Hungary is one of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions. Like other former Soviet-bloc nations like Bulgaria and Slovenia, it is emerging from decades of poor quality production.
The average temperature is higher than in most parts of northern Europe and autumn is often dry until mid-October – providing ideal conditions for harvesting.
Hungary has lots of advantages when it comes to wine production. The climate and the soil are perfect and each of the country’s 22 regions has a different microclimate that produces a range of tastes and styles.
The Romans brought vines to Pannonia, the present-day western Hungary, and by the fifth century AD the country had an extensive range of vineyards.
The phylloxera epidemic that ravaged Europe hit Hungary in 1882. Many of the traditional grape varieties were replaced with classic varietals such as those from Bordeaux. The early twentieth century saw the introduction of modern grapes.
But during the Communist era after World War II quality was neglected in favour of mass production. That gave Hungary a reputation for poor quality wines such as Bull’s Blood.
The end of the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 saw renewed interest in traditional varieties in the 1990s and a lot of new investment in equipment.
Hungary now has about 10,000 wineries in a population of about 10 million. Many are small, family-run operations. About 50 of those wineries operate on large scale.
The most famous wine region, Tokaji, lies in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains in the far north of the country. This believed to be the oldest wine region in Europe, and has been given a UNESCO heritage listing.
The area is noted for its long warm autumns. Mists from the River Bodrog create perfect conditions for noble rot, or botrytis, which produces wondrous dessert wines known as tokaji. The best grape variety for this kind of wine is furmint.
Because the conditions for noble rot only occur for about three vintages a decade, a lot of dry wines are made with the furmint grape.
Csaba Maroti made wine at one of the region’s best vineyards until he retired. The Maroti label remains one of the country’s best. The 2007 Maroti furmint from the Tokaji area is elegant, dry and memorable. It echoes the region’s long summer sunshine. This is a wine that pairs perfectly with fried dishes because the acids cut through the fat and offer memorably crisp flavours.
His daughter Csilla Maroti Fisher is managing director of Hungarian wine specialist Veritas Wine, based in Hong Kong, which focuses on fine Hungarian wines.
“Asia’s wine hub is overflowing with French and Australian wines, and there’s little knowledge about the unique gems of the Old World and the thousands of years of winemaking history behind them. I strongly believe that Hungarian wines have a place in Hong Kong’s wine market so I started Veritas with the clear goal of introducing our wonderful and rich wine heritage to Asia.”
Another memorable wine available from Veritas is the 2009 Bikaver reserve. It is a blend of kékfrankos, kadarka, cabernet franc and merlot. Kékfrankos is the Hungarian name for blaufränkisch, a dark-skinned grape variety used for red wine. In other parts of Europe it is called lemberger and frankova.
Blaufränkisch is a late-ripening variety that produces red wines rich in tannin with a pronounced spicy character.
This 2009 Bikaver blend is spicy in the mouth with an intense black cherry colour and aromas of black fruits like ripe plums. It would be ideal with a dark meat dish like duck or a beef stew.
You can read about Hungarys 22 wine regions here: http://www.hungary-tourist-guide.com/hungarian-wine-regions.html
Hungary’s wines deserve to be explored because of their heritage and the advances in wine-making techniques that mean wines that offer high quality for relatively low prices.
Published 11 April 2013. Find a link here.