- 10 Oct 2023 6:08 AM
Hungary numbers 22 wine areas within six wider wine regions, namely Balaton, the Danube, Pannonia, Tokaj, Upper Hungary and Upper Pannonia, stretching from the far south-west of the country near Slovenia to the north-east alongside Slovakia.
First, a few simple questions:
What are Hungary’s most famous wines?
The sweet dessert wine Tokaji and the full-bodied red Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood from Eger, are the signature wines of Hungary, known throughout the world.
What is Hungary’s most beautiful winery?
Many wineries are set in picturesque surroundings but there are few locations more stunning that on the volcanic slopes of Badacsony, sipping wine while gazing over Lake Balaton.
What is Hungary’s oldest winery?
The monks of Pannonhalma have been cultivating vineyards for over a thousand years, a thriving industry that has been revived in recent years.
What is the closest main wine area to Budapest?
Etyek is an easy hop from the Hungarian capital, with regular wine festivals and picnics.
Volcanic soil, a mild climate and south-facing slopes that catch the sunlight reflected from the lake nearby all contribute towards the particular wines found here on Balaton’s northern shore. Wine production here was prevalent in Roman times, with new grape varieties introduced after the devastation of the phylloxera epidemic in the later 1800s. Wineries, often with restaurants attached, surround Badacsony hill, their panoramic terraces providing the perfect setting to sip fine wine while gazing out across Lake Balaton.
Best for: Kéknyelű, Olaszrizling, Szürkebarát.
If there’s one name that has long echoed beyond Hungary’s borders where wine is concerned, it’s Eger, home of Bull’s Blood or Egri Bikavér. Its legend links to the Siege of Eger in 1552, celebrated in prose nearly 500 years later by Géza Gárdonyi. Brave defenders of Eger Castle, fuelled on patriotism and red wine mixed with bull’s blood, held out against a superior Ottoman force for 39 days, tale revered throughout the land. In reality, little is known about the origins of Bull’s Blood, a robust-red blend of Kékfrankos, Kadarka and Cabernet Sauvignon, among 11 officially listed varieties.
Ironically, it was the Turks who replaced the traditional white grapes previously grown here with Kadarka, and you can still find decent local Olaszrizling here. This is best sampled at one of the cellars lining Szépasszony-völgy, the Valley of Beautiful Women, a 15-minute walk south-west of town.
Best for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Kékfrankos, Merlot, Olaszrizling.
Just outside Budapest, Etyek is an easy hop for those who wish to discover Hungarian wines en terroir without having to travel too far. Etyek is best known for its sparkling wine, produced in the region since the 1880s when the now legendary name of Törley came on the scene. Limestone soil and the colder climate combine to create the conditions for Chardonnay, Olaszrizling and Szürkebarát grapes to flourish.
Well aware that the wineries around Balaton, Villány and Eger attract the bulk of Hungary’s wine tourists, Etyek lays on regular wine festivals and picnics to attract visitors from the capital, drawn as much by the rolling hills as the convenience of getting here by car in under 30 minutes.
Best for: Chardonnay, Olaszrizling, Sauvignon Blanc.
Viticulture thrived around historic Pannonhalma Abbey for a thousand years until it was wiped out under Communism. Revived from the 1990s onwards, Pannonhalma’s thriving wine industry now also entails guided visits around the vineyards and press house, with samplings included, booked űhrough Apátsági Pincészet https://apatsagipinceszet.hu/?lang=en.
Naturally, history plays a huge part in this story – you can’t argue with a label featuring the date AD 996 – but the fruity whites you’ll find here in Hungary’s far west feel very contemporary indeed.
Best for: Irsai Olivér, Királyleányka, Olaszrizling.
Situated in western Hungary, the Somló wine region is unique in many ways. The smallest wine region in the country, covering just 800 hectares, it comprises many family-run wineries set on some of the steepest vineyard slopes in Europe. The volcanic soils of Somló, combined with the cool climate and high-altitude location, produce wines with distinctive mineral character.
The most planted grape variety in Somló is Furmint, the same grape used in Tokaji wines. However, the wines from Somló are typically dry and characterised by their crisp acidity and pronounced mineral notes.
The region's Juhfark variety is also prominent, a rare grape that survived the phyxollera epidemic that caused such devastation in the later 1800s.
Best for: Furmint, Juhfark, Olaszrizling.
Its name synonymous with Hungary, Tokaj is both a wine-producing region and a UNESCO World Heritage site, its renowned sweet dessert variety produced here for the best part of a thousand years. The unique microclimate, with its misty mornings and sunny afternoons, creates the ideal conditions for the development of noble rot, a beneficial mould that shrivels the Furmint grapes and concentrates their sugars.
This natural phenomenon gives Tokaji Aszú wines their distinctive sweetness and complexity, making any winery visit a fascinating exploration of the generations of craftsmanship that goes into the whole process. Tokaji Aszú is classified by the number of puttonyos (measuring the sweetness level) it contains, 6 being the sweetest.
Tokaj also produces dry white wines, szamorodni, and late-harvest wines.
Best for: Furmint, Harslevelű, Sárgamuskotály.
Villány, in the southern part of Hungary near the Croatian border, is often regarded as the country's premier region for red wine. The mild climate and diverse soils, limestone, clay and loess, create a perfect environment for red grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Portugieser Kékfrankos, rich, full-bodied red wines with ageing potential. Local wines are characterised by their deep colour, ripe fruit flavors and velvety tannins. The flagship is Villányi Franc, a Cabernet Franc-based wine known for its elegance and complexity.
Visitors can explore picturesque vineyards, modern wineries and historic wine cellars, and attend regular wine festivals.
In addition to red wines, Villány is starting to gain recognition for its whites, especially those made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Best for: Villányi Franc/Cabernet Franc, Portugieser Kékfrankos, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for Xpatloop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com