The initials food and wine writers duly add to the end of John Szabo MS stand for ‘Master Sommelier’. Mr. Szabo was, in fact, the first Canadian to earn this distinction, which merely signifies what everyone in the Toronto wine trade already knows: the man knows his wines. But, it’s one thing to be a taster, describer par exellence and quite another to know how to make a decent bottle of the stuff. Ever ready for a challenge, Szabo decided to start making wine when he met Dr. Janos Stumpf, a local wine grower, on a consulting trip to Eged, Hungary, in 2002. Tapping his Hungarian heritage, Szabo decided to make wine with Stumpf and his boutique operation, J & J, is making about 5,000 cases a year of red wine with the indigenous Kékfrankos grape. Jamie Drummond and I caught up with Szabo last week as he poured his just released 2007 vintage. – Malcolm Jolley
2007 J & J Kéfrankos Egri Hungary
A noticeably dense wine that brings the two single vineyard parcels (Sík and Eger) together in a glorious harmony, with the two different expressions of Kéfrankos marrying to create a wonderful whole. Dark cherry, wild berries, and spice dominate on the nose. On the palate one finds a firm tannic profile, wonderful lingering acidity, and felicitous marriage between Hungarian oak and intense dark fruits.
2006 J & J Kéfrankos “Sík” Eger Hungary
This was the standout wine for me. An immediately appealing freshness and vitality jumped from the glass with lifted fruit, savoury notes, smoke, and spice components that had me placing the wine alongside either the more herbal of Burgundies or the taut and lean Syrahs of the Northern Rhône. Pronounced acidity sits with a weave of splendidly assertive but supple tannins. The Hungarian oak is present but plays bully with neither the seductive fruit profile nor the stoney complexities that the volcanic soils of the Sík site bring to the glass. A delight to drink now but will develop with a few more years in bottle, shedding a little of the wine’s most appealing youthfulness whilst evolving into a classic expression of the Kéfrankos varietal. Track some of this wine down if you can, you will not be disappointed.
2006 J & J Kéfrankos “Eged” Eger Hungary
Hailing from what is historically regarded as one of the very best sites in the region, I found this wine to be a little closed and impenetrable when tasted after the Sík bottling. Darker and more austere than the previous, it also exhibited a distinctly muted plummy dustiness that had me puzzled at first. While this wine certainly showed its pedigree through fine fruit intensity coupled with a defined mineral character (courtesy of the limestone soils of the site), I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps it needed a few more years in bottle for it to begin to develop and show at its best. I’d certainly like to revisit this wine in a year or so as I feel it needs some time to move on from this slightly dumb phase in its life.