A hundred years ago, Hungary was one of the leading wine producers in Europe. So why isn’t there more Hungarian wine today?
The phylloxera assault of the 1880s (an insect pest of commercial grapevines worldwide), two world wars and 40 years of communist collectivization, and we get the answer.
Fortunately, wine production in Hungary is bouncing back. Small estates that are being replanted and cultivated across the country are turning out beautiful wines. Hungary is located between the 46th and 49th parallel, which is actually the same latitude range as many of France’s top wine regions. The rolling hills are rich in volcanic soils and limestone ideal for fine winemaking.
There are 22 different wine regions in Hungary. These regions are subdivided into seven bigger regions. I will discuss several of the more popular regions: Eger Region, Tokaj Region, Villány (Pannon Region) and Nagy Somló (Lake Balaton Region).
Located about 86 miles northeast of Budapest, Eger is one of the leading producers of wine. It is here that the famous Egri Bikavér and Egri Csillag (Star of Eger) are produced. Egri Bikavér means “Bull’s Blood” and delivers quite a punch. Legend has it that during the Ottoman siege of Eger in 1552 the Turkish soldiers upon seeing the wine-drinking Hungarians with bloodshot eyes, red-stained beards and fiery temperaments rushed back to their captain insisting that the Hungarians were not to be messed with because they had been drinking the blood of a bull!
The Egri Csillag is a delightful white grape sister blend of Bikavér. This treasured wine is super aromatic, bursting with white flowers and tropical fruits.
Situated in the very northeastern part of Hungary, the Tokaj Region produces famous sweet white wines. The Tokaj region is made up of 28 towns scattered along rolling hills between two rivers – the Tisza and Bodrog. The climate created by these rivers is a special microclimate with high levels of moisture in the air, offset by wind and abundant sunshine. Tokaj wines, dry or sweet, can only contain six native varieties. The grapes are individually picked and are then mashed and soaked in dry wine. This treasured wine tastes like candied tangerines and apricots, cinnamon and cloves with a sweetness somewhere between honey and nectar. The entire region of Tokaj has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Historic Cultural Landscape.
Villány (Pannon Region) is located in the warm southernmost tip of Hungary. Near Hungary’s border with Croatia and only about 340 miles from the Adriatic Sea, the sub-Mediterranean climate with long hot summers and mild winters is particularly ideal for making wine. These wines are world-class, structured and elegant.
Nagy Somló (Lake Balaton Region) is Hungary’s tiniest wine region – only 741 acres. It is located on an extinct volcanic butte about 90 miles west of Budapest. The remnant of an ancient lava flow, some of the smokiest most fiery white wines in the world are produced here. For centuries, people believed that the volcanic Somló wines had positive medicinal effects on everything anemia and paralysis.
Some of these wines can be purchased in large wine stores here in the U.S. Many of them can be ordered on line.