There are few dishes that make cold weather more bearable than Hungarian Goulash. This paprika-spiked beef stew was a staple in my house growing up--simple, warm and satisfying--though I doubt my mother, running around after two kids, ever started hers the night before. Decades later, in the small, Technicolor Czech town of Český Krumlov (which used to be part of the Hungarian empire), the savory, tomato-y smell of Goulash drifting from every restaurant in aromatic vignettes lead me to eat my first red meat in 10 years. Hints of caraway added a maltiness to the dish that paired perfectly with a crisp pint of locally-brewed Budvar or Budějovice pilsner, which was cheaper than water. And the fluffy dumplings, little nebula of melt-in-your-mouth doughy goodness, added textural contrast to the chewy strands of beef.
We don't get too many cold snaps here in SoCal, so now that the February heatwave has given way to chillier temps (it was in the 40s this morning), I'm digging on stews and braises while I can. But rather than pairing last night's rustic Goulash soup (I used an recipe from an old issue of Gourmet since my mom can't find hers) and dumplings with a bottle of Czechvar (what Budvar is called here in the U.S. because of the obvious issues with the original's similarity to Budweiser, a cheap imitation of the style), I decided to explore some of the new Hungarian offerings on K&L's shelves.
While the dumplings were steaming and my husband finished his crunch-intensive workout, I sat on the couch to watch and sip on a glass of 2008 Szöke Pinot Gris Mátraalja ($9.99), from the southern slopes of the Mátra mountains, about 30 minutes east of Budapest. The locals have been cultivating wine grapes on these mostly volcanic soils since the 11th centurym where the influence of the nearby mountains creates a unique microclimate that is perfectly suited to aromatic whites. The Pinot Gris from Szöke is a case in point. More like an Alsatian version of the varietal, this wine has lemon oil and mandarin aromas lifted by honeysuckle scents. In the mouth it is remarkably full-bodied for Pinot Gris, with lots of citrusy fruit and juicy acidity.
To pair with the Goulash, I turned to a K&L's last bottle of 2007 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos, also known as Blaufränkisch, from a growing region called Sopron, near the Austrian border in Western Hungary. The wine comes from an old family winery owned by two sisters, Birgit and Katrin Pfneiszl, (their dad is Austria's Franz Pfneisl of Austria's Pfneisl United Vineyards) who got their 27-hectare Hungarian parcel back from the government after the fall of communism in the region. The winery is currently transitioning to organic viticulture. The 2007 had a little less grip than the 2009, which we now have in stock. Vinified and aged in 70% stainless and 30% old Hungarian barrique, the wine has lots of cherry and blackberry fruit, tangy acidity, mushroom earth and a spicy black pepper kick that matches nicely with the goulash's sweet paprika heat. The acid in the wine was also able to stand up to the substantial tomato-y acidity in the soup. A decidedly more sophisticated pairing than the when washed down with beer, this duo would be a welcome warmer for Sunday supper or a small dinner party.