Hárslevelű is one of the oldest grape variety from Hungary; a real Hungaricum. How to taste the wines made from this grape variety? Basic rules of wine tasting etiquette are almost exactly the same for all wines. However, there is a characteristic assessed during tasting, which specifically refers to vine varieties: this is known as varietal character.
Varietal character and expressiveness
Varietal character is the totality of characteristics that are generally attributable to the wines made from a given grape variety. The term is closely linked to terroir that refers to the extent to which a wine renders the typical characteristics of the wines made in the same region. These two terms are sometimes merged into the term expressiveness in the literature, which is a criterium for assessing to what extent a wine renders the typical characteristics of the wines made from the given grape variety in the given region.
Professionally speaking, varietal character is important because it is an essential determining factor of wine quality according to several methodologies for wine evaluation. A wine that is expressive of its grape variety is often valued more than a wine that is not expressive of its grape variety, i.e. it does not reflect typical characteristics, and, with slight exaggeration, it does not have an identity.
Nevertheless, not only wine experts, but also wine enthusiasts need to learn the term: once you have learned to identify typical characteristics of the wines made from a grape variety, you will have a better chance of choosing a wine to your taste from a wine list containing unfamiliar wines in a restaurant or when buying wine.
Varietal character cannot be assessed in case of wines made from more grape varieties, i.e. if a wine is a blend where no varietal is dominant. There are pure varietal wines that do not carry varietal designations, i.e. they are not expressive of their grape variety. A wine that is partially expressive of its grape variety displays certain characteristics typical of its grape variety, while a wine that is expressive of its grape variety allows to clearly identify its vine variety.
What characteristics are attributable to a typical Hárslevelű wine?
- Intensity of odour: high
- Aroma and flavour: notes of lime tree blossom and lime blossom honey; aroma of spice, pollen, and elderflowers; chestnut, allspice
- Sweetness: It shows a good capability to accumulate sugars. Dry styles of Hárslevelű also often have residual sugar. There are many medium-dry or sweeter wines made from the grape Hárslevelű. It is susceptible to noble rot in the right weather conditions and is an important grape in the production of Aszú wines.
- Acidity: refined and subtle, however it may display markedly crisp acids due to early harvest (or volcanic soil)
- Body: full and relatively round
You can learn to identify the characteristics of grape varieties by tasting as many wines as you can and by making notes.
Wine tastings where you can taste several wines made from a given vine variety offer wonderful opportunities to do so. If you wish to become more familiar with Hárslevelű wines, the Night of Hárslevelű Wines that is an annual wine tasting festival offers a great wine tasting opportunity.
- Mészáros G., Rohály G. and Nagymarosy A., Bortankönyv — a Kárpát-medence borai (Handbook of Wines — Wines of the Carpathian Basin), Budapest, Bormatura, 2012.
- Schuster, M., Essential Winetasting – The Complete Practical Winetasting Course, London, Mitchell Beazley, 2009.
- Bognár K. and Mercz Á., Szőlőművelés, borkészítés (Viniculture, Winemaking), Budapest, Mezőgazda, 2002.
- Rohály G. (ed.), Magyar borok könyve (Book of Hungarian wines), Budapest, Akó, 2001.
- Geri Á., ‘Hárslevelű: árnyékból a fényre – Tévhitek és meglepetések (Hárslevelű: from Shadow to Light — Misconceptions and Surprises)’ Vinoport, 17 August 2017,Vinoport, 2017-08-17.