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The Hungarian Wines of the Sauska Family


Sauska Wines was founded by Christian Sauska.  It is a family run winery involving Christian and his wife Andrea.  Christian began producing wine in the early 2000s and with a serious interest in developing the winery he employed Paul Hobbs as a consultant from 2003-2009.  In 2009 he brought on Stefano Chioccioli as consultant who has focused much attention on the indigenous varietals.  Christian produces wines using a blend of indigenous and international varietals.  The fruit is sourced from and also produced in two different locations, Tokaj in north-east Hungary and Villány  in the south-west.

Christian Sauska, Image from Sauska Wines

Christian Sauska, Image from Sauska Wines

In Tokaj, Gábor Rakaczki is the winemaker and Stefano Dini is the Vineyard Manager.  The Tokaj vineyards are the older of the two with 80% of the vineyards 15-20 years old and 20% 1-12 years old.  The older vines show more terroir so they are often used for single-vineyard wines whereas the ever-changing young vines are typically blended.  The Tokaj vineyards are actually spread across 23 sites encompassing some 70 hectares.  The vineyards are located at 160-240 meters on brown loamy soils with volcanic rocks.  The separation helps insulate against hail damage, rain, and disease but it complicates vineyard work and the harvest.  These vineyards are planted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Hárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály, and Pinot Noir.  The vines are trained regular cordon because the volcanic soil retains and releases heat.  Too low a training would make for dirty grapes when it rains and increase the difficulty of vineyard work.  The vineyards are farmed to reduce chemical use and to be extra careful for vineyards meant to experience botrytis.  They even employ horses in the steeper areas.   The wine is produced in a centuries old building located in the center of Tokaj.  This building is a historic monument which already had an old cellar.  Though they faced many regulations in the conversion to a winery they are now able to press the grapes above street level so they can employ gravity to move the juice to the cellar.  To help keep the cellar clean they use germicidal lamps instead of chemicals.

Volcanic Soil in Tokaj, Image from Sauska Wines

Volcanic Soil in Tokaj, Image from Sauska Wines

In Villány, Laszlo Latorczai is the winemaker and Peter Pohl is the Vineyard Manager.  The Villány vineyards  were mostly planted in 2004 and 2005 though there is one Merlot vineyard named Kopár which was planted in 1992.  They have recently planted Kadarka.  The vineyards are spread across six sites encompassing some 60 hectares.  The Villány vineyards are located at 150-300 meters on limestone, clay, and brown loam.  These vines are trained medium-high cordon though they are experimenting with Guyot.  There are also some bush vines on the higher elevation vineyards which are difficult to reach.  They employ a combination of ground cover and plowing and periodically switch them up.  The ground cover is particularly important to minimize evaporation in the steeper sites.  Sometimes they even employ straw bails.  The wine is produced at a new winery with the first vintage being 2006.  The fruit and juice from these vineyards are kept completely separate until they are fully raised.

With the indigenous varietals they use a mixture of massal and clonal selections.  In Tokaj they are working with massal selections of Furmint and in Villány clones of the indigenous Kadarka.  During the communist era many different clones of Kadarka were used because it was suitable for mass production.  They are currently studying 15 different clones together with the University of Pécs and the Heimann Family Winery in Szekszárd.  For the international varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc they used French and Italian rootstock and clones.

Barrels in Tokaj Cellar, Image from Sauska Wines

Barrels in Tokaj Cellar, Image from Sauska Wines

The 2010 vintage was extremely rainy in both Villány and Tokaj so the major goal was just to save the fruit.  The 2011 vintage in Villány was well balanced with a long ripening period.  The 2012 vintage was a challenge in Villány.  Though Villány is the most Mediterranean region in Croatia the heat is uneven and dramatic.  This vintage brought intense heat which caused the young vines to suffer.  They do not use an irrigation system so the older vines with deep roots fared better.  August brings further troubles with annual storms and hail which inevitably destroys fruit.

Three of the Sauska wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.  The 2010 Sauska, Cuvee 113 seems to show its volcanic origins with stone notes in the mouth.  It was the 2012 Sauska, Villányi Rosé and the 2011 Sauska, Cuvee 13 which were  my favorite of the three.  The rosé had an attractive, vibrant color which made way to hard red fruit, chalky minerals, and texture.  This may be drunk through next year’s release.  The later Cuvee 13 featured acidity driven flavors which combined with the tannins to stick to the mouth.  I would be tempted to keep this in the cellar until winter.  Many thanks to Andrea Sauska along with Laszlo Latorczai and Gábor Rakaczki for answering my many questions and providing images for this post.

Sauska1

2010 Sauska, Cuvee 113, Tokaj – $18
Imported by Opici Wines.  This wine is a blend of 60% Furmint, 17% Harslevelu, 11% Chardonnay, 9% Sauvignon Blanc, and 3% Yellow Muscat.  The fruit was fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts, underwent malolactic fermentation, then aged for six months in 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak.  Alcohol 13%.  The color was a light gold straw.  The nose was very finely textured with aromas of white fruit.  In the mouth the flavors were tart at first than they became tangy with a little weight spreading throughout the mouth.  There were firm, whiter fruit which with air took on an earthy note, dried herbs, and stones.  It maintained the crisp start with lots of acidity in the throat.  ** Now – 2016.

Sauska2

2012 Sauska, Villányi Rosé, Villány – $14
Imported by Opici Wines.  This wine is a blend of 50% Kekfrankos, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot.  The fruit was fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts then aged 1-4 months in stainless steel tanks.  Alcohol 13%.  The color was a light to medium, brilliant copper, pink, rose.  The nose was enjoyable with red fruit and some lees.  In the mouth there were lots of acidity at first then flavors of hard red fruit with chalky minerals.  There was a little weight to the fruit.  Cherry flavors came out with warmth and revealed the wine to have a more structured style.  There was a chalky, textured aftertaste.  ** Now – 2014.

Sauska3

2011 Sauska, Cuvee 13, Villány – $19
Imported by Opici Wines.  This wine is a blend of 37 % Cabernet Franc, 37 % Cabernet Sauvignon, and 26 % Syrah.  The fruit was fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts, underwent pump over, punch down, and delestage.  It underwent malolactic fermentation then was aged four months in a combination of stainless steel and used French oak. Alcohol 14%.  The subtle nose eventually revealed a low-lying mulberry aroma.  The initial flavors were surprisingly good with acidity driven black and red fruit causing salivation.  The firm red flavors were integrated into the firm structure which had good, grapey tannins.  All of this stuck to the inside of the lips.  The wine was tart and textured in the aftertaste.  *** Now-2018.

Sauska4

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