When you come to Budapest for the first time, going to wine bars to try out different Hungarian wines might not be the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, you probably go to one or more ruin pubs to experience the unique nightlife in Budapest, where the wine list is usually limited to a very few types of wines. So the only place where you might come across a wine list is at a restaurant, and since you’re probably puzzled about all those unknown wines, you will ask the waiter to suggest you something that would go well with your dinner. However, we definitely suggest you to make a proper discovery of Hungarian wines during your visit. Kadarka Bar is one of the best wine bars, where you can not only learn about Hungarian wines, but can also meet locals and have a great time. We asked the owner, Árpád Laurenczy to tell us about Kadarka and about Hungarian wine in general.
How did you become interested in wines?
It all started at Jardin de Paris, where I worked for two years. I was very lucky because thanks to the French owner, I had the chance to take a wine course, where I tasted an incredible amount of wines from morning to noon, and after a short break, we continued until the evening. While the others were real experts and sommeliers, I was a complete beginner. I remember in the first class, when I had a glass of red wine front of me and was asked to tell the age of the wine, where it was from, and the types of grapes that it was made of, I just wanted to leave right away. Then I looked around and saw that the door was too far and my coat was hanging in the other end of the room, so I stayed. 🙂 I was thinking “is this serious? “What is wrong with these people?” Then after the 10th day, I started to understand what it was all about. I completed two of these courses and since then, somehow I’ve always ended up creating the wine list wherever I worked. So by the time I opened Kadarka, I knew a lot about Hungarian wines and the winemakers as well.
What’s the story behind Kadarka?
I was working at Menza for 8 years. I really liked it but after 8 years, I realized it was time to move on. I used to drive by a design store on Király Street every morning while I was looking for a parking spot. And every time I saw it, I was thinking this place should be a bar. In 2010, the design store was closed down and then we opened Kadarka in September, 2011. It was not easy as I didn’t have any investor behind me. So since the beginning, it’s been a sort of step by step project: when I have some money I spend it on something that needs to be fixed or I buy something that is urgent.
What is the concept behind Kadarka?
It’s basically about tasting wines and that is why we serve very small amounts, too, called “half a glass” (7cl) and “full glass” (1.5 dl). So at Kadarka, people can try many types of wines because we have about 100 bottles open at the same time. In an average restaurant, there are about 30 wines on the list but only have about 5 bottles open. The problem is that very often, those wines are pretty mainstream and you can only taste the rest of the wines if you order the whole bottle. At Menza, we tried to have more bottles open, so we changed the wine list every month and had about 16 bottles open at the same time. What is great about Kadarka is that since we have close to 100 bottles open, there are many options for tasting different wines, which means it’s easier for our guests to develop their own tastes.
So does it mean that you have a lot of regular or returning guests?
Yes, we have a lot of regular guests and many of them ask right away what is new on the list that day. Of course we don’t have something new every single day, but we do change the wine list every two week.
How can you handle 100 open bottles?
It’s not easy, and we do have to throw out some wine eventually. We use an electric vacuum preserver, but still sometimes we have to open a new bottle if the wine is not good anymore.
I’m assuming at a wine bar like Kadarka, you only have the best sommeliers.
Not at all. Of course, everybody who works at Kadarka has to know the wines, but it doesn’t mean that they are overqualified. In fact, the message behind the name “Kadarka” is that it’s Hungarian, it’s simple, it’s easy to understand, and it’s not snob at all, so it’s very much like the Kadarka grape. At Kadarka, everything is simple and laid back and it’s also true for the service. Also, we never educate the guest, in other words we never tell our guests what they should think about certain wines. If they have questions or they want to know more about the wines, then of course we give them more information, but it’s not our goal to tell the guests what they should think about the different wines.
How do you create the wine list?
I think it’s very important that we include wines on the list that our guests would be happy to drink. Here is a good example: I’ve been often told that the wine Irsai Olivér shouldn’t be on our wine list because it’s not considered to be a sophisticated wine. However, I think I should also be able to serve those, who do not know much about wines and whose taste is not sophisticated enough yet for a more complicated wine. Then of course if I see some returning guests who were drinking Irsai Olivér last time, I might ask them if they want to try a Cserszegi Fűszeres or some other rosé. So I want to make sure that Kadarka is a place where everybody can enjoy themselves and the wines, of course.
Do you only have Hungarian wines?
We have mainly Hungarian wines, but we also have wines from the neighboring countries. I prefer not to include wines that you can find anywhere, such as Chilean wines, so we rather focus on the Carpathian Bases, because those wines are less well-known.
Do you see any changes in the way how people taste and drink wine nowadays compared to some years ago?
I remember 20 years ago, you could order semi-sweet and semi-dry red wine or, even sweet red wine. Today, if you want to order semi-sweet red wine at a restaurant, the waiter thinks that something is wrong with you. So in a sense, there is a very specific trend of what kind of wine you should drink. But I think at some point there will be a balance between what the experts think and what people actually want to drink.
If you had to introduce a foreigner to Hungarian wines, what would you say?
It’s quite difficult to give a general introduction because in Hungary, there are over 20 wine regions. So I usually keep it very simple: for instance, if I talk about wines from the Balaton region, then I don’t start talking about all the regions around Lake Balaton because it would be too confusing. Usually foreigners don’t know anything about Hungarian wines so they are often surprised about the quality. Also, travelers who come to Budapest only know about the cheap beer and they are never told that they should try our wines, too. So probably that’s why our guests are mostly Hungarians or expats living in Budapest.
I know it’s a difficult question, but do you have a favorite Hungarian wine?
We have 90 wines on the list now. I’ve tasted all of them and of course I think all of these wines are really good, so I prefer not to point out any specific wine. In general, I really like full-bodied red wines with beef but if I just want to enjoy wine then I prefer full-bodied mineral wines, matured in oak barrel from the Somló or Tokaj regions. Cheese and smoked ham are both excellent with those wines.
Address: 42 Király Street, 1068 Budapest view map
Open: 4pm–12am Mon–Sun