

Attracted by the culture of wine, he passed a Sommelier Certificate in 1987. In 1994 he won the International Culinary Prize “Paul Louis Messonier”. In 1990 Bruno will eventually pass the BP Sommelier diploma with highest credits, after 2 full years of studies in one of the most prized hospitality schools in France at Tain-l’Hermitage. The millenium will crown him “Maître Sommelier” of the UDSF (Union de la Sommellerie Française). He passed his “Bar and Cocktail Diploma” at Hughes Hospitality School in Surfer Paradise, Australia. As President of the Monaco Sommelier Association and Deputy Treasurer of ASI, Bruno also judged many competitions for a good dozen of years, meanwhile being named Head Sommelier of the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club, Casino and catering activities, Wine referent and head of the Wine Think Tank of the whole SBM resort. In 2017 he passed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. He obtained his ASI Certification in 2018. In 2021 he became a sake sommelier certified by the Sake sommelier association.

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