Hungarian Viognier

November 14, 2007

Viognier for most people brings the association of France’s Rhone Valley or alternatively new world appellations, such as the Central Coast of California or Sonoma County. It is rarely grown in the old world outside of the Rhone. Some Hungarian wine makers have recently started to experiment with varietals that are not typical for the region, though most of these experiments have revolved around better known varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Rarely does the Viognier grape show up on the shortlist of grapes to invest in.

This is not the case with late wine maker Tibor Gal. Mr. Gal was one of the premier wine makers in this small country. He had decades of international experience in several well-known wineries spanning through South Africa to Italy. In the early 1990s he was the lead wine maker at Ornellaia, one of Italy’s most famous wineries, now owned by Robert Mondavi.

Mr. Gal’s passion was to revive Hungarian wine making traditions and put Hungary back on the International wine map as a leading producer, if not measured in quantity but quality. Indeed his work as a mentor and leader was a huge part of the recent International success of Hungarian wines. Unfortunately he passed away in an auto accident in South Africa in 2005 at the age of 46. He is survived by his son who is also a wine maker at the family winery. Luckily the tradition lives on and the winery and their product is stronger than ever.

One such top performing product is the 2005 Gal Tibor Viognier, for which the vines were originally planted by Mr Gal. This wine is a good example of taking a grape that is typical in one old-world appellation, plant it in another part of Europe and actually achieve fantastic results (not unlike some of the innovations Italian wine makers have done with French varietals.) The wine is plush (almost in a Vouvray style), has quite a bit of complexity, exotic fruit with a fair amount of wood used resembling new world style whites. To me it is between a Vouvray and a California Chardonnay if that makes any sense. I like it, though, my wife thinks the oak is overbearing. It certainly counterbalances, perhaps too much, any acidity you would get from the fruit. Nevertheless, I like the wine a lot and I have been a repeat purchaser over the past year.

By the way, if you happen to be in Hungary, the Gal Tibor winery in Eger is worth a detour for a day or so. They have a wonderful cave tour with tasting and snacks lead by English speaking guides.

Name: Gal Tibor Viognier, 2005

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 20 euros

Got it at: Decanter, Budapest, Hungary

Gal Tibor Viognier, 2005