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Summer Fröccs At Lake Balaton!

By Hungary Today // 2016.04.12.


BALATON! What comes to your mind when you hear this word? Sunshine, water, sailing, volcanic hills, quaint villages, water sports and the sound of music? And perhaps one more thing: wine! Ernest Hemingway said that „wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” If this is the case, then the northern shores region of Lake Balaton is certainly one of the most civilized places on our globe. Most adults – Hungarians or foreign visitors – who will flock to the lake this Summer are likely to visit one of the Balaton region wine cellars. And while sitting at lakeside after a long stroll or swim, they are likely to try one of the spritzers that are created by mixing a delicate proportion of wine and club soda. The „fröccs” as Hungarians call it, or spritzer (in German) is the most prevalent drink types as it is cooling, refreshing and mesmerizing at the same time. For locals, it is also a matter of economy. My old time buddies – Ákos and János – are good companions for a local fröccs at Alsóörs or Balatonfüred at lakeside. Old stories are being rehashed as we sip and savor a long step (hosszúlépés) and try to cool our bodies embroiled in the Summer heat. Two other friends, both named Pali, often join us down here and share their stories of the week. Sándor, Imre, Zoli, Csaba and Andi spice up the local mix and add some variety. And, of course, a multitude of foreign tourists and ex-pats come here as well to taste some of the local wines.

A fröccs or a hausemeister (superintendent in the U.S.) typically costs around 50-75 cents at any local pub around the lake. It has some alcohol content (typically spruced up by a riesling-type white wine), but the water nicely dilutes the wine and makes your body absorb it faster. Therefore the fröccs is great for wine lovers as local police wannabees often try to clean drivers’ wallets by sticking a breathalyzer in their mouth. I never understood how confiscating people’s money would teach them to be „better citizens” or deter them from drinking less wine or consume fewer spritzers. Zero tolerance is ridiculous, moreover, it is unreasonable and ruthless. The mandatory alcohol check is a remnant of communist times reminding us that old habits die hard, particularly when it comes to the authorities. So, my advice to visitors and locals alike is:



There are three major wine regions on the northern shore of the lake:

The Balatonfüred-Csopak district spans a 12 km-long strip between Zánka and Balatonalmádi on the northern shore of Lake Balaton. It is a distinct part of Balatonfelvidék geographically, which is also a wine region of the same name. Administratively, the district includes the localities of Alsóörs, Aszófő, Balatonakali, Balatonalmádi, Balatoncsicsó, Balatonfüred, Balatonszőlős, Balatonudvari, Csopak, Dörgicse, Felsőörs, Lovas, Mencshely, Monoszló, Óbudavár, Örvényes, Paloznak, Pécsely, Szentantalfa, Szentjakabfa, Tagyon, Tihany, Vászoly, and Zánka. The climate is the tempered continental type. The angle of the slopes and the articulation of the terrain have produced some excellent microclimates in the area. The wines from Csopak and Balatonfüred owe their distinctive acidity to these calcareous soils. White wines obviously predominate, with most wineries relying on the olaszrizling variety for their flagship wines.

The Balaton-felvidék (“Balaton Highlands”) designation refers to the section of the northern shore that stretches from Keszthely to Zánka, with the separate appellation of Badacsony wedged in between. Administratively, the district includes the following communities: 1) Balatonhenye, Hegyesd, Köveskál, Minszentkálla, Monostorapáti, Szentbékkálla in the Kál subdivision; 2) Balatonederics, Csabrendek, Lesencefalu, Lesenceistvánd, Lesencetomaj, Nemesvita, Sáska, Sümeg, Sümegprága, Zalahaláp in the Balatonederics-Lesence subdivision; 3) Balatongyörök, Cserszegtomaj, Gyenesdiás, Hévíz-Egregy, Rezi, Várvölgy, and Vonyarcvashegy in the Cserszeg subdivision. The climate here is bordering on the sub-Mediterranean. The olaszrizling grape claims the largest growing area and the deepest historic tradition, almost to the point of making the Balatonfelvidék a monoculture. It is followed by chardonnay and szürkebarát, as well as rizlingszilváni, tramini, and zöldveltelini.

The Badacsony district, located on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, include Szigliget, Gulács, Tóti, Szent György, Csobánc, and Hajagos Hills in the Tapolca Basin and the adjacent Kál Basin. The microclimate is sub-Mediterranean owing to the sheltered aspect of south-facing slopes and some heat reflected back by the surface of Lake Balaton. The prevailing soil type is loam mixed with weathered basalt. The grape varieties grown here include olaszrizling, szürkebarát, rizlingszilváni, kéknyelű, rajnai rizling, tramini, ottonel muskotály, zeusz, kékfrankos, merlot, and even syrah. In the wake of the phylloxera devastation, Badacsony was a long time a near-exclusive white wine area. But a handful of growers decided to nurture some worthy red wine grapes.

The grapes from Hungary’s Lake Balaton are unlike any other in the world—and the local wines taste very special. Centuries ago, Hungary’s wines were the envy of the world. However, conquering powers and other factors drove the wine industry to stagnation. After the fall of communism, Hungarian winemaking is now undergoing a new renaissance. Unlike Spain’s and South Africa’s, Hungary’s grapes aren’t the big, ripe reds that are fashionable worldwide. Instead, they’re quirky, temperamental, and mostly white. Many of these white grapes, some of the best, referred to as Hungaricum, are grown most successfully on the northern shore of Lake Balaton.

Balaton, an hour-and-a-half drive from Budapest, is one of the largest and shallowest lakes in Europe—a sizable cigar-shaped puddle that extends about 50 miles, southwest to northeast, across the Pannonian plain. A simulated seacoast for millions of landlocked Hungarians, it serves a plethora of recreational needs. We can try riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and other types of wine here. Acidity and a stripe of minerality are characteristic in these wines. There are some nice cabernet franc–zweigelt red wines to be found on Tihany peninsula. This red wine, however, does not compare to the deep-spirited wines of the Villány and Szekszárd regions.

Somló mountain is a bit removed from the lake between Tapolca and Veszprém, but it is worth a visit as it offers some of the best white wines in the country. A hundred years ago, an experimental method was invented to blend forty types of grapes and vinify them together at Somlóhegy. But most have disappeared. Some of the creative names remain like csomorika, kövér, and sárfehér. However, those grapes are rare to find these days. Sándor Márai’s favorite wine was the juhfark from Somló.


Benjamin Franklin said: “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Galileo described wine even more succintly: “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” And what do Hungarians say traditionally? „The truth is concealed in wine!” (Borban az igazság).

Adam Topolansky