Hungary has a long yet muddled history with wines. It is home to Tokaji, the legendary sweet wine, but its dry white and red wine relationship is overly confused. Before the war it was mostly ignored and those that did exist where cheap and not all that worth talking about. Post-communism era of the late 1980s and 1990s lead to a storm of international varietals being planted in the fields of Hungary – wine was seen as just another crop that Hungary could trade with powerful markets like the UK. Over the 1990s and early 2000s these varietals have started to increase in quality largely thanks to international winemakers pushing their influence.
In recent years there has been a real push for not just higher quality of wines but also a revival of the indigenous grapes to Hungary. The white wines in particular have stepped up dramatically going from light and neutral wines to full-bodied whites that are refreshing and appetising. White wines make up 2/3s of Hungary’s output though red wine production is being stepped up.
Main Grapes or styles
Furmint – is a white grape varietal that is indigenous to Hungary. It is best known in the sweet wines of the Tokaj region though it is fairly widespread and makes refreshing white wines also. As a dry wine it is best aged in oak which gives nutty and biscuity flavours that enhance the citrus fruits already present. As a sweet wines it has flavours of orange, baked apples and honeycomb.
Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch) – is the principal red grape variety of Hungary’s best red wines. It produces wines that have high acidity but are light and fruity. To some it could be best known in the red blend: Bull’s Blood – a full-bodied blend of grapes that is cheap and easy to drink.
Tokaj – the most important region for Hungary by far. It is important to note that the wines of the Tokaj region are called Tokaji – the extra ‘I’ on the end. They are sweet wines, predominately, made from Botrytis-infected grapes. These wines are the longest lived wines known to mankind with examples from the early 18th century still full of flavour when drunk in recent years. The reason these wines are so long lived is thanks to the high acidity and sugar content.
Eger – the wine region found northeast of Lake Balaton. It is home to the full-bodied red wines of Bull’s Blood and the higher quality reds of Egri Bikaver. Most of Eger’s wines are not seen in export markets.
Climate and its effect on the wines made here
Hungary has a climate that is continental made up of long summers that are perfect for red wine and full-bodied white production. It is thanks to these long summers, and autumns, that Hungary can be home to wines made from ripe grapes that give layers of flavours and complex aromas. The humidity found in the region of Tokaji is the key to the development of Botrytis that lead to the fantastic sweet wines produced there.