“The deer, the wild boars the birds…. they all come and eat the grapes. It’s biodynamic!”, Norbert Borbély says chuckling. “There’s not much we can do.” His smile beams from under a thick, neat beard. I’m in Nyékládháza, in a little known wine region called the Bükk. Equidistant between Eger and Tokaj the Bükki Borvidek, or “Bükk Wine Country”, was once the nexus of regional wine trade. Evidence can be found nearby, in the city of Miskolc, where hundreds of cellars sit carved into the Avas Hill overlooking downtown. A 10 minute drive south of Miskolc and you arrive in Nyékládháza, a town known to locals more for it’s lake than for wine. Yet just off the main road, up and over lazy hills and past stone fruit orchards, the Gallay vineyards lie nestled in a gentle, sheltered valley.
I’ve been living in Miskolc coming on three years now, and I’ve visited quite a few wineries around the country. Strangely enough it never dawned on me to visit the ones in my own backyard. When I learned that Blue Danube Wine was exporting Gallay’s wines to the U.S., I knew I had to visit.
Not one cloud disrupts the blue above, below a lush green valley bathes in morning sun. Arriving at a cluster of small structures surrounded by a sea of vines, I’m greeted by an Australian Shepherd mix and two burly men. Roland and Norbert Borbély are instantly likable: easy going, friendly and funny. The brothers are dressed casually, ready for vineyard work. We exchange pleasantries and they lead me up a row of vines. “Zenit and Pinot Blanc,” Roland tells me, referring to the clusters of golden/green grapes dangling at knee height. “As you can see, the yield is really low.” Indeed, the vines are hardly burdened with fruit. “And of course it’s all about the soil,” he continues. “Yeah,” Norbert adds. “We’re on very deep clay and limestone here that you really feel in the wine.” The soil beneath me is soft, earthy brown with flecks of stone scattered about.
Roland Borbély is the driving force behind Gallay. 15 years ago he began experimenting with winemaking in his parents’ garage. He has worked for Pajzos in Tokaj, Kovacs Nimrod in Eger and has done work in Napa Valley, too. Speaking with him I sense he has a very clear vision on what he wants to do. And perhaps more importantly how he wants to do it. “My vision is to put this region back in fame as it was. And Gallay should show and represent our and this regions best,” Roland writes me in an email. Working on 11 hectares, including vineyards like Pittyén in Nyékládháza, Zúgó in Mályi and Lippa in Miskolc, Gallay produces both whites and reds.
Roland’s father József is the vineyard manager. In the early nineties he bought the first half hectare parcel, which has since expanded to the current estate. He is a small, tough looking man who seems like he knows how to build, and or fix everything. He also seems like an archetypal grandfatherly type with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Norbert Borbély has just returned home after 16 years in California. He exudes a low-key west coast vibe, balanced by typical, razor-sharp Hungarian wit.
The Borbélys have big plans for Gallay and for their slice of paradise in Nyékládháza. Big plans, however, don’t mean big things. More than anything the family seems to know that less is more and keeping things small, simple and unique is best. Roland and Norbert point down the valley to a wild section of trees and brush. They tell me about hundred year old pear trees and thermal springs beneath our feet. About how the region used to be carpeted in grape vines before the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic. Norbert shows me an old map on his phone depicting the effects of phylloxera on Hungarian wine regions; Bükk wine country was almost completely devoured. What catches my eye, however, is the size of the blotch on the map: this was once a serious chunk of wine producing earth (around 20,000 hectares).
These days things are much different. Locally the wine trade never truly recovered from the louse invasion. Obviously it must bee tough to make ends meet with such a limited supply. Not to mention wine coming from a region most have never heard of.
At a homemade wooden table we sit down to a breakfast of Hungarian charcuterie, cheese, vegetables, eggs and of course wine. The whole family, including mom, dad and Roland’s fiancee join in.
My tasting notes below are quite limited as I spent more time enjoying the company than writing. I may not be an expert but at this point I can certainly taste quality. Roland is quite liberal with his use of oak. Yet, the wines speak for themselves: elegant, balanced, precise and expressive.
Bistronauta Fehér 2015
Gallay’s daily pairing wine is actually anything but ordinary. Pinot Blanc-Zenit blend. Fresh and light with green fruits like pear and apple on the nose. Gooseberry and maybe some peach skin in the mouth. Definite mineral component from the soil here. A little touch of lees to smooth out rough edges.
Bistronauta Rozé 2016
Very fresh and raw still. Subtle aromas of rose petals and lime. Very crisp and lively with some serious zing. Fermented with wild yeast. 100% Zwiegelt.
Fehér Burgundi 2015
Still a touch of sulfur on this one. Aged for 20 months in oak barrels. Very fresh with aromas of peach and apricot. Acidity is balanced by a nice slice of buttered toast. Needs a bit more time, though.
Gallay Blanc 2013
50/50 blend of Pinot Blanc and Zenit. Aged for 12 months in blended new oak barrels. Citrus, peach and golden apple. Toasty, creamy, buttery. Vanilla. Structure and balance are impeccable. Will get even better, perhaps (not the best tasting notes but this was my favorite of the whites).
Zweigelt Zúgó dűlő 2013
1/3 open tank fermentation of full grape bunches. 2/3 open tank fermentation de-stemmed grapes. Aged for 27 months in oak barrels. Raspberry and spices on the nose. Barrel aromas almost overwhelm the fruit at first whiff; opens up with some airing. Earthy, spicy and has surprisingly distinct acidity. Cloves, cinnamon and strawberry.
Zweigelt 2013 Lippa dűlő
Matured in 300 liter Hungarian oak barrels. A richer offering than the Zúgó. Strawberries, sour cherry, cloves and sweet tobacco. Earth, fruit and acidity level out the barrel influence.
Kékfrankos 2013 Czigléd dűlő
I hadn’t really thought about Kékfrankos being a big wine; concentrated, robust and complex. This one is just that. Fermented in an open tank and matured for 27 months in oak barrels. Vanilla, black cherries, black plums and some baking spices. Barrel notes are pronounced as is tannin. Quite viscous. This one will develop quite nicely in the bottle.
Gallay’s wines can be found in some of Hungary’s best restaurants, bars and shops Click here to view the list
In the US: Blue Danube Wine