St. DonatusA Wine Lover's Weekly Guide To $10 Wines - A Grapey White From Hungary

Very early in this series I reviewed a quite inexpensive Hungarian Rizling, also spelled Riesling. Now it's time to review another Hungarian white, based on the unknown Irsai Oliver grape. Given its name, we may assume that these grapes come from near Lake Balaton, the Hungarian sea southwest of Budapest. Given its price, we may assume that these grapes don't come from valuable lakefront property. Of course, this may all be a marketing ploy and the grapes may in actuality come from a totally different region of Hungary. I don't read or speak Hungarian, so I'll probably never know. By the way, please don't be shy about communicating your knowledge; I'll be glad to update this article.

Just a few words about Hungarian wine. Arguably the world's finest dessert wine is the Tokaji. The tsars used to drink the top of the line bottles. The Esszencias are out of sight, but the Puttonyos can be great. The higher the Puttonyos number; the sweeter and pricier the wine. Depending on your budget, look for a 4, 5, or 6. And now back to our $10 wine.

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed St. Donatus, Irsai Oliver Balatonlellei, 2007 12.5% alcohol about $10

Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Irsai Oliver is a cross between the Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba grapes. It was originally produced as a table grape, but proved to be quite adept at creating flavorful, Muscat-like wines. This floral, Muscat and spearmint-scented wonder is an excellent example of the wine. Enjoy it with Thai shrimp on a bed of spicy noodles. And now for my reactions.

My first sips revealed a wine that was light and yet long, with refreshing acidity. The initial meal consisted of barbecued chicken recooked in a stew pot with sliced potatoes. The wine remained long. It was grapey; not exactly a complement in my book. A spicy tomato salsa simply overpowered this wine.

The next meal centered around an omelet. The Irsai was nicely acidic without overpowering the eggs. It half lost its acidity when faced with an artichoke dip. How much can one say about a relatively tasteless meal accompanied by a relatively tasteless wine?

My final food pairing involved a packaged vegetarian lasagna covered with grated Parmesan cheese. The wine was acidic and fruity and went well with the tomato sauce, but it was far from forceful. For dessert I had a slice of high-quality French style lemon pie with a very buttery crust. The wine remained acidic but was too weak for the pie.

As usual, I finished the tastings with two local cheeses. In the presence of a Marbled Cheddar the wine was quite floral. But it didn't mesh with the cheese. With a Havarti, the Irsai became rounder but still didn't really go with the cheese. I am not a great fan of wine and cheese pairings and saw no reason to make an exception in this case.

Final verdict. I won't be buying this wine again. But I will go for some Hungarians, probably red next time around. And sooner or later, I'll get another bottle of Tokaji.

In his younger days Levi Reiss wrote or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but he prefers drinking fine German or other wine with the right foods and the right people. He teaches computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his global wine website with a weekly column reviewing $10 wines and new sections writing about
(theory) and tasting (practice) organic and kosher wines.