Every wine connoisseur has heard of Hungarian wines, but less of us have tried these wonderful nectars, and very few have a deep understanding of the complex world of Hungarian wine. This is a shame, as some of the best wine in the world comes from Hungary. A land of both red and white, the composition of the soil and the microclimate make for interesting and diverse wines, despite the small size of the country. Whether it be the sweet dessert whites of Tokaj, the award winning reds of Szekszárd, or the several different kinds of grapes that are endemic to this region, Hungarian wine is becoming more and more well known, due to its unique character and its many hundreds of years of history, and the fascinating culture of Hungary. Get up to speed on this somewhat obscure topic with my guide to Hungarian wine.
The wine regions of Hungary
The best known wine region of Hungary is without a doubt the Tokaj region. That is because the most unique wine, the very high quality but extremely sweet dessert wine, the Aszu, comes from here. This wine was the only Hungarian wine known to connoisseurs for a long time, which is truly a pity, as it is an anomaly, and does not represent Hungarian wines at all. It is made so sweet by leaving the grapes to become almost raisins before making wine out of them. Only 8 breeds of grape are allowed in Tokaj, making for a very unique palate. The Hárslevelű and the Furmint are also from Tokaj, and are Hungarian breeds that make some very unique wines.
Villány is synonymous with good red wine in the minds of most Hungarians. Very famous wines originate from here, and are locally well respected. Mostly reds, but also white wines come from this region of southern Hungary, almost on the border with Serbia. The indigenous Kadarka, but also great Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is grown here, and despite being known for their amazing reds, a full selection of wine is grown in this enormous wine region. Villány has a particularly humid and rainy microclimate, so the hot Hungarian summers are especially suitable for grape production in this region.
Szekszárd is the only region of Hungary to ever produce a wine that has won the fabled gold star. This region, also in the south, has red wine almost exclusively. The wines from here are full bodied, well balanced and come in a wide variety of flavours. Merlot and Pinot Noir, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in the extensive list of wines from Szekszárd. The crowning achievement of this region however is its Kékfrankos, which is the Hungarian breed of the Blaufrankisch variety. This wine is usually a bit acidic, quite heady, and has a complex and pleasing aroma. This wine is the centerpiece of many wine tastings, and rightfully so. It is truly a regal wine.
Also known for red wine almost exclusively, Eger is a city located in the Northeastern part of Hungary. Due to the high acidity caused by the intense volume of clay in the volcanic soil, the wines of Eger are meant to be had with dinner. The most well known wine from this region is the Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood. This characteristic wine is quite acidic, has a high mineral content and a taste that reflects it. Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, but also a growing number of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blancs are making their appearances on the market of Eger wines. The world famous Thummerer and St. Andrea wineries are from Eger, and are well worth the time of any connoisseur.
Where To Find the Best Hungarian Wine in Budapest
With so many wine regions producing such a diverse array of fine wines, it should be no surprise that the Hungarian capital has a superb variety of places where one can taste these delicacies. Here are the three best places to find the most coveted Hungarian wine, and other delightful fluids.
A wine bar and vinoteka (which is a fancy word for a store that focuses on selling bottles of premium wine) that is by far the best in the city. They have a huge selection of Hungarian wine and the largest offer of international vinos in Hungary, imported from all corners of the world. You can get some sage advice on what kinds of wine to try based on what you prefer, and they also have a restaurant with foods that are selected to go well with the wine you are having. This bar also conducts wine tastings, and you can get the opinion of professional sommeliers regarding a wine or grape type.
Dobló is a high end bar that specializes on Hungarian wine and Pálinka, and holds wine tastings and Pálinka tastings every day of the year. With this elegant interior, convenient location in the heart of the party district, and its extremely friendly service, Dobló stands out from the area, and its focus on wine makes it immediately appealing to connoisseurs of fine wine. If you prefer a wine tasting, but want to do it in a chic part of town and perhaps have the option going out clubbing afterwards, this is definitely a great choice.
Borkonyha is an upscale restaurant that has a strong focus on gastronomy and fine dining, and has a legendary 200+ list of Hungarian wine. This is the perfect place for an extravagant dinner or luncheon where the main focus is to try the wide variety of fine Hungarian wines. Very affordable, considering the fact that this is one of the few restaurants in Budapest that can boast of a Michelin star, but rather more expensive than an average Budapest place. A very smart choice for those who wish to try the wine but focus on the dinner.
The Best Summer Wine Festivals
Hungary is known for its many summer festivals, which seem to make up a rather large share of its tourism. With these characteristics, it is perhaps not at all surprising that there are several festivals dedicated to wine. Here are my personal favourites, but do look around in the warmer months for wine related events, as there are too many to follow for one old meerkat.
Etyek is a town just outside Budapest on the other side of the Buda hills. It is well known in the film industry, and is becoming a hub of local gastronomy and in rustic tourism. Its main attraction is the picnic held here every year, where you can try Hungarian culinary specialties and all manner of fried, pickled and otherwise preserved delicacies, but the focus of this event are without a doubt the wines of Hungary.
Budapest Wine Festival
Experience the Buda Castle in a daze of Hungarian wine, with music, hundreds of wines from dozens of small and rather large vineyards, and an inimitable atmosphere. A lighthearted walk in the Castle District with stalls and stalls of wine and gourmet dishes to try, and all on the rather pleasant time of the first weekend of September. A great way to experience the flavours and tastes of the wines of yesteryear, right before the October harvests start.
The end of May, beginning of June marks the return of summer. The Rosalia is a festival that wishes to commemorate this fact with dancing and wine galore in the biggest park of Budapest, the City Park. If you enjoy walking around an enormous, beautiful public park with plenty of wine to keep you company- and let’s be honest, who doesn’t- then do not miss out on this awesome festival. This year it will be held from the 31st of May until the 2nd of June, and as its name predicts, there will be Rosé.
A festival dedicated to the finer things in life, something I can get behind. Gastronomy, fine dining, and a bouquet of tastes and smells to delight the palate, wine is naturally a key element of this gathering of those who love their stomachs. Held in the middle of May (16th-19th) in the Millenáris park in Buda, this festival will give you an opportunity to try rare foods and wine from a variety of places. The focus here is on the quality, and it is always top notch.