Origin: Disputed… Traced back by DNA profiling to the Montenegro/Albanian border, where the Turkish variety Papazkarsi supposedly met with Serbian variety Skadarsko. Many countries still claim Kadarka as their own indigenous variety and to this day you can find it grown throughout big parts of south-eastern Europe. Hungary made it famous however, through its traditional Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger)

Grown: Hungary, Serbia, Romania (where it is known as Cadarca), Bulgaria (known as Gamza), Albania (known as Kallmet) and more

Climate: Demands the perfect climate, warm and sunny, but not excessively so

Soil: Sandy soils (which saved the variety from phylloxera during the big outbreak since phylloxera cannot thrive in sandy soils)

Viticulture: Late and uneven ripening, thin-skinned and very susceptible to rot and frost. Overall, a pain in the ass to grow, which is why its popularity has diminished the last 100 years. The second world war almost eradicated the variety since the demand cried for easy to grow, easily mass-produced varieties. Kadarka demands low yields, canopy management (to encourage even ripening) and a lot of patience, with the right conditions though, that patience will be rewarded

Hungarians farmers have a saying:

“If the Kadarka turns out well, all wines will be good”

Vinification: Green unripe grapes used to be used for white sparkling wines. Ripe Kadarka has generally been a blending grape, but with the new investments going into the vineyards, with better clonal selection and vineyard managing, Kadarka is starting to show its true potential and is often called Hungary’s answer to Pinot Noir. Oak aging is the norm and one can also in the colder vintages in Hungary find some surprisingly decent rosé wines from Kadarka

Regional names to look for on label:

  • Minis (Romania)
  • Eger OEM* (Hungary)
  • Szekszárd OEM* (Hungary)

*OEM stands for Oltalom alatt álló eredet megjal öléssel and is the Hungarian equivalent to a PDO wine

General Personality:

  • Colour: Blood red! Well okay no, the grape Kekfrankos was always the colour contribution to the Bull’s Blood, but Kadarka has a lovely rich red colour
  • Aromas: Sour cherry and cranberry, some spice and floral notes when the yields are controlled like chocolate and red capsicum (paprika or bell pepper, call it what you will)
  • Taste and Texture: Smooth but rich tannins, good acidity, overall well balanced with moderate alcohol
  • Conclusion: Historic variety on its way back. A pain to work with, but it would not still be around if it was not worth all that trouble. A nice alternative to all those countless (almost identical) Pinot Noirs you will find on the shelf, and by buying a bottle you will help support the little guy in the world of wine. As for the actual wine, at first impression it is noting mind-blowing. It is easy drinking and well balanced if done right. But then if you give it a thought you will find a hint of red capsicum, that makes the wine surprising and an amazing match to Hungarian food (since they love their paprika/capsicum)
  • Future: 5 to 10 years are not unreasonable if the wine was well made and aged on oak, but that is a matter of preference. Generally, a pure Kadarka is best the first years, since it often lives on its fruit and aroma profile

Food pairings:

  • General: Hungarian cuisine, goulash, langos, paprika are all sure bets. With its structure, balanced body and fruity, pure Kadarka wines are very food friendly, especially in regard to the rich Hungarian cuisine. Stay away from too heavy dishes (especially you meat-eaters out there), since the tannins are not overly robust. Otherwise you should have some space to play. My personal recommendations would be:
  • Obvious pairing: Traditional Hungarian Goulash
    So simple, but yet so delicious to veganise. And quick to do as well. If the weather is grey outside, the perfect warming dish, and with the richness from the tomato bass with the paprika spice, it just marries perfectly with a bottle of Kadarka. I matched it with this recipe. Admittedly, I also used a pinch of sugar (Italian style) to bring out the full flavour of the tomato and paprika combo, but be careful with that
  • On the wild side: Roasted Paprika Fajitas with Mexican Refried Beans
    Mexico and Hungary, who knew?! But truly an amazing match. Since Kadarka works so well with paprika (the staple product of Hungary), that also translates well to the Mexican/Tex-Mex inspired cuisine. Simple to make and perfect for an easy party food. Prepare the oven roasted paprika beforehand, make extra refried beans and used the left over as a dip later. So easy! The flavours match like they were made for each other, and the beans help to give the dish some body to match the wine. Be careful with the cilantro though! I love cilantro and easily add a bit too much, but too much cilantro with wine is never a good idea, you have been warned!