Visceral, Volcanic Hungary

By Michael Godel

From almost any vantage point up on the Szent György-Hegy one can’t help but engage in the act of starting to smile and in a really subtle way. There’s a Hungarian word for that called elmosolyodik. Mosoly is the word for smile, but to elmosolyodni is something less obvious, usually reserved for something you don’t do right away, meaning you realize something is funny or heartwarming and so in the end you find yourself smiling. Taking the liberty here to make use of the abstruse word because no matter the moment, who could not smile when surrounded by these landscapes. From up aboard the majestic Saint George Hill and downward in descension the vistas are inspiring. They keep your gaze locked in tight as the vines (especially in mid-summer) spread out through villages and across to the shapes of other emerald volcanic hills that dot the peripheral horizons.


Starting to write an article about any wine region is always difficult because while visiting said region is at the time a special experience, returning back to it months later presents a serious challenge to the intellect. The Lake Balaton region is no exception and so making headway might best be served by another usage of a Hungarian word. Here is where szöszmötöl seems to offer the best approach. The conjugated verb could be interpreted as “to do something lengthily and with uttermost care.” Sounds right up Godello’s alley and so what may begin with frustration, lack of initiative, or suffering from writer’s block will eventually somehow lead to being prone to szöszmötöl, that is to wax rhapsodic, not forever, but every once in a while. As in right now.

Before continuing on it must be noted straight away that much of what will follow is thanks in full to the planning by WineAlign partner John Szabo, M.S. and the Canadian-Hungarian architect-wine producer Robert Gilvesy. Gilvesy has made his home and last three decade’s of work on the Saint George Hill going back to the early 1990s. Behold a 2023 seasonal round-up message from Robert:

“Round and round and round we go, following the seasons, the cycles, and nature’s whims, and with this, finally our wines sleep. Our wines sleep, but they are alive, and they will greet you with the vibrance and life that you have come to know in our wines. 2023 was a season of changes and challenges, with great new faces on our team and high disease pressure in the vineyards. Since our inception in 2012, I do not remember a growing season with such intense downy mildew pressure, assisted by rains and humidity which started before flowering and stayed with us through the end of July. After being surprised with such early infections, and playing catch-up most of the summer we had ideal conditions from August through the end of a small but well-conceived harvest. Our reinvigorated crew performed marvellously, and we look forward to building with them in 2024. Pruning has started and we will continue through the winter of 2024.  At the same time I will be visiting some very fine wine fairs: Haut les Vins, Paris and Haut les Vins, Düsseldorf, not to mention Alois Lageder’s  SUMMA in April. Don’t worry, I will send out notices with details very soon should you like to visit. I would like to thank you all for working with us, and following not just our seasons, but how our wines have developed over years. Our love of our terroir, and our volcanic landscape has only deepened and so we will continue send you an honest, and natural expressions of this in our wines.”

Lake Balaton from the Szent György-Hegy

For four days at the end of July 2023 a small group of wine writers, including Godello traveled across Slovenia, originating in Collio, arriving at the Szent György-Hegy in the dead of night. Magyarórszág csapat, a.k.a. Team Hungary took to the volcanoes around Lake Balaton like ducks to water and dove headfirst into the wines from Balatoni, Badacsony, Szent György-Hegy, Csobánc, Káli Basin and Somló. Mostly volcanic, all so very real, of grape varieties endemic to, suitable for and just plain native for these verdant hills. These are the notes on 65 wines tasted over those four fateful days in July.

Gilvesy Winery

Robert Gilvesy’s home and winery sit on a former Esterházy estate on the Szent György Hill. Mount Saint George is an ancient and little known volcanic butte in Europe’s Pannon basin. The Hegymagas-based facility and 13 hectares of vineyards are poised at this prime location in an area shaped by eight million year-old volcanoes that would have ceased erupting between four and five million years ago. The cellar was erected circa 1680 by the Lengyel family and was later part of the noble Esterhazy estate. In 2012, the renovation and modification was completed just in time for the 2012 harvest. All Gilvesy vineyards have been organically cultivated since 2014. Soils are eroded basalt and tuff integrated in Pannon loess, sand or clay. Varieties cultivated are  riesling, furmint, olaszrizling and sauvignon blanc. The place is home to, as described by Gilvesy, “ancient, crumbling edifices, witness to a violent history, but now so bucolic, and natural.”

Gilvesy Brut Nature Méthode Traditionnelle 2017, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni, Hungary
Toasty as few other sparkling wines made from furmint are or really can be in Balaton. The first varietal harvest (of an overall vigorous and usually generous amount) is taken for the BNMTSGH in the first week of September. A late green harvest if you will, not about percentage but about properly thinning out the vines. The 2017 vintage saw to 3,000 bottles which is the ceiling “for the market.” Natural ferment, fine lees through March/April and then shipped off to Garamvári sparkling wine house. The subtle aspects of autolysis and aldehydes are shadows and mysteries, never rising to the surface or making themselves clear but you feel them gliding through air, following the layers of fruit, texture, truth and soul. Lovely bitters and tonics on the finish, just there and just right. In other words the terroir of Szent György-hegy. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Bohém Balatoni Cuvée 2021, Balatoni, Hungary
Robert Gilvesy’s Bohém blend no longer uses pinot gris (as mentioned in March) and tasting it four months later while looking out at Lake Balaton only romances the flavours and exults the wine. How could it not? The appellative excellence speaks to all the winemakers in the area and says it’s time. Time to join the party and make a white blend that represents estate.  Last tasted July 2023

The blend in 2021 is olaszrizling (a.k.a. welschriesling), riesling and sauvignon blanc with pinot gris no longer involved. No doubt a botanical aspect ups the complexity game away and beyond the simple norms of white blends marked by citrus and stone fruit. They are in the mix but the herbal tonic and fine bitters elevate the cuvée to speak rightly and spritely for Balaton, the Szent György Hill and Robert Gilvesy’s oeuvre. This wine is an institution now and deserves plenty of attention. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted March 2023

 Gilvesy Sauvignon Blanc Volcanic & Basalt 2022, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
Stainless steel and all wild ferment by way of a starter (Pied de Cuve) from the home-based Szent György-Hegy a.k.a. Mount Saint-George). No this is not the vintage of the century for Balaton but there is no doubt that sauvignon blanc is becoming one of his most consistent wines. A minty-herbal cool sensation and citrus distillate, concentrated and so well balanced for a pleasurable flavour profile while also inducing saliva to wish for more and more sips. An improved wine with the changes that begun in 2019 making for a much more complete example of sauvignon blanc. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Pixu Saba Szüretlén 2022, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
The use of 15 percent whole bunch through fermentation (inclusive of three days of skin contact) on this next and ulterior level sauvignon blanc plays a prominent role and puts a positive spin on the Pixu. More than flinty reduction (which is incidentally low key) but mainly a matter of texture because the palate awakens with excitement, like a child bounding out of bed for Saturday morning cartoons. But such a crunchy wine can almost be heard as the palate swirls and bites down on the cracklings of the wine. Lemon pith finish reminds that this natural SB makes decisions of its own accord. Drink 2023-2028.   Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Pixu Olasrizling 2022

Gilvesy Pixu Olaszrizling 2022, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
Third vintage (2020 was skipped) for the olaszrizling of no maceration but the use of a really old 52L foudres and two German spiedl (concrete) eggs were employed and then…nothing much after that until bottling with only some sulphuring late when oxidation was sensed. Followed by a small amount, after not filtering, before bottling. And so the linear and vertical variety is turned textural, citrus preserved and chewy. Like savoury sour lemon chews rolled in ginger crystals. The petrol future will be like none you’ve ever encountered in olazriesling. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Pixu Furmint 2022, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
Vinification essentially identical to the olazrizling; that is large old foudres, two concrete eggs, minor sulphuring and no filtering. Yet furmint comes leaning and angling with more notable oxidative sways, golden hue, metallic moments, phenolic elasticity and early petrol emission. Feels like there is still some malolactic magic going on and the wine will be a vastly different animal six months to a year from now. Crafty little thing this furmint, acidity doing its thing and textural like lemon curd swirled into mascarpone. Drink 2024-2027.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Pixu Cross 19 + 21, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
Two old barrels of furmint, one from 2019 and the other 2021 are put together, one because each orange segment needed a kick from the other and two because they were both stable ferments that could marry to make an even more stable union. This is delicious wine, no matter what it actually is or people perceive it to be. The idea of orange upon orange is Rothko-esque but truth is orange (the wine) is a primary thing and orange (the colour) is a secondary one, made by combining red and yellow, which is essentially what skin-contact wine happens to be. As for volatility it is at the edge but anyone who wants to win the argument that this is above and beyond is only fighting to win. In the end 19 plus 21 is forty. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Pixu Kadarka 2021, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Balatoni, Hungary
First vintage form the vines’ third leaf planted right on the Saint-George hill. A vigorous variety, historically grown in Hungary but also certainly here, best produced in a light and bright style, picked ahead of its tendency to go jammy. Nothing here suggests that, nor oak-influence, nor heavy ambition neither. Just fruit, ih so natural and the aroma is the uncanny scent of watermelon (namely the rind). A convincingly pure kadarka so fruit driven, balanced and impossibly juicy. Hard to get simpler or more refreshing than this. Newsflash: Kadarka has a place on this mountain. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Volcanic & Basalt Furmint Rajnai Rizling Olaszrizling 2021, Szent György Hegy (Mount Saint George), Lake Balaton, Hungary
Co-fermented furmint and olaszrizling with other ferments of rajnai riesling mixed in, up to 50 percent oak on some of the furmint and in the end there are varietal layers but vintage is really what’s on display. Yet another appellative white blend that speaks to place and sure there is a specificity that a cool and balanced vintage brings but this style considers place more than anything else. Complex while much more finessed and precise than what might be imagined and also a joy to sip. Acid, layers of tart and taut, highly local fruit and boom – SGH incarnate. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Rajnai Rizling 2021, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni, Hungary
The most straightforward, juicy and crunchy of Robert Gilvesy’s wines is this rizling of the Rajnai type. Dry style and luxe for the variety, lemon and lime plus an ideal vintage from which to capture the essence of this hill above Lake Balaton through the lens of the grape. Hard to imagine the wine with more energy and vitality than what 2021 has to offer. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Rajnai Rizling 2017, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni, Hungary
Nearly all the grapes come from different clones, blocks and harvests out of the Varadi Vineyard. Most of the vines were planted in 2014 and so it’s just amazing how by 2017 the vines were already getting into the Szent György-hegy groove. The location is down left or southeast from Csaba Török’s 2HA Estate terrace. There is no doubt that 2017 has developed into a fuller expression of rajnai rizling but also one leaving behind a vapour trail. Last tasted July 2023.

The immediate sensation is that of two-toned texture, like a faux sweet and savoury green apple creation, a bite through a crisp candied shell and then the creamy pulp inside. Two basalt vineyards, old Tarányi and young Váradi meet from off of the Saint George hill on lake Balaton. The palate delivers a snap of fruit and this mildly bitter tonic aridity and that variegation is due to staggered picking and stacking. In the end the alignment and balance find the first stages of fine accord. With greater experience more finesse is sure to come. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted December 2018

Gilvesy Rajnai Rizling Tarányi 2020, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni, Hungary
Old vines over 50 years of age (planted sometime in the 1970s), right below the estate, just nine rows and once belonging to the cooperative. Named after a landowner from the 1920s (or 30s) connected to the local governmental administration. Crunchy as only a Gilvesy rizling can be, lime doused, acids so bloody intelligent and making sure fruit is put into flight. Aged in steel, Austrian Stockinger cask and Flex-Cube. There is no doubt that the single vineyard Tarányi delivers a richer and luxe expression of rajnai rizling but also one of flint, petrol and scintillant emission. This flashes across the palate like a supernova and lingers long after the wine is gone. That is powerful rizling. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Sauvignon Blanc Mogyorós 2019, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni, Hungary
Single vineyard on the north side of Saint George Mountain for a varietal wine but what the world needs to know about Robert Gilvesy’s sauvignon blanc is that it tastes nothing like any other. Matured in Hungarian wood, luxe, mature, rich and just plain exceptional. Full and layered with elderflower that creeps in and out with ascent that distracts while enhancing the yellow fruit. Must be tasted to be understood how unique this truly is and how it celebrates this volcanic hill. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2023

Gilvesy Furmint Váradi 2019, Szent György Hegy, Balatoni
Single vineyard furmint from the vineyard planted just five years earlier and so ready so quick, as with the rizling from the same place. Anyone who thinks they know furmint and also they who know nothing about the great Hungarian grape must have a moment with Gilvesy’s finessed and precise work that truly expresses what grape and place will conspire to create. Furmint is “well-acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand,” and Gilvesy’s is that hand. Like happiness, furmint is a warm gun and when treated to the volcanics of the Szent György Hegy it becomes the eighth track on the white wine album of the Balatoni. Special does not begin to describe this fantasy. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted July 2023

Vineyards at Szászi Birtok

Szászi Birtok

Endre Szászi is one of the original winemakers of the Badacsony wine region. His family vineyard was established in 1999 with twp hectares, organic from the start, certified since 2003, now 20. Balontoni olazriesling is key, also grown in Zigliget and at the hills called Kesthely which are the Balaton Uplands where the soils mix with limestone. Main vineyards are here on the basalt hill and at Siglikat with other plots at Hajagos and Lesencetomaj, All wild fermentation, only bentonite for fining with filtration. Also natural wines, first Orange released in 2019. Daniel Friedrich is viticulturist and in charge of sales, amongst other things.

Szászi Birtok Zenit 2022, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Rozsakö 2022, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Kéknyelü 2022, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Kéknyelü 2019, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Szent György Hill Olaszrizling 2021, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Olazsrizling Szent György Hegy Rókaluki Vineyard 2021, Badacsony

Szászi Birtok Blanc De Noir Brut Nature 2020, Balatoni

Szászi Birtok Nyerspezsgö (Brut Nature) Furmint 2020, Balatoni

Szászi Birtok Pet Nat Cabernet Sauvignon 2022, Balatoni

Szászi Birtok Csokászölö 2022, Balatoni

Szászi Birtok Cserszegi Narancsbór 2022, Balatoni

Csobánc Hill

Villa Tolnay

Since 2004 Philipp Oser has been the owner and chief-winemaker of Villa Tolnay winery. Oser’s cantina is located at the foot of the Volcanic Csobánc hill and is actually the former residence of the famous Hungarian actress Klari Tolnay. Csobánc is one of the unique and peculiar monadnocks of Tapolca Basin, a coffin-shaped mountain befitting (especially) of riesling and olazriszling.  Atop the grassy plateau there rests the ruins of Csobánc Castle and a 360 degree view can be had over the Balaton Uplands. While some volcanoes in the area have conical or pointed peaks but Csobánc, like Badacsony and Szent György-hegy bear a flat plateau. The soil and terroir at Csobánc is volcanic basalt soil with ancient Pannonian sea sediment, on 23 hecatres for cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, olaszrizling, pinot noir, rajnai riesling, sauvignon blanc and zold veltilini (grüner veltliner).

Villa Tolnay Zöldveltelini GV Grüner Veltliner Selection Balatoni 2022, Csobánc

Villa Tolnay Olaszrizling Csobáncz Welschriesling Balatoni* 2022, Csobánc

Villa Tolnay Balatoni Rajnai Rizling Csobáncz 2022, Csobánc

Villa Tolnay Csobáncz Rizling Rajnai Kápolna-Domb Balatoni *** 2020, Csobánc

Hidden Treasures/A Moric Project NR3 Feat. Villa Tolnay Balaton 2020

Villa Tolnay Furmint Tükör Balaton ** 2020, Csobánc

Villa Tolnay Tenger Fehér Cuvée Weiss ** 2022, Csobánc

Villa Tolnay Furmint Méthode Traditionelle Extra Brut Balatoni 2020

Káli Kövek Borászat Winery

Borászat means “winemaker’s” and Szabó Gyula is the winemaker of Káli Kövek Borászat Winery in the Káli Basin of the Balaton uplands. Most of his graoes come from the slopes of  volcanic buttes made up of basalt fragments mixed with clay and brown earth. Structurally speaking the volcanic tuff and sedimentary rocks create soils of rich mineral and fossil content. A very Mediterranean climate with more than 2,000 sunshine hours yearly.

Káli Kövek Olaszrizling Rezedal PDO Válogatás 2022, Káli Basin

Káli Kövek Monoszló Jufhfark Pangyér Dülö 2022, PDO Káli, Káli Basin

Káli Kövek Zôld Veltlini 2022, PDO Káli, Káli Basin

Káli Kövek Furmint 2021, PDO Balatonfüred Csopak, Káli Basin

Káli Kövek Köveskál Olaszrizling Fekete Hegy Töltés Dülö 2021, PDO Balatonfüred Csopak, Káli Basin

Káli Kövek Szentbékkálla Pinot Noir Rosé Oreghegy Dülö 2021, Káli Basin

Laposa Birtok

The winery’s origins (back in 1978) are a merger between two families, a barrel maker (József Laposa of the Laposa family from Budapest) and a winemaker (Eleonóra of the Barabás family from Badacsony). Located on the side of Badacsony hill making mostly white wines, working with traditional, local grape varieties. The biggest plots are in Badacsony, Csobánc and Köves-hill. Production is approximately 500,000 bottles a year with a focus on welschriesling, rhine riesling, pinot gris, kéknyelű, furmint and juhfark.

Laposa Pezsgö Habléany Anno 1888 Methode Charmat Balatoni Brut

Laposa Pino Szürkebarát Badacsonyi 2022

Laposa Kéknyelü Badacsonyi 2022

Laposa Olaszrizling 4Hegy Badasconyi 2022

Laposa Olaszrizling Kápolna Badasconyi 2017


Csaba Török is the proprietor of 2HA Vineyard and Winery in the Badacsony wine region aboard the Szent György Hill on the north side of Lake Balaton. Török started with two hectares (thus the name) and is now cultivating a four hectare organic vineyard. One of the smallest operations and one that guarantees all the vines are farmed with special, personal treatment, further reflected in the wines that are produced. Csaba is a huge proponent of red varieties, including shiraz, merlot and sangiovese. This is clearly antithetical to most of the white wines made by producers on a number of basaltic terroirs but the future may just be red. One never knows.

2HA Olaszrizling Szent György Hegy 2022, Badacsony

2HA Pinot Gris “5” Szent György-Hegy 2021, Badacsony

2HA Pinot Gris Orange Szent György-Hegy 2022, Badacsony

2HA Cabernet Szent György-Hegy 2022, Badacsony

2HA Shiraz Szent György-Hegy 2019, Badacsony

2HA Sangiovese Szent György-Hegy Tabunello 2019, Badacsony

2HA Merlot Szent György-Hegy Courage 2011, Badacsony

PAP Wines

PAP wines is a small biodynamic winery making self-professed “vins de garage” style wines. It was founded by Aron Molnár and Karina Vissonova, who cultivate 4.8 hectares of vineyards with biodynamic methods. Pap is located on the south and southeast slopes of Mount St. George (Szent György-hegy) and their credo reads as “our job is to bottle this truth.” Their small selection is up to 8,000 bottles, crafted with low intervention and containing very low to no sulphites and no additives. The wines are matured in oak barrels on lees, unfiltered at bottling. They specialize in pinot noir and a ‘Bazalt’ cuvée, szürkebarát (pinot gris) and olaszriszling, as well as kéknyelü, hárslevelü, szürkebarát and olaszriszling for skin-contact wines.

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Szürkébarat Tuff Szent György-Hegy 2022, Badacsony

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Hárslevelü Jumis Szent György-Hegy 2022, Badacsony

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Olaszrizling Or(e) Szent György-Hegy 2022, Badacsony

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Kékmelü-Olaszrizling Don’t Tell Mama Szent György-Hegy 2021, Badacsony

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Pinot Noir Szent György-Hegy 2021, Badacsony

Pap Wines Balatonmeleki Bazalt Szent György-Hegy 2021, Badacsony

Somló Hill


Somló is an 832 hectare wine region (530 planted top vines) in Veszprém county, in the North-West of Hungary and is the smallest of Hungary’s 22 wine regions. Juhfark, a native grape that survived the phylloxera epidemic, is planted almost exclusively in Somló. Two modern day winemakers chose quality, they being Imre Györgykovács and Béla Fekete, opening a new Somló renaissance after decades of obscurity. Much is happening today and new winemakers are very interested in this singular volcanic hill. The 432m high Somló hill is surrounded by a flat terrain, formed four to five million years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption. The terroir is basalt and volcanic ash tuff, while the lower areas are mainly loamy loess. On this visit we were graciously hosted up on the hill’s cantina to a most informative and quite frankly comprehensively representative tasting by Eva Cartwright, long time procurer of Somló wines.

Somlói Vandor Pince Celli Dunántülu Juhfark 2021, Somló

Tornai Juhfark Grófi Top Selection 2020, Somló

Tornai Furmint Apátsági Top Selection 2020, Somló

Tornai Hárslevelü Grófi Top Selection 2020, Somló

Fekete Pince Hárslevelü Somlóí 2018, Somló

Fekete Pince Furmint Somlóí 2020, Somló

Fekete Pince Juhfrark Somlóí 2019, Somló

Fekete Pince Cuvée Somlóí 2019, Somló

Good to go!