5 reasons to give Hungarian wines a try in 2018

Explore / The Road Less Travelled

5 Reasons to Give Hungarian Wines A Try

Contents

Caroline Gilby Caroline Gilby

Caroline Gilby MW gives us a tour of 2018's most exciting wine destination, Hungary

Things to know about Hungarian wine:

  • The country has 22 wine regions and just over 64,000 ha of grape vines putting it 8th in Europe and well ahead of better-known countries like New Zealand.
  • Hungary has 97 white grape varieties and 40 red grape varieties officially being grown for wine.
  • There are 34 grapes listed in the 'Wine Grapes' bible as native to Hungary, many only grown there, and more being rescued from obscurity.
  • The world's first vineyard classification was established in Tokaji in Hungary in 1730 by royal decree, long before Bordeaux or Burgundy.
  • Tokaji was the world's second wine appellation in 1757 (after Chianti in 1716) and the sweet wine itself was described by France's Louis XIV as 'Wine of kings, king of wines.'

Is Budapest on your travel bucket list?
Is Budapest on your travel bucket list?

You must have been hiding under a rock if you haven't been to Budapest, or got it on your travel bucket list as one of Europe's must-see cities. Sadly, this fame hasn't spread to the rest of Hungary, nor to its largely still unknown (outside its borders at least) wines.

At best, the Hungarian wine experience for many people will have been picking up a bottle of Italian-lookalike pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, possibly a pleasant surprise, or having heard perhaps of Tokaji as one of the world's great sweet wines. However, there is a lot more to discover in Hungary today.

1. There's a delicious Hungarian red known as 'Bull's Blood'

The name 'Bulls Blood' crops up frequently if you do even a little exploration of Hungarian wines, though producers now prefer its equivalent name, Bikavér.

There are various legends around the origin of the name Bull's Blood, tied to a famous battle in Eger in 1552 where the castle was besieged by Turks, and the Hungarian defenders gained the strength to win the battle by drinking copious amounts of local red wine, which the invaders believed to be the blood of bulls.

Whether the story has any truth, a wine called Bikavér has been known since early 19th century. Under communism, it became a rustic, cheap red blend of whatever wasn't good enough to become varietal wine.

Today, though it is being reinvented as Hungary's red flagship blend. Bikavér has protected designated of origin status (DHC in Hungarian) in two regions only – Eger in the northeast and Szekszárd in the south. Both regions have slightly different but equally strict rules.

The Eger region in the northeast of Hungary is one of two designated for the production of Bikavér – the country's flagship red
The Eger region in the northeast of Hungary is one of two designated for the production of Bikavér – the country's flagship red

2. There's tons of variety

Kékfrankos was Hungary's most planted grape in 2016, with 7,229 ha being grown in that year alone. This is more than twice the area of Austria where the grape is known as blaufränkisch and claimed as Austria's own flagship.

Recent research has revealed that blaufränkisch/kékfrankos is a cross of the almost extinct blaue zimmettraube and gouais blanc (making it a half-sibling of grapes like chardonnay, gamay and furmint). This research also showed that its origin is Lower Styria in today's Slovenia, an area that was old Hungary before World War II, so arguably rooted in Hungary, not Austria.

3. Kadarka is Hungary's answer to pinot noir

and many producers are rediscovering its potential to make delicate, refined reds - gently spicy, red-fruited and pale in colour. It is produced in its own right but also adds a touch of spicy local character to bikavér blends (and indeed is obligatory in the Szekszárd version).

Bikavér is always a blend with kékfrankos the dominant variety, but the kardarka grape adds a spicy note, and as you can see here, a pretty colour
Bikavér is always a blend with kékfrankos the dominant variety, but the kardarka grape adds a spicy note, and as you can see here, a pretty colour

4. Hungarian white wines are delicious.

Hungary actually grows more white grapes than red and among these are some seriously exciting local varieties.

Juhfark, whose name means 'sheep's tail' for the shape of its bunches, really only grows on the slopes of the extinct Somló volcano. Wines from this region are renowned in Hungary as wedding night wines. Allegedly, the volcanic soils give such mineral intensity to the wines, it helps to guarantee an heir.

Volcanoes also feature in Hungary's most famous wine region, Tokaj (note Tokaj is the place, Tokaji the wine). This far north-east corner of the country consists of hundreds of extinct volcanoes – creating a region of sunny slopes, cool cellars and well-drained, volcanic soils.

5. The other important strength of the region is its grapes, particularly furmint. This is one to watch as the next big thing in the wine world.

It shares an ability with grapes like riesling and chardonnay to really reflect its terroir. It's also incredibly versatile, producing fine sparkling wines, increasingly world-class dry wines (the best of which can give Burgundy a run for its money), and some of the world's greatest sweet wines. One of its key features is its hallmark acidity which gives elegance and a refreshing, appetising character whatever the wine style.

Furmint is one of the white grapes to watch for its dry wines as well as sweet
Furmint is one of the white grapes to watch for its dry wines as well as sweet
Tokaj wine with summer fruits
Tokaj wine with summer fruits

Hungary is endlessly fascinating, as its winemakers gain confidence in their treasure trove of amazing grapes, distinctive wine regions and great soils. This is a country whose wines will repay exploration; not always cheap, but superb value as they more than deliver amazing quality for the price you pay.

Egészségedre!

Caroline Gilby is a Master of Wine and a scientist by training. She is a wine writer with a passion for the wines of Central and Eastern Europe and contributes to several wine books, magazines and websites.

> Read more articles by Caroline Gilby MW

> Explore our new arrivals to the latest Fine Wine edition in our 'High Grade Hungary' selection

> Explore our full range of Hungarian wines


Members' Comments (1)

"The article is a useful introduction to Hungarian wines, the good ones which have tended in the past to have been restricted to sale only in Hungary. But I was surprised by the lack of reference to wines from Villanyi, which for me were the biggest surprise and, in my view, have the greatest potential to challenge some of the great reds from elsewhere in the world. Wine makers like Tiffan, Gere and Bock have all produced great wines, albeit not... Read more > in large quantities."

Mr Simon Routh (07-Mar-2018)

Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.