Interview with Péter Bessenyei

“I like these dry wines much more than any other”

How did you come to discover Mád wines? What’s the link?

I began to learn the wines of the world in a friend’s cellar in Paris 30 years ago. Till then I’d drunk all sorts, wine too, but never appreciated it. He started to show me how to approach a wine, what you can look for and find in wine, its beauties, its faults. So, my love of wine dates back to then. For a long time French wines were the top for me, partly because I started there, partly because they have a great image and marketing. Then, as I went further into the world of wine, I began to discover wines from the new world, from Italy and so on. But in the last 15 years I’ve found that if I want a truly delicious wine, then I come home to Hungary. I don’t dispute that there are great wines elsewhere, but Hungarian wine culture has developed so well in terms of quality and the value for money is unbeatable.

Everyone knows Aszú, but it’s not a wine for drinking every day. It’s perfect for the right occasion or as an aperitif, with dessert. Some 10, 20 years ago I hadn’t really heard of dry Tokaji wines. They must have existed but they weren’t typical. In the last few years I’ve discovered dry wines here too. And I like these dry wines much more than any other. Since discovering them I have moved towards white wines. If you’d asked me a while back what wines I like, I’d have said it depends on the occasion, the season, the time of day, the food or mood. A light rosé in summer, a full-bodied red by the fire in winter. But today I’d say I lean towards fuller, more exciting, more mineral white wines. If I want to drink a substantial wine, then a Tokaji Furmint or Hárslevelű, perhaps their cuvee, are closest to me. And this is where Mád comes in because I think it’s the centre of the Tokaj Wine Region. Perhaps here are the most beautiful vineyards and the land gives the most beautiful wines. Obviously very lovely wines come from other parts of the region too but if we speak of the region, then Mád pops into my mind. So, when we come with friends or foreign guests to the region we always come to Mád.

What drew you to Mád?

Fundamentally the wines. A village might be beautiful but as a wine person I don’t go there unless there are good wines. I’ve had some great disappointments abroad when I’ve not been able to properly get to know the wines of a famous wine region when there. In Hungary you have wine cellars, atmosphere and environment in Mád, Villány and Szekszárd. Mád is a refined place with a great atmosphere and I love that so many good wineries are just a short walk from each other. All this plus beautiful apartments, hotel and cuisine. Everything for a wine lover.

You’re a regular guest at events in Mád and also came to the Tokaj Women and Wine Ball.

We’re always happy to go. It’s an honour to be invited. These events are like a wakeup call for those who don’t know there is wine and Tokaj. Tempting, they capture people who then they tell their friends. So events are very important. For those already inside they attract attention and add life. Those that don’t organise similar events can be forgotten, fall out of circulation, though maybe not immediately.

What do you think about our main variety, about Furmint?

I’m biased. It’s the world’s most beautiful white wine. Since I discovered it I look for it in every white wine. Of course, I gladly drink other good wine too, but Furmint’s roundness, minerality and incredibly wide range of flavours give an exciting experience that hardly any other white wine can offer. If we have to go back to basics as to what wine to drink tonight, then Furmint stands right at the front. And nearby, maybe on the same shelf, is a delicious Furmint-Hárslevelű cuvee which can be so varied, beautiful and rich, slightly rounder more charming in character than pure Furmint.

I am a wine knight in Jerusalem in Slovenia too. I know its wine regions and the Sipon variety – which is how they call Furmint – but if they hadn’t told me, I would never have recognised it. It’s a decent wine but it cannot be compared to Tokaji Furmint. I’m the rogue who always takes a bottle of Hungarian wine with me, usually Aszú and Furmint, and it takes people’s breath away. The assets, the soil, the aspect and the technology have been developed over the centuries and I have to say it is a miracle. I’ve tasted many sweet wines in the world but only Tokaj gives a sweet wine with minerality and acidity that is so complex. But do prove me wrong!

You are not only one of the most famous Hungarians, you are also practically our wine ambassador.

Hungarian winemakers are creating superbly and the value for money is unbelievable. We can’t compete in terms of quantity but we should aim for the narrow band who are looking for quality and rarity because Hungary would be a good supplier for this market.

You meet with such people every day. Do you think this market exists?

Because I see the value I can’t help offering Hungarian wines to our foreign guests and they are astounded. They never believed such existed. I try to shake them up by tasting with them and they’re amazed at the price too.

What does the 15 years of the Tokaj Wine Region as World Heritage mean to you?

I think it’s totally correct. I’d be amazed if it wasn’t.

Updated: 2019.06.05.

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