A half-bottle of 1966 Bordeaux from a neighbourhood liquor store started Christian Sauska’s wine journey. Having escaped Hungary for the US in 1969 via a refugee camp in Italy, he arrived with nothing and worked his way up from factory floor to vice-president of a UVC lighting company. Christian then founded his own business and in 1998, together with wife Andrea (an economist specialising in tourism) decided to invest in wine in their home country. Tokaji was the obvious place to start as it’s so deeply embedded in Hungarian identity. Here they renovated the town’s casino, turning it into a boutique winery. Red wines came soon after with the establishment of the dramatic Sauska winery in Villány, Hungary’s best-known red wine region. Christian was born close by and sees this landscape as part of his heritage. A bottle of 1999 Cabernet Franc particularly intrigued him, and the grape has been an important part of the range, and of the Villány story, ever since.
Christian and Andrea are both industry outsiders and have therefore been open to new ideas and seeking help from consultants, rather than blindly following tradition. For instance, their 113 Cuvée from the Tokaj region expresses the terroir through a smart blend of non-traditional Chardonnay and Sauvignon along with local Hárslevelű and Furmint. A sparkling wine project has been a recent development, always using Furmint as the core of the blends supported by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, taking advantage of Tokaj’s naturally cool, vibrant acidity. Regis Camus (formerly of Piper-Heidsieck) is the consultant guiding their sparkling journey.
In Villány, Sauska has won multiple trophies for its sophisticated, expressive red wines. Here they have spotted the potential for finesse and elegance in the cooler Siklós sub-zone, historically overlooked for red wines. This is amply demonstrated in the Cuvée 7 Siklós which took gold at DWWA 2021, and the vivid purity of the Cabernet Franc Siklós. Sauska is also showcasing some of Hungary’s traditional workhorse grapes at a new level of quality; their supple, refined Kadarka is a good example, available in the UK.
In Tokaj, dry wines are a focus, and they have worked hard to redefine terroirs specifically for dry, rather than sweet wines. Two complex, weighty, mineral, single-vineyard wines are the outcome, with the Birsalmás (meaning quince grove) coming to the UK.
Sauska takes sustainability very seriously, supporting biodiversity reserves in the vineyards, and reducing agrochemical use. They have a herd of babydoll sheep grazing among the vines (too short to reach the fruit but good for manure). Offering sustainable jobs to local workers is also part of this story of social, as well as environmental, sustainability.
Sauska has a new distributor in the UK, Enotria & Coe, listing 11 of their best wines, and hope to persuade more people to explore Hungarian wine.