Wine history and Hungarian Wine Regions
Hungarian wine has a history dating back to at least Roman times. The best-known wines are the white dessert wine Tokay (Tokaji) and Bull’s Blood (Egri Bikavér), a full-bodied red wine.
The Romans brought vines to Pannonia, and by the 5th century AD, there are records of extensive vineyards in Hungary. Following the Magyar invasion of 896, Árpád rewarded his followers with vineyards in Tokaj-Hegyalja. Over the following centuries, new grape varieties were brought in from Italy and France, probably including Furmint and the other grapes of Tokay. Mostly white wine was made like that of their neighbours to the west.
From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard, with the traditional field blends of Eger and the many grapes of Tokaj being replaced with monocultures, often of Blaufränkisch (Kékfrankos) and the Bordeaux varieties in red wine districts, and of Furmint, Muscat and Hárslevelű in Tokaj. The twentieth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt, which were easier to grow and to vinify than Kadarka, and under Communism quality was neglected in favour of overcropping, pasteurisation, and industrial production. Since 1989, there has been renewed interest in the traditional varieties, and a lot of new investment, particularly in Tokaj.
Hungary is situated in the heart of Europe, in the lower central part of the Middle-Danube basin, surrounded by the eastern slopes of the Austrian Alps and the Carpathian mountains. It has frontiers with seven countries: Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia in the south, Serbia, Slovenia and Austria in the west.
Territory: 93,036 m2, representing altogether 1% of the territory of Europe.
Population: 10.2 million, representing altogether 2% of the population of Europe.
Language: Hungarian, which is very different from most of the languages spoken around the world.
Hungary has been a member of the European Union since 2004.
The country is diversified by plains, hills and mountains. Basalt-vulcanite mountains are just as typical of the countryside, as chalk-stone or dolomite mountains, or flatlands filled up by rivers, saline- and sandy-soiled areas, fens and marshlands in river-flats. The red sandstone and Pannon sand of the ’Balatonfelvidék’ area, or the basalt tufa of the Tihany peninsula offer valuable and remarkable soils for wine-growing. Hungary has two large, and probably well-known rivers, River Danube and River Tisza.
There are several large natural and artificial lakes within the country, the largest one of which is Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Central Europe with an area of 591 km2. The so-called ’Balatonfelvidék’ is a typical Hungarian wine region at the same time.
Hungary is situated in the temperate zone, its climate is basically continental, the potential extremities of which are subdued by the Carpathian ranges, and the level of rainfall is just optimal. The region at the foot of the Alps (’Alpokalja’) is a special and remarkable part of the country. Its climate is subalpine, and the level of rainfall is well-balanced. In summary, this small country has all the climate- and soil-related potentials to grow excellent wine-grapes.
The Hungarian climate is favourable for the growing of vine. The extremes of our continental climate are softened by the Carpatheans assuring milder winters, hot summers and long indian summers in autumn. The yearly precipitation in the range of 5-600 mm is also ideal for vine. The growth season, relatively long due to the climate lends extremely rich taste to our wines. The characteristics of each wine region are determined by local soil conditions and micro-climate. Officially the country has twenty-two wine regions, however, these are grouped into larger macro-regions, such as Alföld, Balaton, southern slopes of Bükk mountain, Southern Transdanubia, Northern Transdanubia, Mátra and Tokaj. In the northern wine regions mostly white wines, while in the south-western and Southern Transdanubia region mainly red wines are produced.
Favourable geological conditions make it possible for growers to produce excellent drinks from Hungarian grapes of ranging from champagne through red to exquisite white wines offering an exhilarating selection from home-bred and international varieties of wine. Home-bred varieties include Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kéknyelű, Juhfark, Irsai Olivér, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyleányka and Leányka. Widespread international varieties grown in Hungary are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Tramini and mention should be made of Central European varieties such as Kékfrankos, Zweigelt, Kékoportó, Kadarka and Olaszrizling.
Wine regions and styles
This wine region contains the following sub-regions:
Ászár-Neszmély: fresh and aromatic whites.
Etyek-Buda: fresh white wines, with considerable acidity.
Mór: volcanic soil, full-bodied whites. Main variety: Ezerjó.
Pannonhalma: full-bodied whites.
Sopron: elegant reds (mainly Kékfrankos).
Badacsony: volcanic soils, full-bodied whites with considerable acidity.
Balatonfelvidék: volcanic soils, full-bodied whites with considerable acidity.
Balatonfüred-Csopak: terra rossa soils, full-bodied whites with considerable acidity.
Dél-Balaton: full-bodied whites and reds with moderate acidity.
Nagy-Somló (or Somló): volcanic soil, full-bodied whites with high acidity. Main varieties are: Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű and Furmint.
Zala: mainly white wines.
The main variety of the region is Olaszrizling.
Pécs: mainly whites. Traditional variety: Cirfandli
Villány: robust, full-bodied, spicy reds. Main varieties: Portugieser, Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot and occasionally Pinot Noir.
Szekszárd: full-bodied reds, with a bit of spice. Famous wine: Szekszárdi Bikavér. Main varieties: Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Cabernet franc, Merlot
Mainly fresh and light wines from lots of varieties.
Eger: fresh whites from Leányka and Királyleányka, full-bodied whites mainly from Olaszrizling or Chardonnay. Home of the Egri Bikavér (bulls blood of Eger), an elegant red blend, mainly based on Kékfrankos. Good Pinot noirs.
Mátra: elegant and full-bodied whites, grown on volcanic soil. Main varieties are Müller-Thurgau, Olaszrizling and Chardonnay.
Bükkalja: mainly white wines.
Hungary’s most famous wine region lies in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains of the far north of the country – in fact the traditional area crosses into the southeast corner of modern Slovakia. The area is notable for its long warm autumns and mists that come in from the River Bodrog, creating perfect conditions for noble rot. This can contribute towards creating the botrytised (‘aszú’) grapes for which the region is famous. These are individually picked as late as mid-November into buckets (‘puttonyos’) and crushed to a paste. Varying amounts of this aszú paste are then added to non-aszú must or wine made from a mix of Furmint, Hárslevelű, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Kövérszőlő or Zéta grapes, and left to ferment. The resulting wine is then aged in relatively small barrels in a labyrinth of cellars in the soft volcanic tuff, on whose walls thick blankets of fungus regulate the humidity.
Given that aszú conditions only happen in perhaps three vintages per decade, a lot of dry Furmint is also produced. Other grapes grown in the area include Hárslevelű, Muscat Blanc, Kövérszőlő and Zéta.