The history of Tokaj wine has been influenced quite significantly by non-Hungarian people over time. Not just commercially, with Tokaj being a celebrated and hugely exported wine, particularly to Poland, Russia and elsewhere, from quite early on, but also in terms of viticulture and winemaking. Major contributions were made by French / Walloon and Italian immigrants in centuries past. The post-communist era has also seen very significant foreign investment and influx of foreign, well-educated winemakers and consultants. France has been a notable leader in that respect, and of the nine producers that I visited on my scouting trip in April 2019, two were French, both having started with some of the large foreign investments in the area. The first one, Samuel Tinon, I wrote about in a previous post, and the second one, Stéphanie Berecz, is the object of this post.
Stéphanie arrived in the Tokaj area in 1994. She is from the Loire area of France, so no stranger to botrytised wine. Stéphanie started work at one of the major international investments in the area, during which she met her husband, Zsolt Berecz, who was a viticulturist at one of the major foreign undertakings. Together, they founded Kikelet in 2002. Stéphanie now devotes 100% of her time to Kikelet, while Zsolt still does viticultural consulting to a number of producers.
Kikelet currently owns some 4.5 hectares of vineyard, mostly in Tarcal, on the way from Tokaj Hill towards Mád. Soils are mostly loess, with sporadic volcanic intrusions. Vineyard names include Lónyai and Váti, which have now been well-established by Kikelet as excellent sources of quality wine.
Winemaking and ageing takes place in the couple’s refurbished 250-year-old house in Tarcal. This comes complete with lovely underground cellars excavated from the hill, which seem to have multiplied by way of budding over the centuries. As a result, the cellars are labyrinthine, and it is cumbersome to produce the wine there, but this is quite clearly not an obstacle to quality. The house also features a large, cosy tasting room and roof terrace with views over the surrounding countryside, including some of the estate vineyards, and room for major tastings and dinners.
Winemaking is deliberately simple, using indigenous yeasts and few, if any, enological tricks. Most wines undergo oak barrel ageing, but being French, Stéphanie is expert at it, and I detected no heavy-handed oak usage across the range. Alcohol tends to be restrained, but not by way of leaving residual sweetness in the dry wines, as these came across as quite dry.
Viticulture and winemaking are hard physical work, and when I arrived at the house, both Stéphanie and Zsolt were coming off hard and lengthy stints. Despite exhaustion, Stéphanie graciously showed me around the facilities, and we then repaired to the roof terrace to sample the wines.
It is, of course, a cliché that dogs resemble their owners (or vice versa), and I hesitate to apply that cliché to wine, but, nonetheless, at least in this case, there was a strong resemblance between Stéphanie and her wines. Stéphanie is very much the Frenchwoman, elegant, refined, gracious, but clearly with a strong backbone and a sense of place, of provenance; those exact same descriptors can be used for Kikelet’s wines.
This rooftop terrace tasting was a true joy, and left an impression of a deeply terroir-conscious, very high-quality producer. According to Stéphanie, work is still ongoing to properly define the character of the grape varieties and their interaction with the terroir and the seasons, but if you ask me, Kikelet has already arrived, with a portfolio of very accomplished wines that I do not hesitate to call world class.
My tasting notes follow. As usual, no colour notes, and no points scoring. They wouldn’t tell you anything relevant anyway. There is not much data on the wines. Like the other Frenchman, Samuel Tinon, Stéphanie tends to value the truth in the glass more than what the laboratory tells her. I can’t fault that. The wines are listed in the order in which we tasted them, as decided by Stéphanie. The order might seem paradoxical, but Stéphanie had a clear thought behind this, which was to show the different characters of the vintages while trying to tell me something about the underlying terroir variations. This was highly instructive.
Tokaji Furmint Birtok (estate) 2017
Rounded, somewhat neutral nose, with a bit of oak spice (not in any way overdone), lightly floral. Vinous acidity, dry, juicy, almost salty minerality. Good length. Very young still.
Tokaji Hárslevelü Lónyai 2017
Delicious, appley nose, lightly perfumed with flowers and citrus, tiny hint of hydrocarbon minerality. Juicy, minerally, fresh, broadens towards the end. Long, repeating the aromas from the nose.
Tokaji Hárslevelü Váti 2017
Barely ripe peach and rounded minerality on the nose. Quite powerful, rounded and dry, with vinous acidity. Excellent length, slightly reductive, with aromas of peach, sweet herbs and strong minerality.
Tokaji Dry Váti 2017
From the Váti vineyard. 80% Furmint, 20% Hárslevelü. Alcohol 12.5%.
Somewhat neutral nose, with minerality, hints of dry apple and dry spice. Very juicy / fresh / tight, slender, minerally. Very long, with scintillating minerality, fading away with shimmers of fresh citrus. Absolutely delicious.
Tokaji Furmint Birtok (estate) 2018
No data given, except that it had been very recently bottled.
Nose tending towards sweet peach, with florality and a yeasty-clayey character, minerality in the background. Fruity, juicy, dry, OK acidity, tending more towards fruity than tight. OK length, repeating the nose.
Tokaji Furmint Lónyai 2018
No data given, but presumably also very recently bottled.
Dry appley, slightly vegetal nose, quite intense, with hints of clay / yeast and minerals. Quite broad, much extract, very light residual sweetness. Long, rather intense and complex, with dry herbal hints.
Tokaji Hárslevelü Lónyai 2018
No data given, but presumably very recently bottled.
Peach, flowers, citrus, bright minerality; charming. Fresh, slender, juicy and elegant, very minerally. Long aftertaste fades away slowly, with aromas as per the nose. Delicious, elegant and charming wine.
Kikelet Pezsgö 2015
Hárslevelü 60-70%, the rest Furmint. Sparkling wine.
Nose of dry, slightly waxy apple, then hits you with great freshness and a hint of herbs. Dry, light, with mouthwatering, salty minerality. Good length, with flowers and minerality. Stylish, of the terroir.
Tokaji Late Harvest 2011
Hárslevelü 55%, Furmint 25%, Zeta 17%, Sárgamuskotály 3%. 5-6 months in oak barrels.
Big hit of fresh botrytis on the nose, with citrus, peach and mountain brook minerality. Quite dry, much extract, excellent acidity. Long, repeating the nose, with added powerful dry spiciness.
Tokaji Late Harvest 2017
Presumably same grape varieties and procedure as the 2011. Bottle had been open for quite a while.
Quite closed nose with hints of peach, light spiciness, light botrytis. Wonderfully fresh and creamy, with a hint of dryness. Length difficult to determine when the wine is closed down like this, but has dry spiciness.
Tokaji Szamorodni 2012
Same grape varieties as the Late Harvest, percentages not given. 2 years in oak barrels.
Delicious nose with peach, apricot, ripe citrus, fresh botrytis and minerality. Fresh, quite juicy, creamy, sweetness balanced by excellent acidity. Very long, repeats the nose + powerful hit of minerality.
Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2013
Little data given. Spent 2½ years in oak barrels. 151 grammes of residual sugar per litre.
Caramelly, creamy nose with dried apricots, botrytis and mild minerality. The mouth is fresh, including in terms of the fruitiness and sweetness, with excellent acidity to balance high sweetness. Great length, with slightly drying spice, repeating aromas from the nose + orange peel. Very well-balanced wine.
This was a highly involving and highly convincing tasting, showing the differences between the cooler, more slender 2017 vintage vs. the warmer, broader 2018 vintage, as well as the tighter, more volcanic Váti vineyard vs. the broader, rounder, more loess-y Lónyai vineyard.
Very impressive wines. Highly recommended.
Declaration of Interest: Apart from writing about wine, I am also a wine merchant. I do not at the point of writing import or sell wines from Kikelet.