I was quite unfamiliar with the wines of Hungary, as I’m certain is true with most, because these wines are noticeably absent from retail shelves. A few years back, I was introduced to some of the exotic dry white wines made from the Furmint grape. This varietal originates from the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in northeastern Hungary and southeastern Slovakia. For centuries this grape has served as the backbone for dessert-style Tokaj wines, but more recently dry-styled Furmints have evolved into their own niche market. The white wines of Furmint have been ingrained into the Hungarian culture. Fast forward to the present as I recently decided to travel to Central Europe and the capital of Budapest. My curiosity got the best of me as I made some inquires with the Hungarian Consulate in Chicago regarding vintners near Budapest. They made an introduction for me as I had the opportunity to visit with Andrea Sauska of Sauska wines. Andrea and her husband Christian own two wineries along with vineyards in Hungary, one in the northeast region of Tokaj and the other in the southwest town of Villany, where they produce red wines. During my first day in Budapest, I sat down with Andrea at bistro Déryné in Budapest to taste through their sparkling wines. These méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, revealed the same alluring traits as the wines from Champagne. Made from Furmint, Harslevelu, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, these finely crafted sparklers showcased fine persistent bubbles with toasty mineral accents and a hint of smokiness.
The following evening I met up with Andrea’s husband, Christian at their residence in Budapest. Christian introduced me to a past repertoire of his red blends labeled Cuveé #7, Cuveeé #5 etc. produced from international grapes of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. My thought process on the wines from Central Europe was turned inside out. In many ways these reds were a mirror image of cru´ Bordeaux that I have experienced during my travels through France. They had a long, textured mouth-feel with a dense, fruit-driven, silky core that represented the true terroir of the region. As I tasted Sauska’s wines, I became more intrigued with how Christian evolved from this place in time.
From humble beginnings, Christian Sauska became an entrepreneur and self-made success story from the ground up. Along the way, he pioneered a new wine movement in Hungary and Central Europe. Born near Villany, Hungary, Christian left his family, immigrating to the United States 50 years ago at the age of twenty-one. With limited resources, he pursued jobs as a garbage worker and laborer in a leather factory in order to make a living.
Later, he would accept a position as an assembly line worker with an architectural lighting firm, which changed the direction of his life. He attended night school earning a BS degree in engineering and then an MBA. Over the years, Christian was promoted to vice-president within the company, then left to found his own lighting firm in 1983. Today, he holds multiple patents in the industry.
He was first exposed to the wines of France after purchasing a half bottle of Bordeaux from the acclaimed 1966 vintage. At that time, “it was an affordable way to splurge.” Over time he would expand his knowledge through tastings while still admiring the wines of Bordeaux and Cabernet Franc. Christian’s passion inspired him to embark on winemaking as an extension of his career. Upon marrying his wife Andrea in the late 90’s, they decided to establish their own winery in Tokaj, Hungary.
At Sauska Winery in Tokaj, Christian works primarily with Furmint and Harslevelu along with some Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. His winery in Villany was built afterwards with an emphasis on international varieties of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils in Villany are rich in minerals with limestone and dolomite. Christian sought perfection and spared no expense in using innovation with the best materials and resources to craft his quality-driven wines. Christian met renowned veteran winemaker and consultant Paul Hobbs during a visit to Chicago. Hobbs admired Christian’s sweet wines from the Tokaj and guided him through his early years of winemaking as a consultant. According to Christian “you can’t learn to make wine from books.” Christian released his first red wine in 2006. Afterwards, he hired Stefano Chioccioli, a distinguished oenologist and agronomist as a consultant for his project.
Renowned British wine writer, Michael Broadbent visited Christian in Villany, admiring his Cabernet Franc. Broadbent professed: “cabernet franc has found its natural home in Villany.” Christian has always believed that Cabernet Franc was distinctive in these soils. Perhaps, that is why the red wines from Sauska are so expressive, offering a sophisticated sensory experience. His wines are an artistic expression reminding you of something intricate, yet intellectual at the same time. Although admits that his wines are continuing to evolve.
Christian once remarked that he did not want to ride the same horse that everyone else was riding, but still wanted to look good on the horse. From my perspective, Christian Sauska has achieved his objective by redefining the wines of Hungary and taking his place in the history books of distinguished wines. He is making believers in the wine world that anything is possible with ambition and vision.