Endless Variety - the Wines of Hungary
Hungary has always been best known for the sweet wines created in the region of Tokaj in the North East of the country. Tokaji Aszú was the drink of choice for everyone from Louis XIV through to Beethoven and Peter the Great, it's the Wine of Kings, and the King of Wines – but you've probably heard that before. But did you know that the "nectar" from the grapes of Tokaj is mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary, too? More recently, as Hungarian wine making was homogenised under Communism, and its diverse range of grapes was sacrificed in the pursuit of ever greater yields, Hungary was also known for its "Bull's Blood," (Bikavér in Hungarian) But these two wines alone will not give you the complete picture, a picture that is getting more and more colourful. Hungarian winemaking has diversified a lot over the past years, with small wineries offering "artisan" wines mushrooming all over the country.
If you know what kind of wines you are looking for, it is worth knowing the main wine regions. There are 22 regions mentioned in a recent law, but the most important are Tokaj, Kunság, Csongrád and Hajós-Baja, Eger, Villány and Szekszárd. Tokaj, in northeast Hungary, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains is best known for its sweet Tokaji Aszú wines, as well as the Furmint, Hárslevelű and Muscat grapes..
Eger, in the north of the country produces elegant reds, in particular the Bikavér blends. If you wish to try the best of the Bull's Blood variety, look for the Bikavér Superior label, established by recent wine laws. Due to the latitude, wines from the Eger region do not have the body of reds from the south, but they are elegant and complex in a way that allows for a comparison to Burgundy. What better opportunity to taste it than at the yearly Egri Bikavér Festival (traditionally held in July) where a huge number of local wineries offer their take on the Bull's Blood, accompanied by some hearty bites and folksy tunes.
Visiting Tokaj, home of Tokaji, a great sweet wine
Kunság, Csongrád and Hajós-Baja are all found in the large flat southern area between the Danube and the Tisza Rivers, also known as the Great Plain. This area accounts for about half of the wine produced in Hungary which tends to be quick drinking table wine mainly. . The naming of the Frittman winery from this region as Hungarian Winemaker of the Year 2007 brought about agrowth for the region – we'll hear more from it in the future.
If Eger is the Burgundy of Hungary, then Villány is its Bordeaux. Villány is Hungary's most southerly and hottest wine region, producing the country's best and most full-bodied red wines. Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are of key importance here, and Cabernet Franc has made a particular name for itself. Portugieser is also central, the second most widely planted grape in the region after Cabernet Sauvignon. Head north and you'll find Szekszárd, fighting its southern rival hard for the crown of the producer of the best reds. In October every year a Red Wine Festival takes place in Villány, bringing out all the delicious reds the region has to offer with concerts providing for the acoustic backdrop.
Did we whet your appetite for some winetasting? We thought so. Good news is that you can do that in countless places in Hungary. Budapest holds a major wine festival in the Buda Castle every year in September, while in the summer Lake Balaton is surrounded by innumerable little festivals, each of them with their own tasting spots. If you're in Budapest, sip some nectars at Faust Wine Cellar, dine at Bock Bistro where the wine list is put together by one of the most respected Hungarian wine growers, József Bock, check out La Boutique des Vins owned by award-winning wine producer Malatinszky from the Villány region, go to Bortársaság, one of the biggest wine distributors of the country with a vast offer at several shops throughout the city or sip your way through a tasting at the House of Hungarian Wines, which has some of the best wines from all regions.
Check out the best winebars in Budapest!