Csaba Malatinszky could well be tagged Hungary’s Monsieur Cabarnet Franc. London’s respected Decanter magazine declared his 2010 Serena the best old world white wine of Europe.
The French in Medoc taught him how to be a wine grower and winemaker and he has made the most of it: Csaba Malatinszky could well be tagged Hungary’s Monsieur Cabarnet Franc; and as if that weren’t enough, London’s respected Decanter magazine grandly declared his 2010 Serena the best old world white wine of Europe.
Making unique wines, which Csaba Malatinszky believes, have to bear the invisible yet distinct signature of the winemaker, only happens if the vintner is personally, physically involved in the whole process. “The energy coming from the vintner is unique,” he maintains, which is why wines even from the same region, such as Hungary’s acclaimed Villány, can all be different … and of high quality.
He went to Medoc winemakers because he admired their wines. He worked with Bordeaux University to refine planting methods. He fell in love with Cabarnet Franc and he believed that Villány offered an ideal place to grow the grapes he wanted.
In the mid 1990s, he bravely borrowed investment capital for a five year term at the exorbitant interest rate of 28%. “I had the confidence to go for it. I believed in it.” He also opened a small but tastefully designed wine shop on József Attila street in the city, “which provided revenue and an administrative base.” It still provides both these things. It also provides an ideal place to conduct our interview, surrounded by bottles in wooden wine racks bearing identity tags.
Of the 120,000 or so bottles he produces each year, he exports between 60 to 70 %, mostly to Japan, China and the UK – in that order. He puts this down to good reviews from wine writers and judges, which feed his reputation. “In the Far East, packaging is also important, and our labels, incorporating my family crest, are classical, suggestive of tradition.”
At home, his one retail wine outlet offers delivery and mail order services, while wines with the Malatinszky label are available at fine restaurants, hotels, and even some chains like Tesco and SPAR.
Malatinszky has no intention of increasing the size of his vineyards, which comprise three blocks of 10 hectares each in the Villany-Siklós region, precisely because he wants to keep it small enough so he can keep his hands on the vines – literally.
He already had his hands on wine as Hungary’s first (and then only) sommelier at the famous Gundel restaurant from 1990 to 1994, when there was virtually no wine culture in restaurants. Prior to joining Gundel, Malatinszky was gastronomy manager at the Petneházy Country Club, which is where Gundel’s then general manager, Gábor Budai, spotted him and impressed with Malatinszky’s presentation of wine, offered him a job as sommelier. Initially Malatinszky declined. “I had invested a lot of energy into Petneházy to make it a sophisticated venue and didn’t want to walk away,” but when a little later there were management changes at Petneházy, he asked if the offer was still open: it was, he was welcome at the Gundel.
This was the post-communist era and the days of second rate wines made by nationalised wineries whose only foreign customers were other communist countries, receded quickly. A wine culture, absent since the war, blossomed. At Petneházy, Malatinszky was first to import wine cooler cabinets. They came from Germany, offering five different temperatures for whites and reds, to keep the wines at an optimum temperature. There were now proper wine glasses set on tables and consumers began to appreciate quality and the expanding varieties of wines.
The Malatinszky mantra is ‘organic’; “The whole property is organic and I am a certified organic producer,” he explains. He puts nothing into his wines that nature didn’t supply. “The details of geography, weather, soil, plants and the human influence combine to make up what the French call the ‘terroir’…”
He picked his vineyard locations for their suitability for the reds that would make his now celebrated Cabarnet Franc, “but I discovered that because of the chalk in some areas, we could also make whites,” and as the Serena 2010 proved, superb ones. (Serena is a blend of chardonnay, cabarnet sauvignon and a dash of muscat.)
Appropriately enough, he called his first label Le Sommelier, a tribute to his days at Gundel, which proved to be of great value, giving him access to a network of contacts and the ability to explore the vineyards and winemakers of France.
“I always had a wine in my head,” he says, “and it all starts with the soil and the vines. I was looking for an extraordinary place to grow and make Cabarnet Franc. Villány is it.”
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