It’s become popular in the media these days to talk about a ‘North/South divide’ in England, contrasting the poorer north with the richer south. It’s an interesting idea with some truth in it, although it’s not really as simple as that.
But I have a contrast of my own to put forward: in wine terms, the east/west split in Europe – between the unfashionable east (Germany, Hungary, Greece and the Baltic countries) as opposed to the fashionable west (principally France and Spain) with Italy lying somewhere in the middle.
For those willing to explore, there are some real delights to be found among the unfashionable – and, because the wines are generally less well-known, a few bargains, too.
Take the delightful St Donat Tihany Rosé from Hungary, for example (Novel Wines, £11.49). The pretty pale pink shade suggests a subtle, even neutral flavoured wine, but the colour is deceptive in that there is plenty of character in this delicious, dry rosé, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and the local speciality, Kekfrankos.
Grown in the Lake Balaton area in the west of Hungary, the vines benefit from 2 natural features: the influence of the lake moderating the climate and the low-fertility volcanic soil which limits the grape yield and so intensifies the flavours. The wine is completely unoaked to preserve its fruity character but then spends six months on its lees for extra texture and flavour.
The result is fresh and lively, full of red fruit flavours, particularly crushed strawberries, crisp, but with enough body to make it surprisingly food-friendly – a garlicky fish stew with tomatoes springs to mind.
Finally, a word about Novel Wines, from whom I bought this wine. They are a relatively young (started in 2016) Bath-based company who specialise in wines from smaller producers mainly from across central and eastern Europe (especially Hungary), but also have an interesting selection of English wines. If you are interested in exploring the unusual, you can find them at www.novelwines.co.uk and they will deliver.