The four emblematic Balaton hills are Badacsony, Szent Győrgy Hill, Csobánc and Somló. All four hills are volcanic buttes, with basalt bedrock covered with sand and clay. These hills were once famous for their own individual character; one of the greatest Hungarian philosophers of the 20th century (Béla Hamvas) wrote of this in his classic ‘The Philosophy of Wine’:
When I’m appointed to the university department of viticultural science, I’ll be able to lecture for half a year on the differences between the BADACSONY and SZENT GYÖRGY HILL wines. This is a textbook case of how two great wines can be similar and yet different. BADACSONY wine is like a world-famous artist, SZENT GYÖRGY HILL is like an artist who has barely moved out of his room during his life, yet has created a greater work than he was celebrated for. Both have greatness, but one is Olympian and the other Chinese, I’ll call it Tao greatness. It is strange how little I am able to decide between the two. I had already decided on the SZENT GYÖRGY HILL wine, but when I drank a glass of Badacsony Rizling, then I was for that; then I swore by BADACSONY, but only until I reached SZENT GYÖRGY HILL. After all, what is to prevent me being both Greek and Chinese? Somló wine is a lonely drink. It is so full of the oil of creation’s ecstasy that it should only be consumed in a sufficiently deepened, definitively quiet, poised solitude. Of course, I would like to say that, although every serious hill wine is for those above forty, but also suitable for the young, Somló wine is the wine of the old man. The wine of the wise men, those who have finally acquired the greatest knowledge, the light.
Three of the four hills (except Somló) are located in the Badacsony wine region. The core of the all in all 1,500-hectare wine region is comprised of five buttes, or witness mountains, but there are also vineyards here where there is no basalt among their rocks. Here, Olaszrizling is a truly important variety, together with Szürkebarát, or Pinot Gris, and the increasingly rare Kéknyelű.
I have left the basalt volcanic butte furthest from the Balaton till last – that is, the independent wine region of Somló. Mihály Vörösmarty, one of Hungary’s greatest romantic poets, called this hill God’s forgotten hat and this term is really rather appropriate.
Barely 600 hectares, it’s the only hill in Hungary surrounded by vineyards, as they are also cultivated on the northern slopes. It also includes two small protrusions, Kis-Somlyó and Ság-hegy; when these are included the wine region’s name changes to Nagy-Somló, whilst Somló Hill itself has its own protection of origin. In the whole of Hungary, the terroir here is the most capable of completely overwhelming the variety. Somló wines usually have high acidity and complexity and can even be aged for up to 20 or 30 years. What’s more, it’s a crime to open a classic Somló wine young. Only a few varieties are permitted on the hill; marketing rather concentrates on Juhfark, but Olaszrizling, as the most reliable variety, plays a major role here too.