Central Europe
Ben Bernheim
Apr 2022

Hungarian Olaszrizling or Welschriesling 25 to look out for

Olaszrizling is Hungary’s most widely-planted quality white grape, and is not the same as Riesling, known there as Rhine Riesling, or Rajnai Rizling. It produces a crisp, light, fairly non-aromatic white wine with a clear mineral structure.

Origin of the name

1500 years ago, Anglo-Saxon invaders arrived in Britain, and called the Britons Wēalas, which today gives us Wales, the Welsh, and Welschriesling.

The term Wēalas comes from Walhaz and the Volcae, a Gaulish tribe whose name later came to be used by Germanic tribes to describe any Latin-speaking Celtic people in the Roman Empire. Its meaning was generalised to ‘Latin speaking foreigner’, drifting from there on to simply ‘Latin’.

This gave us Wallachia, Wallonia, and indirectly even Gaul. It also gave us Welschriesling, or Latin Riesling. Olaszrizling is simply Hungarian for Italian Riesling.

Every little area of central Europe claims Olaszrizling for itself, with many convincing theories suggesting that it is indeed appropriately named, and comes from northern Italy. It is mostly absent from Italy today, concentrated instead in the former Austro-Hungarian empire and along the Danube.

It is most widely planted in Croatia, where it is known as Grasevina (4500ha). There are quite significant clonal differences across the area, and the styles are not necessarily directly comparable. In Austria it is known as Welschriesling, which is the name it goes by the most internationally. It's fairly in common in Moravia and Slovakia too, where it goes by Vlašský Ryzlink, but 'vlasky' is thankfully still widely understood!


As Olaszrizling, it produces crisp, sharply acidic wines with gentle, almost neutral fruit which allowed it to be harvested late to produce off dry and sometimes almost sweet wines. As the fashion for this style faded away a wave of ‘improving’ in the early 2000s left many Olaszrizlings either big and flabby or plain acidic and neutral and as such were poorly regarded.

In recent years there has been a move to restore this variety to greater glory, possibly influenced by the rise in popularity of dry Furmint. The grapes natural acidity is often extremely high, often balanced by intense ripe fruit - delicious during a meal, but the high acidity can be heartburn inducing during a long tasting, especially when tasting younger wines. A few producers brought out some older vintages which showed great balanced charm.

Although fairly common across Hungary, it is most widely planted around Lake Balaton (Europe's largest lake) in the west of the country, where it is even at the centre of Balatonbor, or ‘Balaton wine’, an initiative to produce straightforward Olaszrizling made in tank - no oak - in order to show the influence of the different terroirs around the lake.

Olaszrizling can convey terroir quite well, for instance adopting tropical fruit and pineapple aromatics on the northern volcanic shores of Lake Balaton, and crisper mineral notes in the South.

It is fairly easy to distinguish from Riesling (known regionally as Rhine Riesling), most easily through the total absence of any kerozene notes on the nose. It also often has a chalky minerality which Riesling lacks.

My top 25 Hungarian Olaszrizlings

Szolobirtok Pecsinger 2020

Crisp, a little white fruit, lemon and gentle citrus. Intense lemon on palate, zesty acidity. Simple and refreshing. 87

Dobosi 2019

Dried stone fruit, peaches, lilac. Strong apple blossom. Bitter almonds on the palate. Crisp, round, more international, almost Riesling in style. Strong bitter almonds towards the finish, high acidity, nutty. Excellent phenolic extraction, but perhaps playing with fire in terms of ripeness and acidity. 87

Villa Gyetvai 2020

Green, a little twiggy. Crisp red apples. Simple but elegant. Lovely phenolic crispness, rich. Elegant. 87

Jasdi 2020, Csopak

Green apples, pears. Crisp, green, elegant, very direct structure. Medium acidity, a little direct and blunt. Crisp and straightforward with good intensity. 87

Kamoczay Hilltop Premium 2021

Water white. Green, herbal, hint of floral. Same rich, almost leesy body. Crisp acidity, very elegant and floral. Light and delicate. Leesy, nutty finish. 88

St Donat Slikker 2019

Restrained on the nose, crisp, smoky, mineral. Green apples, smoky minerality. Chalky, mineral, linear, direct. Muscular, concentrated, structured, elegant. 88

Jasdi Siralomvago 2018, Csopak

Floral, oaky almonds. Creamy, lactic. Oak dominating. Creamy, nice intensity. I like this, but it is a bit of an oak bomb. 88

Tornai Szent Ilona 2019

Very elegant. Stony, saline, mouth-watering, mineral and very direct. Complex, depth, nutty leesiness. Lovely roundness, richness, concentrated and ripe fruit while maintaining a lacy, direct freshness. 89

Szaszi Kabocas 2018

Lovely richness. Horseradish. Crisp acidity, elegant body with good alcohol and plenty of depth. Honeyed, grippy, structural. Ripe pears, peaches, a hint of unripe apricot. Nice elegance, despite the floral, richness and intensity. 89

Kali Balasz Oregtokek 2020

A little herbal, floral. Juicy ripe fruit, elegant intensity. Really lovely balance and despite the crisp acidity this does have a lovely roundness and ripeness on the finish. Phenolic, juicy, crunchy. Plums and damsons and green apricots. Really quite lovely - a fruit-forward ripe version of the crisp and elegant Olasz. North shore elegance. 89

Legli 2012

Intense, honeyed, musty, dried peach. Chalky and clay minerality on the palate. Well rounded, elegant. Doesn't have the aggressive acidity on newer wines, soft but vibrant and fresh. Crisp, smooth - bitter almonds and a little ripe stone fruit on the finish, smoky minerality. Really quite lovely - a great example of why Olasz needs time. 89

Kamoczay 2017

Golden colour. Nutty, oaky, dried apricots, blossom, plums. Floral, crisp, creamy, intense and elegant. Stony blossom on the finish, crisp zingy slightly smoky. Rich and extravagant, honeyed but restrained and dry. 90

Tornai 2020

Gentle stone fruit and peach. Crisp, elegant, slightly smoky minerality towards the finish. Round, supple, warm, saline and sapido but without being heavy and soupy - instead delicate and elegant. 90

Kali Kovek Koveskal 2020

Gentle red apples, honeyed, softer. Crisp apples, gentle fruit, lemon. Crisp, soft, honeyed, gentle, elegant. Really extraordinarily floral and refreshing. 90

Figula Szaka 2019

Slightly smoky rubbery, intense overripe peach. Concentrated, intense, fruity. Saline, smoky, almost gamey. Muscular and intense with a floral peche de vigne finish. Unusually high acidity. 90

Palffy Fekete Hegy 2020

Beeswax, waxy, honey. Lovely floral honeyed. Grippy, chalky, closed, tight. Some unripe peah and a little tropical fruit trying to peak through on the palate. Slatey crisp minerality on the finish. Wonderfully ripe and full - good use of the 15%abv, fantastic acidity given the alcohol. Really lovely. 90

Planina Csencervar 2020

Intense, salty, concentrated. Elegant acidity, tight concentration. Intensely dry, concentrated. Hint of lime, orange. Crunchy and intriguing. 90

Ungran Mandula 2020

Almonds, cooked apples, floral, stone fruit. Gorgeous full ripeness, cooked apples, bitter almonds. Round, soft, gentle, opulent, a little fatty. Doesn't have the biting acidity until the finish. Residual sugar? Late harvest? Nice - but a good canvas for future improvement. 91

Szaszi Sziglieti 2019

Big, creamy, leesy, herbal, smoky-toasty. Apples, almonds, more herbal. Orchard blossom and oak structure. Big, bold, structured, muscular. Softened angles with the oak broadly powering through. Young, tight, angular, lots of potential. 91

Kolonics 2020

Flinty, mineral. Chalky, green apples, incredible length and intensity. Green apples, elegant but powerful. More what I expect. 91

Sabar Balint Foldy 2020

Slightly jammy, exotic peaches and apricots, stony almonds, floral.. Slightly steely, flat at first. Bone dry, crisp chalky fruit, lots of fruit. Slightly chalky smoke on the finish. Complexity and structure keeps on growing on the finish. Really quite exciting. 91

Istvandy Jeno 2019

Green apples, subtle minerality. Red apples. Crisp, zesty green apples and intensely juicy citrus, very charming. Not leesy nutty, rather more crisp austere herbal walnut nuttiness. Stunning elegant. 92

Lapoza 5 months in barrel 2020

Crushed berry fruit, toast coming out on finish. Big, creamy, plush, velvety. Really mineral acidity cutting through an otherwise weighty, opulent, soft body. A bit like an hourglass - seems soft and fruity, crisps up with firm minerality, then breathes deeply and goes back to being soft. 92

Sabar Single Vineyard 2020

Slightly smoky, flinty, intensely juicy fruit at first, with soft, ripe, elegant fruit. Silky, supple, elegant, very gentle oak in the background. Exotic fruit turning up quite late but with plenty of fanfare. Oak very evident but absolutely not dominating, providing wonderfully silky structure. 92

Dobosi Nivegy-Volgy 2020

Crisp pears, lemons, oranges. Angelica. Hint of sweet oak in the background. Intense, zingy, fresh, zesty. Beautiful Intensity, honeyed salinity. Gorgeous - both deep and fresh. 92