Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Joseph Bock in Villany
Many feel – as I do - that the best Hungarian red wines come from Villany in the southern part of Hungary. I visited 3 winemakers in the region a few days ago: Evelyne and Erhard Heumann (met Erhard recently in Washington DC, see here), Attila Gere and Josef Bock.
Josef Bock also operates the fabulous Bock Bistro in Budapest and a Hotel plus Restaurant at his winery in Villany, where we dined and wined. At both places, the food we ate was superb and the Bock wines we drank excellent.
Weinrallye and Danube Swabians
This posting is part of WeinRallye #47, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today on the same theme. The WeinRallye #45 heading is "The Wines of Alemannia”. Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog and is also the organizer of this month’s wine rally.
What is Alemannia? Alemannia was the territory inhabited by the Germanic Alemanni after they broke from the Main basin through the Roman limes in 213 and settled on the left bank of the Rhine river. The territory of Alemannia as it existed from the 7th to 9th centuries corresponds roughly to what is today the German region of Swabia, the French Alsace and Eastern and Central Switzerland.
What do the wines of Josef Bock have to do with Alemannia? Well, not much, but they do if one interprets the WeinRallye #47 theme broadly. And Thomas invited us to do so.
Attila Gere and Josef Bock did not speak English, but I could converse with them in German, because they belong to the so-called Danube Swabians. The Danube Swabians are Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans whose ancestors had moved from Swabia to the former Kingdom of Hungary and settled there, especially along side the Danube River valley. A first wave came in the 12th century and a second wave in the 17th – 18th, after the war between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire had depopulated much of the country. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary. Andrea Gere, the daughter of Attila Gere, told me that her grandparents would only speak German at home.
Hungary has a Long History of Winemaking
Wine was introduced to Hungary by the Romans. During the Turkish occupation beginning in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger, which was the basis for the red wine blend that later became known as Bull's Blood. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaji region became known for dessert wines. After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Portugieser (Kékoportó). From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard. The 2oth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt. Under Communism quality was neglected in favor of industrial production. Since 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, there has been a lot of new investment and renewed interest in the traditional varieties. In general, red grapes have been on the rise.
Hungary’s Wine Regions
Hungary has 22 designated wine regions, in all 4 corners of the country. Many people consider the red wines from Szekszárd and Villány in southern Hungary to be the cream of the crop. Around Lake Balaton, you will find the Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonboglár, and Badacsony regions. Further to the North, the Somló hills and Sopron region also offer fine wine. I have reported about the wines of Franz Reinhard Weninger in Balf here. The vineyards of the Tokaji region were classified long before Bordeaux, already in the 1700s, with vineyards grouped into 3 categories depending on the soil, sun exposure and potential to develop noble rot. Noble-sweet Tokaji has been Hungary’s crowning glory for hundreds of years. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, noble-sweet Tokaji was a cherished wine enjoyed by the European Courts. Winemakers in Tokaji are struggling now to adjust to new market conditions. See here.
Picture: The Wine Regions of Hungary
The wine region of Villany has about 2.100 hectar under vine on the hills of Villány and Siklós. In Siklós (where the Heumann Estate is based) white wine grapes prevail, while in Villány (where the Joseph Bock Estate and Attila Gere Estate are based) red grapes dominate. Traditionally, the Kadarka, Kékoprtó and Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch) varieties are common to the area. Following the phylloxera pest, French varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were also planted.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bock Restaurant Sommelier Tamas Robert
Under the Turkish occupation, Villány was completely destroyed. When the Danube Swabians came, they brought with them the Kékoportó and other grapes. During the communist era the fine wine of Villány basically disappeared. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the family-owned wineries re-emerged. These, with Joseph Bock and Attila Gere leading the way, have succeeded in making Villány wines famous again.
Villany is a picturesque little town, with cute little wine cellars located on the main street next to each other. They are open for tasting, but I did not have an opportunity to check them out. Some winemakers, like Joseph Bock and Attila Gere, have expanded rapidly in recent years and now offer in addition to their wines first class cuisine and luxury accommodation.
Joseph Bock Winery in Villany
Joseph Bock is without doubt one of the stars of Villany. His winery is situated in the center of Villany and comprises also a restaurant, where we had dinner (see below) and a luxury hotel.
The Joseph Bock forefathers were Danube Swabians, who, as part of their farming activities, always have made wine. But up to the recent expansion, the Bock family vineyard area did not exceed 2 hectares.
Until the death of his father in 1981, Joseph Bock wasn’t really into wine making. He had gone to a technical collage and had a job as a technician. With the death of his father, things changed and Joseph Bock started to get involved with wine – albeit on a limit basis. However, the success of his wines and the rapidly increasing demand pulled him into becoming a full-time winemaker in 1991. In 1987, he had started to bottle his wines and sell them directly to restaurants and hotels in the area. As a next big advance, in 1992 he entered the Budapest market and also started to export in that year. Concurrently, a modern winery was constructed in 1994 to 1996 (and later expanded during several phases). Until 1994, the wine was produced at the Jammertal Cellar, which I did not have a chance to visit. The Bock family has owned the Jammertal Cellar since 1850, although the cellar had been expropriated for about 10 years in the 1940s. Today, the cellar is used for storage only, with a capacity of 400 hl. Soon Joseph Bock was named – in 1997 – Hungary’s winemaker of the year and became known in the international wine scene.
Today, the Bock empire in Villany comprises the winery producing 600.000 bottles of wine, of which 15% is exported, a hotel and restaurant . The vineyard area has increased from initially 2 hectares to 75 hectares. In addition, Joseph Bock buys fruit from other vintners, with the share of fruit bought from others approaching 40 percent of total input. The wine cellar comprises 1500 barrique barrels.
Joseph Bock is a family owned and run enterprise, with his wife Valeria, his daughter Patricia (management), his son Valér (winery) and his son-in-law Gábor Béni (winery) part of the Bock team.
When I was there, the winery and the hotel were undergoing another major expansion. At the end of it, the room capacity will have increased to 30 rooms and a new, impressive wine cellar, which is 100 meter long, will be add to Bock’s aging and storage capacity.
Dinner at the Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany
We had a wonderful meal cum wine tasting at the Bock Winery restaurant, which has a big terrace outside the winery. We had a 3-course dinner and went through 7 wines by the glass.
Picture: Bock Winery Restaurant
In German, Bock means goat; so the symbol of the winery is a goat head, which you can find in all Bock wine labels. 95% of Bock wines are red wines. About 30% of the wines are aged in oak. Bock wines tend to be powerful, rich, "brawny" wines that should not be drunk too young. Villány’s signature grape, the Portugieser, is grown in large quantities by Joseph Bock. Other varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are also grown. The premium wines include the flagship „Magnifico“ (Merlot) as well as the blends „Bock Cuvée“ and „Capella“ (both Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), all of which are matured in new barriques for 24 months, Blaufränkisch Selection (14 months in barrique), as well as Chardonnay (8 months in barrique).
Shared starter: Bock Mixed Appetizers:
Main Course: Kacsa Trio – Mulard duck trio (breast, liver, drumstick) and Steak Tartare:
Dessert: Shared Chocolate Souflee with Sour Cherries:
We started with 4 entry-level Bock wines: Rose, Siller, Chardonnay, Hárslevelu:
Then we moved to 2 Bock reserve wines, both 2007: Cabernet Sauvignon and Kekfrancos
We finished off with a Bock Capella Cuvee 2006 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc; 24 months in new barrique:
Bock Bistro in Budapest
We had our first encounter with Joseph Bock food and wines at the Bock Bistro in Budapest, which is one of the best restaurants in Budapest. Bock Bistro is also a wine shop, where you can buy Joseph Bock and other Hungarian wines. We had a small cheese plate with a glass of wine, to finish the evening, after a wine bar tour in Budapest and dinner at Klassz Bistro at 41 Andrassy u. Bock Bistro serves about 60 Hungarian wines by the glass, of which 15 Bock wines, 15 wines from Tokaji and 30 wines from other Hungarian producers. I will write about it in more detail on schiller-wine.
Picture: Bock Bistro in Budapest
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