Kadarka: A Wine Well Outside My Comfort Zone

Adventures with Weird Wine Grapes

There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.


Nagyapám means "grandfather." János Eszterbauer (pictured in his vineyard in Szekszárd) says his nagyapám loved to drink Kadarka straight from the barrel, still cool from the cellar. [Photo: Eric Danch]

Dear Daniel, Your challenge peeved me. I knew I'd have no trouble making a pot pie. The problem was, I had no wine to go with pot pie...

Dan was one of my kitchen-partners in crime when I lived in New York City once upon a time. To stay in touch when I moved to sunny California, we designated certain nights to cook "together": the same dish, on opposite coasts.

Pot pie is one of my very favorite foods. I make it when I need to feel better about life, because it conjures up feelings of comfort, safety and a calm reassurance that, at base, the world is simple and beautiful. And this is why I always pair it with white Burgundy. White Burgundy is Chardonnay from France's Burgundy region. It is also my favorite wine in the entire world, similarly safe, reassuring, and beautiful.

Which is why I found it quite troubling that, in the midst of my endeavor to try as many obscure grapes as possible, I found myself with no simple and perfect white Burgundy on hand.

Disgruntled, I rebelled as far out of my comfort zone as possible. From top to bottom, the unpronounceable words on the label read:

Nagyapám Szekszárdi Kadarka 2011 Eszterbauer Borászat Szekszárd

The back had a promising four-word statement: quality dry red wine. Oh, good.

I looked up each word in Wine Grapes until I found: Kadarka. Jancis, Julia and José write:

Statistically Kadarka has been in decline in Hungary in recent decades but it is still popular with consumers for its medium body, gentle tannins, fresh acidity, lightly spicy aromas and overall elegance, with some similarity to Pinot Noir.

I know Pinot Noir! And I know from experience that it's terrific with mushrooms. So I threw a ton of wild mushrooms into my pot pie, cracked into the bottle and anxiously hoped for the best.

The wine pours out like liquid rubies: vibrant, translucent, stunning. It's spot-on as Jancis and team said it would be, light and lithe, smelling brightly of wild cherries, jasmine, damp earth, cinnamon and cured meat. My mother would say it had a "bite," which is what she always politely comments when there's more acidity than plush, rich fruit.

I LOVE it. I love it even better after a cool few minutes in the refrigerator. And I love it best in between huge bites of wild mushroom pot pie, its faint scent of fresh potting soil playing off the earthiness of the mushrooms, while that friendly "bite" bites right through the rich gravy and buttery crust, giving me an excuse to happily finish off a second helping.

Though I'm not spending my night with white Burgundy, I appreciate the comforting, simple beauty Kadarka offers—along with the reminder that no reward comes without a little risk.

2011 Eszterbauer Nagyapám Kadarka (Szekszárd, Hungary)
The Grape: Kadarka
The Region: Szekszárd, Hungary
Retail Price: $17
The Importer: Blue Danube Wine Company

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in the new Wine Grapes tome. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.