Sebastian Payne MW tells us how Hungary’s wide-spread wine regions are well worth the journey to discover them as a new generation breathes life into wines from an exciting array of native varieties.
Beautifully looked after architecture and
statue by Buda castle
Hungary’s vineyard districts are widely scattered. If you want to visit several in one week, you spend a long time on the road. Tokay is three hours from Budapest, Eger a good hour and a half, Somló and Balaton two and half hours to the west, Villány two and a half hours to the south. Fortunately motorways, once you leave the city are good and pretty empty and there are vineyards and wineries well worth the journey.
Each region has its individual strengths. Now is a great time to explore them, because a new generation of winemakers, most of whom mercifully speak English, are bringing dynamism to their world. The pioneers who took back ownership piece by piece after Communism have had some 25 years to begin to see their dreams realised. I have seen how the smart ones have learnt and fine-tuned as they grow each time I have visited. Building a reputation is always work in progress, but here is world-class potential in every one of the regions we went to, individuality too, and it is exciting seeing it realised.
The native grapes of Hungary at their best share a distinctive spicy, almost fiery, character not found in the same way in any other country.
Eger - northeast Hungary
Home to the country’s flagship red but white grapes predominate
The home of Egri Bikavér, once widely distributed as Bulls Blood, is still finding its feet. A handful of growers, with St Andrea to the fore, have shown that outstanding wines can be made. Egri Bikavér has always been made from a blend of grapes. Kékfrankos (blaufränkisch in Austria) plays a major part with pinot noir, merlot, cabernet franc and a little kadarka in St Andrea’s wines.
György Lorincz of St. Andrea winery
It is clear that some hillside sites with mineral rich soils are capable of producing the finest long-living wines, but so far these are not officially recognised as such and the labels Superior and Grand Superior are defined by wines made from lower yields with barrel aging. Surprisingly, perhaps, in a district famous for red wine, of the 60 plus varieties grown in Eger, most are white. Wines made with a blend of white grapes, often as many as nine, are sold under the name Csillag (which means star). They can be good and not expensive; little stars, in fact.
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