By far and away the most famous of Hungary’s wines is Tokaji, one of the few names that even amateur connoisseurs outside of the country will already have heard of. While the dry white furmint is one option from the region—which is located to the furthest northeast corner of Hungary—it’s actually the Tokaji Aszú (toe-ky-ee oh-sue) that is most famous.
This incredibly sweet dessert wine comes with a golden colour and has been around for centuries, the region building up quite an infrastructure for wine production as a result. King Louis XIV is believed to have once declared that the Aszú was “the king of wines, and the wine of kings”, a saying that was born from the accompanying slogan for the wine even before his time: Vinum regum, rex vinorum.
In fact, Tokaji Aszú was the first rot wine, the nearby rivers of the Tisza and Bodrog helping to create the necessary moisture that causes the wine grapes to botrytise, a rotting that dehydrates the grapes but maintains their sugar levels, essentially condensing the sugar levels to create the uniquely sweet taste.
If Tokaj is the region holding the torch for Hungarian wines outside of the country, then it is Egri bor—meaning ‘wine of Eger’—which is the one most commonly recommended by Hungarians to those looking to get a taste of the country’s wine offerings. The region itself is located east of Budapest, and home to a quaint city that shares the name.
The region is typified by its cuvée wines, either of its red or white variety. It’s the red, however, and more specifically the Egri Bikavér (egg-ree bih-kah-vair) that stands out as the favourite. Meaning ‘bull’s blood’ in Hungarian, Bikavér wines are very full-bodied, deep and even spicy, and are required to be made with a blend of at least 50% grapes native to the area.
The white wine of the region perhaps isn’t quite as popular but it’s still equally worth hunting down, especially if rich reds aren’t your barrel. Egri Csillag (egg-ree chi-log) means ‘the Star of Eger’, and offers up a very crisp, flavoursome drink best served to combat the heat of summer.
Nowadays Szekszárd is as popular for its ability to take on French wines after planting and producing grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and more, but for Hungarian wines it’s a region typified by a wide selection of reds—and some would argue the best in the country.
There is a Bikavér available, and in fact Szekszárd is the only other region in the country allowed to use the name since it was, in fact, trademarked here before it became a famous Eger brand. However, it is the Kadarka grape that must be tried.
It produces an intensely dark, aromatic wine that is easily identifiable, but surprisingly rare. The sensitive grape had been all but replaced by the much simpler to produce Kékfrankos years earlier, meaning the Kadarka is limited to only a handful of wineries and fewer still vintages. The result is worthwhile, however, requiring much longer in the bottle but producing something special as a result.
Close to the border of Croatia, this region of Hungary has a considerably warmer, more Mediterranean climate to it. As such, it’s particularly good for growing and tending to grapes for wines, unsurprisingly one of the core aspects of the area that has lead to its popularity for wine production.
Though there are some distinctive whites on offer here, it’s primarily the reds it is famous for. There are tipples from the kékfrankos and portugieser grapes, which are native to the volcanic soil here and have been producing some great vintages for years. One of the country’s most famous wineries is Bock, which is based in this region.
But more recently, and one of the reasons for Villány’s recent popularity, is its growth of popular French varieties, particularly the Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet grapes. The fact that it’s some of the best wine in the country might do a disservice to Hungary’s wines from native grapes, but it is in fact a celebration of the region’s perfect position for producing extremely fine drinks.
Considering the large expanse that is Lake Balaton, it’s perhaps no surprise that this region of wine production includes quite a number of towns and locations, each with their own distinct variations. Primarily these are Csopak, Badacsony, Balatonboglár and Balaton-felvidék.
The Balaton region itself is primarily notable for its whites, everything from Riesling to champagnes are produced here, and there are some really exceptional options on offer. But the Hungarian specialties from Balaton share the same characteristics as most magyar wines, a full-bodiedness with a hint of spice.
But if you want something truly special then consider the kéknyelű or the bakator varieties, both grapes that were very nearly wiped out, with the latter even having only seven stalks left before replanting began. Nowadays both varieties cover many more acres, and while it likely won’t compete with the more popular brands the world over, you will at least get something unique from wine made of this.
Kéknyelű provides a much more smoky flavour thanks to the basalt in the soil that it’s grown in, while bakator is a much darker wine that can also be found in a red variety. They’re true Hungarian exclusives so perhaps not to everyone’s palate, but something that real connoisseurs will want to hunt down.