Exiting Budapest airport from terminal 2b the wrong way down a one-way street was not a good start to the weekend. However amid the blare of angry and surprised motorists the car backed up and we sped off in the right direction feeling the heavy weight of embarrassment on our shoulders. Two brisk hours later and with the Sat Nav completely foxed by the new motorway we were heading south from Budapest and arrived in Villany where the prenuptial dinner of Stefanie and Peter was to be held at the winery. Reflecting on the months leading up to this point, and the intervening ten days since I swam with my phone and we dressed the house at Zebergeny,I remember the months of shopping, shipping, restoring and more shipping which have at last come to a crunch moment. The wedding and all the inherent brouhaha are upon us.
We pull in and park. The buildings are modern and sleek, built of stone in the traditional manner. We are immediately greeted with wine and the ultimate snack; grilled white sourdough bread, sour cream and a lavish coating of truffle shavings. The pale brown leaves looking for all the world like the debris from sharpening a pencil. But the taste is far from woody. The oil on the bread converses elegantly with the sourness and freshness of the cream and the whole pays copious homage to its noble leader and purpose the truffle. As I sit on the terrace looking out at the bright sunshine which rolls across hills of neat vine rows, I cannot think of anything to complain about. A glass or two later and we are swept off up the hill by Laci (Lazlo) who runs the vineyard. He is a graduate, some (but not many) years back, of the oenology course in Budapest. But in truth he is the scion of a local wine maker. But not a grand one, his father never bottled wine. He grew vines, made wine and sold it in his own two bars. Barrels mounted on shelves, glasses and robust bread, fat and salami. That was his father's life through the communist era. He lived, worked and flourished away from the rules and regulations of totalitarian life. He had recently retired and spends his days mainly sailing on Lake Balaton. His life continues to be simple and unadorned. Laci is full of respect and admiration for his father and yet he is also ambitious to achieve something extraordinary with the wines he is making. He is young, academic but hugely physical and enthusiastic. His clothes are a testament to his energy being covered in bits and pieces of grapes, vines and soil. He is an intense dark haired Hungarian who speaks with frustration, annoyance but deep love of the local terroir and the issues of taming and making wine from the local trouble maker grape Kadarka. The grape ripens erratically, has thin skin and irregular quantities of juice. But when handled judiciously it creates an intense dark wine which reminds me of the black volcanic wines of southern Italy. He moves on and we admire the friendly merlot. It is a regular, well behaved, reliable grape. He claims to greatly prefer it. I am not sure. His sensible side obviously drives him to avoid the Kadarka, but it is in his soul, part of his DNA.
An amazing supper follows, sublimely transcended by a pre supper snack of roughly chopped roast chicken doused in a light gravy fashioned from a reduction of over 30kg of chicken bones, and then enriched with salty butter and white wine. This light snack is then further embellished with more truffle shavings. We eat, we talk, we drink and a reverent calm falls over the company. We all know we are beginning a minor marathon and this is but the appetiser.
The following morning disappears as we spend a long time looking for my wife's telephone. She is convinced we left it on the plane. We cancel the sim, we tell the insurance company, we ring the airline. Having achieved all this, she finds it in a pair of trousers. We repeat the whole previous exercise in reverse. So much for the morning.
We head off to Zebergeny. The drive is beautiful and calm. Wide open fields gradually give way to low hills and finally after Budapest we get into woods and proper high landscapes. We arrive to greet a military operation of tents, waiters and gardeners and everyone is in a high state of anxiety. The brides dress is hanging in her room. A vision in white supplied by Vivienne Westwood that the bride and Mrs Sungoose have been working on over several rushed visits to London. Szolnay pottery has been unpacked and is being placed around the house. I wander around, not really doing much but, answering questions and making decisions that no one else is prepared to. It all seems to be rolling into place. The family retire and we install ourselves into the local hotel. Dedicated, it seems to the heroic efforts by the owners to making wild boar and deer extinct locally. I have never seen so many trophies adorning the walls of anywhere. They are set against a vivid orange that won't take second place.
The day arrives and we are all ready. The troops gather at the charming village 1900s painted Catholic Church. It is full full full, the aisles charged with the standing guests. The bride arrives, the service takes place. They are married. They weave through the crowds and ride back to the house in a horse and carriage. Then we have the blessing. They are married again in English this time to cater for the other half of the party. At this point the mayhem properly starts as a band from New York who play southern Dixie style music burst the solemnity with a passion. The bassist playing an instrument fashioned from string, a white bucket and a sawn off broom handle. He plays it with a ragged black leather driving glove. This serenade is counterpointed by the Hungarian gypsy band, who are wonderful. However, our friend Ernst quietly goes up and slips them a ridiculously large tip. Despite being an average age of at least 60, they proceed to go nuts. They play insanely well and though taking the occasional break they delight us all until about 2am.
To talk of wine, tears, food, dancing and speeches is to diminish an evening/ night of some of its splendour. But candid, intense and tireless is the Hungarian way. No prisoners are taken. And though we bailed at 3 there were still folk partying hard and occasionally in the pool until way, way past dawn. The particular detail of a Hungarian wedding is the bride changes her dress after midnight from white to red. No metaphor there! And she then must dance with every man at the party. This is quite an effort for a bride who has been married twice that day and has been partying already for 8 hours. But Stefanie did it and we all applauded and shouted as mightily as we could.
We head back to London the next day, back to reality, and plans for the Masterpiece show of European Treasures at Fine Art Asia. Hong Kong has never felt so far away.
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