Three vintages of a rare wine: Szentesi Csóka 2013, 2015 and 2017

Photo: magyarkonyhaonline.hu

Csókaszőlő or simply Csóka is an almost extinct old Hungarian variety, which was probably the dominant red grape here 500 years ago or so. For the XXth century, not much of it remained, but thanks to József Szentesi’s mission of saving the old varieties, it is now coming back slowly.

I was lucky to try three vintages of his Csóka recently. Quantities are so tiny that it’s bottled into 500ml bottles and it’s not easy to get them. My impressions? This is a variety that’s worth focusing on. They are made in quite a pure style, in a low intervention way common to all of József’s wines which on one hand results in a bit restrained wines, but on other the hand it allows the variety to talk. Csóka has a lovely character: aromatically it resembles a bit to Sangiovese and Kékfrankos perhaps, with some similarities in structure too. It’s a medium-bodied, savoury red, a bit more tannic and less acid driven than Kékfrankos. I would love to see more producers experimenting with it.

Szentesi Csókaszőlő 2013

Unknown storage conditions. Declining. Fully developed, with forest floor and licorice aromas. Losing it’s body, drying up. It can be still pleasant to drink with a pizza. Drink up. 80 points

Szentesi Csókaszőlő 2015

The star of the trio. A ripe and bold style for Csókaszőlő, but still quite pure, no new oak or heavy extraction here. Aromatically restrained, dark and tart, resembling to some Italian reds with its licorice and dried sour cherry notes. Medium to full bodied, with ample substance and structure, yet it’s effortless. Lovely, marked tannins on the finish. Built almost like a Southern Rhone red, except it’s less ripe. Has some complexity to it too, but it’s the personality  what I love. 89 points

Szentesi Csókaszőlő 2017

Probably the lightest color for this wine this vintage. Undeveloped, muted, though aeration helps a bit. Some herbal notes, then a grapey character emerges with air. Better on the palate, starts with a Pinot-like easiness, and builds up to a firm finish. Unforced, yet has a nice structure, I especially like that it’s built on tannins, not acidity. It’s quite pure, but lacks complexity at this point. Hold. 87 points

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