The Romans cultivated vines in Pannonia from the second century AD and despite a period of Ottoman Muslim rule in parts of Hungary during the 16th and 17th centuries and the dead hand of state control in the second half of the 20th Hungary has adapted well to the demands of a modern free market, and particularly an export driven one. Since the fall of communism in the late 1980s the Hungarian wine industry has garnered foreign and local investment and adopted modern technological and viticultural practises to improve the quality of the wines.
The principal wine growing regions sit between 45o and 50o latitude, similar to Burgundy to the west. The continental climate of landlocked Hungary is one of extremely cold winters and long, hot summers followed by prolonged, usually sunny autumns. Lake Balaton, Europeâ€™s largest lake, provides a moderating effect on winter and summer temperatures, as does the Tisza River that glides past the Tokaji region, the Neusiedlersee that the border...
The principal wine growing regions sit between 45o and 50o latitude, similar to Burgundy to the west. The continental climate of landlocked Hungary is one of extremely cold winters and long, hot summers followed by prolonged, usually sunny autumns. Lake Balaton, Europeâ€™s largest lake, provides a moderating effect on winter and summer temperatures, as does the Tisza River that glides past the Tokaji region, the Neusiedlersee that the border region of Sopron shares with Austria, and the Danube for the winemaking areas of the north such as Transdanubia.
The vineyards are spread all over the country so soil types are not homogenous over such a large area, but one common theme is the volcanic nature of many. The Great Plain area where much of Hungaryâ€™s more generic offerings originate is mostly sand and loess.
Tokaji is Hungaryâ€™s most famous wine. Recent investment has paid dividends in re-establishing a reputation for greatness that was forged in medieval times and diluted during Communist rule when all wines were exported through a monopoly little interested in providing quality and these great sweet wines might even be pasteurised. The confluence of the river Tisza and a smaller, cooler tributary provides the conditions for the creation of the â€˜Breath of Godâ€™, or morning mists, in the same way the merging of the Cerons and the Gironde do in Sauternes. This in turn encourages the formation of botrytis cinerea, a fungus that feeds on the moisture in a grape, concentrating the sugars and changing its structure. The result is some of the best and most luscious sweet wines in the world, made from the indigenous furmint, harslevelu, oremus or zeta, and koverszolo varieties, together with muscat.
In the south-west, on the border with Croatia, the Villány-Siklós region is fast developing a reputation for excellent wines, and in the north-east is the Eger region, modern home to the famous and sturdy Bullâ€™s Blood, arguably Hungaryâ€™s second most famous wine though not necessarily the origin of the widely exported brand of the last century.
Although many international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and franc, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc have been planted and are making excellent wines, the Hungarians have retained many native central European vines. Kadarka, kekfrankos (aka blaufränkisch), irsai oliver and the aforementioned furmint and harslevelu have a long history and can make characterful wines.
The Hungarian authorities have developed an appellation system modelled on the French and Austrian versions and 22 regions are currently recognised.