Fekete Bela Harslevelu 2013
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Sometimes we come across wines that seem to good to be true, and this is one of them: the last vintage of Hárslevelű from Bela Fekéte, aka ‘the grand old man of Somló.’ Bela is a nonagenarian who is respected as one of the finest winemakers in this region of Hungary. Somló is the site of an ancient underwater volcano, vines planted around its dome, rising out of the surrounding plain like some kind of destination for heroes in a Tolkein fantasy. It has been home to viticulture for 2000 years and it is Hungary’s smallest but most serious appellation for dry white wine. The wines from Somló are quite distinctive, due in no small part to the unique volcano they come from.
Fekéte’s 100% Hárslevelű delivers on all of these regional peculiarities: fresh sun tea, tangerine, and birch beer notes are matched with an umami that is reminiscent of dashi and chicken stock. This is a complicated, salty, savory wine to be sure, but somehow it remains lifted and refreshing: that is the secret that makes Fekéte’s wines so exceptional. His vineyards are said to have a ‘secret garden’ quality that is messier than his neighbors and yet informed by experience. Long, slow aging in 1200L Hungarian oak also helps with longevity. This wine is from the 2013 vintage, after all, and the fact that it still seems so alive is downright magical. Pair it with anything salty and savory, like Thai peanut sauce, hummus, or pan-fried pork chops. Jonathan Kemp