The gala dinner on 13 January, was hosted in Hunter Hall’s in the Parliament; a regular venue of ceremonial meetings, luncheons and dinners. The dishes were chosen to match wines selected from the North Hungary wine region.
Wines for the 13 January dinner, were provided by János Árvay (Tokaj), István Szepsy (Tokaj) and Vilmos Thummerer (Eger).
Wines and dishes at the gala dinner
1) The wine: Tokaji “Pecsár” Furmint 2009 (János Árvay, Tokaj)
Furmint (Vitis vinifera Pontian Balcanica), is an ancient variety which has been grown in Hungary since the 13th century. Though also found in Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Romania, it is most common in Hungary. The grape has dozens of synonymous names. An ideal variety for Tokaj Aszú, it is held in high esteem in the Tokaj Foothills, where Furmint harvests normally begin on 28 October, day of Simone and Jude.
By contrast, in 2009 Furmint was harvested in “Pecsár” field in early October. After fermentation in casks, the wine was aged in three-year-old and new 225 litre Hungarian oak barrels for eight months. The wine is medium-gold with a green reflection. To smell, the aroma is ripe quince, William’s pear, lemon zest and has a mineral character with a hint of smoke in the bouquet.
If, as the winemaker claims, a hint of smoke is detected on the palate, it is no surprise that an earnest scent of smoke fumes around “Stuffed pullet breast smoked in green herbs with apple ragout”, the starter chosen to match the wine. A faint scent of smoke on the nose and the palate is a charming approach to a breast of a sizeable young chick known as a pullet.
Thyme and rosemary were sprinkled on beech shavings to smoke the meat. Once briefly marinated, pullet breasts were stuffed with tomatoes cooked at 80°C for four hours with brown sugar, lemon, thyme, a hint of garlic and salt, then they were rolled gently in a mixture of minced parsley, thyme and rosemary. The dish was accompanied by vanilla flavoured apple jelly, made with agar-agar. A fresh composition with green flavours. A pleasant couplet of food and wine.
2) The entrée gave way to “Cauliflower cream soup with Mangalitza ham”.
Soups have become a tradition in Hungarian menus for more than two hundred years; soup eating is now regarded as a Hungarian culinary tradition. Hungarian soups are various and multifarious.
The current variety of cauliflower, which is assumed to originate from Asia Minor, was developed in Italy during the 15th century. By that time Furmint had been grown in Hungary for over two centuries. No wine was offered with the soup, but the Furmint served with the entrée harmonised surprisingly well with it, which justifies Furmint is an all-round wine for gastronomic purposes.
The soup was decorated with pumpkin seed oil and Mangalitza ham. Mangalitza is a protected pig breed native to Hungary. It belongs to lard-type breeds just as its famous relative, the Iberian Black. Hungarian ham making traditions, are at some variance with Spanish customs; which is why Hungarian Mangalitza ham has other merits than Jamón ibérico. The soup blended well with the pumpkin seed oil and the ham, both of which are in season now.
3) The wine: Vili Papa Cuvée 2006 (Vilmos Thummerer, Eger)
This wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties. It is produced exclusively from outstanding vintages and grapes grown in ideally located vineyards. The versatility of Eger is illustrated by top quality red wines from a district recognised by many as one that lends itself mostly to making white wine. The wine is young but already enjoyable; a concerto of appealing acids, alcohol and tannin.
The main course crafted as a companion to the wine was “Knuckle of lamb in its own gravy on oven-fried potatoes with crisp bacon and a purée of strained peas”. Lamb and mutton are a part of traditional cuisine in the region. Intensive sheep trading used to be a typical form of commerce between the Hungarian Plain and the Northern wine region. Several heads of sheep changed hands at Eger’s markets. Vine grower would buy sheep in the spring and raise them in their vineyards until the autumn harvest festivities, when stately mutton was served on the spit or from a marmite.
The knuckle of lamb was par-boiled to get an extra round of seasoning with anise and black pepper in melted butter just before serving. It complimented the potatoes sprinkled moderately with bacon and the frothy cream of peas. The wine was particularly in tone with the potatoes and the knuckle, less so with the purée.
4) The wine: Tokaji Szepsy Cuvée 2007 (Szepsy István)
This cuvée from 2007 is a blend of varieties and vineyards, and was the last to be distributed with the name of its maker. Fermented at length on its own yeasts, it is a classic blend of fine local varieties, including Furmint, Hárslevelű and Muscat Lunel. At this age, the aromas are dominated by 30 percent Muscat Lunel content, but the wine will change radically in the next ten years or so, to take on new features to please the palate and the nose. It contains 142 g/l of sugar. It is a dessert wine of the highest quality in international comparison.
Apricot desserts are a natural companion to this wine along with classic dishes (of goose liver and desserts). The accord between the dessert of the gala dinner, “Quark cheese strudel with apricots” and the wine drew exactly on this natural alliance. Quark cheese strudel is a typical dessert of Hungarian cuisine. It used to be a favourite, hundreds of years ago; as exemplified by “Layered Hungarian tort of multiple leaves” (ein Ungarische Turten mit viel Blettern), a late 16th century (1581) recipe published in German by Marx Rumpolt.
The dessert to crown the gala dinner, was a worthy alternative to present-day and early New Age strudels by virtue of its inventive shapes. The platter boasted strudels representing three distinct approaches: a miniscule quark and apricot strudel rolled in the classic New Age style; another one with pendants of red-currant and a dome of peach ragout hiding a mélange of quark cheese and crisply baked strudel layers; and a third variety, which was nothing but a cylinder of sweet cheese mousse holding ball of apricot marmalade in its hollow middle, perched on a disk of strudel layers.
The Balaton wine region is to host the Presidency’s upcoming events according to the schedule, with a new wine region, new wine districts, new wines and twinning dishes are in store.