Hungary makes some really fascinating wines. In fact, if you take a look back in history, Hungary was once one of the most important and major wine producing regions in Europe, before phylloxera in the late 1800s and war made it nearly impossible for the wine growing tradition to continue there. Fast forward 100 years and the wine growing tradition in Hungary is back on track and the wines of Hungary are once again being enjoyed by wine enthusiasts around the world.
5 Top Hungarian Wines to Try
Throughout the countryside of the rather small country of Hungary, there are 22 wine regions, which can be further broken down into seven main areas, including Tokaj, Balaton, Duna, Eger, Észak-Dunántúl, Pannon, and Sopron. If you enjoy finding and discovering new wines, then you’ll love these wines I’ve selected as my favorites from Hungary.
#1 Tokaji Aszú
Tokaj, Hungary’s oldest wine region and a Unesco World Heritage Site, is located in the Northeastern part of Hungary. It’s rated as one of the best wines in the world. Tokaj produces the Tokaji Aszú, a sweet golden white wine. This world-renowned wine tastes like candied apricots and tangerines, cloves and cinnamon, with a tiny bit of sweetness somewhere between nectar and honey. It was described as “the king of wines and the wine of kings” by Louis XIV.
The two rivers in this region, the Bodrog and the Tisza, create a micro-climate that is great for growing Furmint grapes. With high levels of moisture and plenty of sunshine, this region produces these special grapes that are affected by noble rot. They are also hand-picked and crushed into paste. These grapes have a high concentration of sugar and, therefore, after fermentation, the high levels of sugar remain. Each liter must have a minimum of 120 grams.
Tokaji Aszú is often paired with lemon tarts, creamy cheeses, foie gras, or by themselves as a dessert wine. It also goes well with prawns or gnocchi for something different.
#2 Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood)
Egri Bikaver is the Eger’s Region flagship wine, and most famous full-bodied red wine in Hungary. Eger Bikavér is translated to mean “bull’s blood” and, as you would imagine, this red blended wine can give quite a punch. It’s rich in spice and tannin. Tannin adds bitterness and astringency, along with complexity, and can create an earthy flavor. You may also detect an undertone of sour cherries.
Grape types making up this robust wine are: Kadarka, Blue Franc, Cabernet, and Merlot. Blue Franc is mandatory and has to have the highest percentage in the blend. It’s currently produced to one of three levels: classicus, superior, and grand superior. The difference between these levels is the duration and fullness of the aroma. These wines are often paired with Hungarian goulash, a bowl of stew, or game meat.
#3 Cabernet Franc
The wine regions of Szekszárd and Villány produce Cabernet Franc from the Bordeaux grape. Located in the southern part of Hungary, the soil and climate in these regions are known for producing the unique wine with blends of floral, plum, spice, blueberries, and red fruits. It’s similar to that of Cabernet Sauvignon, but its buds ripen about a week earlier. Because of this, the vines can thrive in a slightly cooler climate and seem to do well in sandy, chalk soils. In this region, the Cabernet Franc grape is also used to make rose wines (by leaving the skins with the juice for just a short period of time).
Cabernet Franc grapes have a thinner skin than the Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are bluish-black in color and make a pale colored, full-bodied red wine. It’s often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, except in Hungary it is often unblended. Cabernet Franc is usually paired with roast pork or chicken, grilled beef, sausage, lamb, fish, veal, and even soft cheese. December 4th is celebrated as Cabernet Franc Day.
#4 – Juhfark
You’ll find this unique, smoky white wine in the Balaton wine region, located near Lake Balaton. The sub-region, Nagy-Somló, is very small, but produces some of Hungary’s most fascinating wines. Juhfark is a type of grape from the species Vitis vinifera, meaning “sheep’s tail.” Its name comes from the cylindrical shape of the grape clusters. It’s grown in the area of Hungary that is from an extinct volcanic butte, approximately 90 miles west of Budapest. The topsoil is rich in minerals and is made of loess, sand, and clay, with bedrock made from black basalt, remnants of lava.
Once upon a time, it was believed that this wine had positive effects on many things, such as anemia or paralysis. Legends have said that monarchs and aristocrats would send fertile women there to drink the wine, believing that with the wine’s masculinity, it would lead them to bare a male baby. It’s often mentioned as the wine to drink for wedding nights. It has a very distinct flavor of lemon, wheat and smoke, both fierce and savory. Try this wine paired with fish and seafood dishes.
Kekfrankos is grown in the Sopron region, near the Austrian border, as well as from the areas of Szekszárd and Villány. Sopron is one of the few regions that produce both white and red wines and is also called “the capital of Blue Frankish.” Its climate is made up of cool summers and windy winters. Wine cellars are built underneath houses, instead of in the hillside.
Kékfrankos (Blue Frankish) grapes are very dark, but the wine is a deep ruby red in color and has a unique taste, somewhere between a Zinfandel and Syrah. It has a very balanced acidity, spice, and dominant tannins. You may notice an aroma of anise, blueberries, and black pepper. An interesting fact about this region is that cellars tie red or white ribbons on their gates to indicate which type of wine they sell. Recommended food pairings are: spicy dishes, game or beef stews, but can also be paired with sour cherry or dark chocolate desserts.
Hungary’s wine industry has been around for centuries and is known for being some of the best in Europe. You will enjoy all five Hungarian wines listed above, each having their own distinct flavors and originating in different regions. Try them all and decide which is your favorite. When you get the opportunity, we hope you will visit Budapest and some of the wineries throughout Hungary.
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