For. many centuries, Hungarian wines were sought after by the royal courts. The British monarchy, and in Europe, would serve tall glasses of sweet Tokaji to dazzle their guests with liquid gold. It even lead Louis XV of France to pronounce Tokaji Aszú as ‘Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum’ – the Wine of Kings, King of Wines.
Tokaji is still Hungary’s most renowned wine region, although there is more to Hungary than Tokaj – there are 22 wine regions in the country – Tokaj is the leading player. Nestled at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains in northeastern Hungary. The Tokaji wine region has long warm autumns and mists, which are ideal for noble rot.
Most people will likely have heard of the country’s famous Tokaji dessert wine and the red wine called Bull’s Blood. These two Hungarian wines became very popular in the UK during the Victorian era. More recently, many wineries have rediscovered Hungary’s versatile white grape variety, Furmint. Either found in sweet wine or as a world-class dry wine found in any good wine bar in the UK.
Hungary’s native Hungarian grapes have a flavor profile embraced by a new generation. Whether in the cellar, the greater wine world and at wine tastings across Europe. These native grapes include the white wines Juhrfark, Olaszrizling, Irsai Olivier.
Some wineries may still produce red wines Bull’s Blood and mass produced bikavérs. In the early aughts, we saw a trend for Bordeaux varieties. The volcanic soil creates powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or even Pinot Noir. But, in today’s wine world the real interest is for native grapes, such as Kékfrankos, and Kadarka.
What is the history of Hungarian wines?
Centuries of history weave through Hungary’s wine regions and wine culture.
The Romans planted wine in Pannonia. While archaeological evidence shows viticulture in the first century BC by the Celts.
Before the Ottoman Empire invasion, Hungary was a white-wine nation, as it is today. But the red wine Kadarka soon appeared in all wine regions across the country.
And yet, Kadarka is often thought to be a native Hungarian red grape. In fact, Serbian and other south-Slavic settlers brought over grapevines during Ottoman Empire.
Kadarka was a favourite of composer, Franz Liszt. The red wine remained popular until the 1950s, recognised for its enticing spiciness. Unfortunately, today few vines survive. Although the Szekszárd wine area still produces some Kadarka.
During the 19th century, Hungary became one of the most prominent producers in Central Europe. Unfortunately, war, communism and phylloxera vine disease disrupted Hungary’s success wine industry.
By the late 20th century, the country began to flourish again. The emergence of new techniques and the increasing number of vineyards increased quality.
It was further boosted by the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. This recognized the importance of Hungarian wine culture, traditions and winemaking.
What are the different grapes used to make Hungarian wines?
It’s easy to confuse the various types of grapes used in Hungarian wine, it’s important to know the most common ones. Here are Hungarian wine grapes we often see in the UK:
The country’s indigenous white grape varieties, such as Furmint, have been an asset to Hungary. Either as a traditional sweet aszú wine or a new wine seen in a wine bar today, as a dry wine.
Tokaj Aszú has high residual sugar and high acidity. The aszú berries come from the Furmint grape or a white blend (Furmint, Hárslevelű, and Muscat blanc).
Many winemakers produce a dry Furmint, which is a powerful wine when grown on volcanic soil. The dry wines also have high acidity and full bodied and often aged in oak barrels.
The Tokaji Wine Region
“The Tokaj Wine Region is home to some of Hungary’s most beloved varieties of wine. The region is spread over a romantic landscape of cellar labyrinths, vines and slopes, nestled at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains. Its winemaking history dates back over a thousand years. The most famous variety, Aszú – was described by Louis XV of France as ‘Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum’ – the Wine of Kings, King of Wines.” – UNESCO World Heritage
There are 22 wine regions in Hungary, but the legacy of the Tokaji region dominates the wine world.
In 2002, the famous Hungarian wine region was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These include its unique wine-growing and winemaking traditions. But also its contribution to culture, and volcanic soils. In 1737, Tokaj was already declared one of the first Grand Cru designations in Europe.
Climate and weather conditions
Although Hungary has a continental climate, its weather conditions vary. Due to the Carpathian Mountains, Hungary experiences hot summers and cold winters. While eastern Hungary experiences drier weather.
The warm Autumns and fog can help create the botrytised or aszú grapes of the Tokaj region. These are often picked in late November and crushed to a paste. The varying amounts of this paste are then added to different types of wine.
The resulting wine is then stored in small barrels in the volcanic caves. The walls of these caves have thick layers of fungus, which regulate the humidity to store the wines. Sometimes for centuries.
What style of wine you should expect?
Today, 70% of the country’s wine production is white wine, and most of those are from Hárslevelű and Furmint grapes.
These white wines have strong aromatics and flavors. You may find notes of green pepper and citrus fruits, and later tobacco and linden leaf.
In fact, the name of the white grape variety, Hárslevelű, means ‘linden leaf.’
Hungary is renowned for powerful red wines with plenty of warming spices for hearty meals during cold Hungarian winters, such as full bodied red wines from Eger. But why not search out the lighter styles such as Kekfrankos or Kadarka. Also spicy, they are perfect for creamy Indian curries or Northern Thai cuisine.