Wine in Hungary has its origins thousands of years ago. It was influential during the Middle Ages and is still today, especially for the country’s sweet wine. Hungarian wine might be synonymous with Tokaji wine, the country’s most famous sweet wine, but there are many regions in the land-locked country, and there’s a wine style for all palates and occasions. From red wine to go with Hungarian goulash to refreshing white wines for summer, Hungary has a wine for you.
Let’s talk about the Best Hungarian wine, the sweet Tokaji wine, and other specialties waiting for you in the historical wine-producing country.
The History of Wine in Hungary
Wine in Hungary goes back centuries. The Romans most probably introduced grapevines to the Pannonian plains, where the Kingdom of Hungary was established. By the 5th century, Hungary was already well regarded for its wine.
Legend says the defenders of Eger, a northern Hungarian city, defeated the Ottoman invaders in 1552, thanks to the courage they got from the local wine — the region’s robust wine is still known as the Bull’s Blood of Bikavér.
The first documents mentioning Hungary’s famous Tokaji Aszu go back to 1571. The remarkable “wine of kings and king of wines” has been one of the most coveted dessert styles on the planet since then.
Fast-forward to the 19th and 20th centuries, Hungary suffered from the phylloxera pandemic, which obliterated most of the country’s vineyards. The country also fell under communism, and most quality-minded wine production ceased until the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, Hungary is back on track producing wine in all styles, and the “king of wines,” Tokaji, is as popular as ever.
Hungarian Wine Grapes
The most famous Hungarian wine grapes are those used to make the country’s applauded Tokaji wine: Furmint, Hárslevelu and Muscat Blanc (there are others).
Not all Hungarian wines are sweet. Red wines made with Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch — Hungary’s most planted grape), Kadarka, Zweigelt and Blauer Portugieser are gaining recognition. Welschriesling is the most planted white varietal.
Hungary has approximately 72,000 hectares of vineyards, and most of the production is white. Although Tokaji is and has always been the most fashionable appellation in Hungary, it is not the only one. There are twenty-two protected wine regions in the vast country.
Hungarian Wine Regions
Tokaji is a wine style, but it is also a place and one of the wine appellations in Hungary recognized by the European Union. Other wine regions that don’t enjoy Tokaji’s fame include those around Lake Balaton (the largest lake in Central Europe), Eger, Villány and Sopron, a thriving wine region neighboring Austria.
Kunság is the largest wine region in Hungary and the source of most everyday wines in the country. Still, smaller appellations, especially those nestled by the Carpathian Mountains, such as Eger and Tokaji, produce the finest wine. To understand Hungarian wine, we must dig deeper into Tokaji Aszu, the acclaimed sweet Hungarian wine.
The Sweet Hungarian Wine Tokaji
Tokaji is a region, a town and a wine style specific to a small area in northeast Hungary. Here, thanks to the influence of the Tisza River, the temperature and moisture are suitable for a rare event — the development of the “noble rot” in the vineyards.
The noble rot, better said, the fungus called Botrytis cinerea only grows where the temperature and humidity are right, and it’s only common in a few wine regions worldwide, including Tokaji. The noble rot infects wine grapes and dehydrates them, leaving behind concentrated, precious sugars and bright acidity. Making wine with the shriveled grapes results in a unique sweet wine: Tokaji Aszu.
Tokaji wine comes in several styles, and only some of it is sweet. Producers make the highly prized and super sweet Tokaji Essencia with the free-run juice from pressing the rot-infected grapes. At the same time, regular Tokaji Aszuwine is a mixture of ordinary wine and botrytized grapes, measured in 25kg baskets filled with infected grapes known as puttonyos. Tokaji Aszu is equivalent to wine made with 5 puttonyos baskets for every 135-liter barrel of wine. Basically, the yields are very low. Five puttonyos have an amount of sugar equivalent to 120 grams of sugar per liter, while Tokaji with 6 puttonyos is even sweeter (equivalent to 150 grams of sugar per liter).
Tokaji is sweet but never cloying. Expect ripe peach aromas and honeyed notes with whiffs of white flowers over a rich but tart palate and impressive length. Flavors of orange rind, caramel, and dried peach are common. Tokaji is a wonderful partner for sweet desserts made with honey, such as the famous Baklava, Christmas puddings and other puff pastry treats. Still, pairing Tokaji with savory food, such as fatty foie gras or salty blue cheese is also a delicious idea. The sweetness in the wine can also tame hot, spicy flavors in Asian stir-fries and curries.
Although there are several wineries specializing in the famous sweet Hungarian wine, if you want to experience it, reliable sources include Oremus Tokaji, Disznoko Tokaji and Royal Tokaji.
Add Wine from Hungary to Your Cellar!
If you ever need dessert wine to end a memorable dinner party on a sweet note, Tokaji is a beautiful alternative. Still, Hungary is more than sweet wine, and if you try its dry wines, you’ll soon find Hungary is a reliable source of wine for all occasions. Given the chance, the talented winemakers in Hungary can meet the expectations of wine enthusiasts and experts alike.
Wines to Taste:
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