From the 19th century on many literary works mention the Szekszárd region and its reputed wine. It was János Garay who first referred to aged Szekszárd red wine as Bikavér in his poem Szegszárdi bordal in 1846. Many great artists were inspired by this wine including Franz Schubert who was allegedly enjoyed Bikavér while composing his famous Forellen Quintet. Franz Liszt composed his Hungarian Rhapsody No.8 in Szekszárd. As an „ambassador” of the wine region he sent some bottles of Szekszárd Bikavér to Pope Pius IX. eliciting the following words of praise: „This is what keeps my mind and body sound”.
The greatness and diversity of Szekszárd red wines including Bikavér can be traced back to the diversity of soils and microclimates of the interlocking hills which make up the wine region. The soil is basically Pannon sand and loam loess with various lime content mixed with yellow and red clay. The higher the red clay content the more valuable the plot is.
Traditionally the dominant variety of the region was kadarka with a share of 70% in all vineyards. Besides the wide range of kadarka clones diversity was upheld by plantings of kékfrankos, portugieser (a.k.a. kékoportó) and cabernet sauvignon which were treated en masse as a kind of field blend. To make Szekszárd Bikavér’ grapes picked at optimum ripeness were used.
Kadarka is an essential ingredient of Szekszárd Bikavér, with its special fragrance and flavours it is the binding force that holds the blend together. However kadarka can be too much of a good thing; when used in larger proportions it can become too prominent and overbearing which goes against the ethos of Bikavér. The unique character of the blend rests on two pillars: the strong presence of kékfrankos with its vibrant and playful acidity and the distinctive spiciness added by kadarka.
Szekszárd Bikavér should contain at least four different grape varieties. The backbone is provided by at least 45% of kékfrankos and 5% of kadarka. International varieties such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are also allowed however their share cannot exceed 40%. Further varieties are also approved with a maximum share of 10%; for classic Bikavér these varieties include alibernet, bíborkadarka, blauburger, malbec, menoire, mészikadar, pinot noir, portugieser, sagrantino, syrah, tannat, turán, virághegyi and zweigelt, in the premium segment syrah is also allowed.
At all quality levels Szekszárd Bikavér spend at least 12 months in barrels and it is an important stipulation that regardless of the type of barrels chosen by the winemaker strong toasty and oaky notes are undesirable. In terms of ageing the difference between classic Bikavér and premium Bikavér lies in that the latter cannot be launched earlier than on the 31 December of the second year following the harvest.
By crafting Szekszárd Bikavér a deeply traditional wine local winemakers not only express their affection towards the region’s past and acknowledge their roots but also demonstrate how precious kadarka and kékfrankos can be not only as varietal wines but also as blending partners. What is the right food match for Bikavér? The first thing that comes to mind is game especially roe deer, then stews and all kinds of paprikash, the real classic of the region being kakaspaprikás.