Hungarians are very proud of their wines and that is for a good reason, the quality of the wine from Hungary is superb. Most famous among the Hungarian wines is the sweet dessert wine from Tokaj in North-Eastern Hungary which is comparable to the Port Wine in terms of publicity, just it is a white wine. The reason for the missing popularity abroad, though it is rising, is the simple fact that a small country like Hungary cannot produce as much wine as larger countries such as Italy or France. So it is a quantity matter, not quality, that Hungarian wine is not sold around the globe though it has the requirements to do so. Most of the wine produced in Hungary is consumed in Hungary as well but some bottles or barrels make it across the border.
There are several wine regions in Hungary which you will read about later on. My favorite regions are Szekszárd and Villány though Villány has become increasingly popular over the years and with that more expensive to a level which is not justified anymore, at least for the high quality wines.
Wine plays an important role in Hungarian culture and has a lot of history in it so Hungary is rather a wine drinking nation than a beer drinking. Over the past years many wine bars have opened up in Budapest and other major cities in Hungary and also it became increasingly popular to visit the wine makers directly to have a wine tasting followed by extensive bottle shopping.
Below you can find more information about the wine regions in Hungary, about the culture around wine and a bit of history as well as some really interesting stats about grape types used, amounts produced and much more so continue reading if you want to get in or are already into Hungarian Wine.
Hungarian Wine Regions
Tokaj Wine Region
The region that has the world’s oldest classification system, which dates back to 1772, has succeeded in keeping the noble Hungarian varieties of Furmint and Hárslevelű, which account for 69.9% and 17.8% of the region’s 5,840 hectares respectively, firmly in the forefront. Their presence in the mixed volcanic soils and unique terroir at the meeting point of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers encourages abundant botrytis, producing the truly unique and world-class Tokaji Aszú dessert wines. Sárgamuskotály (Muscat Lunel) is not indigenous, it’s the same as French Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, but is the third most important grape in Tokaj with 7.7% of plantings. It can have a powerful floral and grapey fragrance that can add to the aroma of Aszú. Zéta has 1.9%, and Kövérszőlő, the so-called “fat” grape, 0.7% of vineyard area and spice up and flesh out Tokaji Aszú blends.
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos typically contains around 150g/l of residual sugar while Aszú-eszencia and Eszencia, the free run juice of botrytised berries, head up to 180g/l and 250g/l or residual sugar respectively. Szamorodni, literally “as it comes” can be both dry and sweet (around 30g/l). As these wines require long ripening, more fruit forward late-harvest wines intended for earlier drinking created their own market. A relatively recent trend has been for terroir transmitting dry wines from Furmint that have met with serious international acclaim. Hárslevelű, and now Sárgamuskotály are also impressing in the dry stakes. Kabar is a relatively new crossing of Hárslevelű with Bouvier and is permitted according to the region’s regulation. However, other whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, which are practically negligible in terms of vineyard share, are released as so-called country wine (Tájbor) under the name Zempléni, after the region’s hill range.
Foreign investors flooded in during the privatization of the former state company in the early 1990’s and established a number of large state-of-the-art wineries that for the most part pursued a fresher style than had become the norm. This angered many advocates of the oxidized “old” style Aszú, whereby the wine is encouraged to oxidize in the barrel by, for example, half filling it. This method has its roots in the former system rather than in Tokaj’s more glorious past when it was in serious demand in the courts of Europe. Now the trend is more for Hungarians to invest in the region.
Tokaj’s soil is often brown forest soil formed on a volcanic base originating from rhyolite, andesite and the related tuffs. Hard clay, stony “nyirok” soil that is difficult to cultivate also occur here and loess on the spurs of Kopasz Hill. Tokaj has warm summers, long, sunny and humid autumns and cold winters.
Balaton Wine Region
The Balaton Wine region consists of 6 subregions with a total area of 10 646 ha wine fields. Below they are sorted by size:
- Balatonboglár 3 323 ha
- Balatonfüred-Csopak 2 115 ha
- Badacsony 1 653 ha
- Zala 1 596 ha
- Balatonfelvidék 1 236 ha
- Nagy-Somló 723 ha
In Badacsony and Somló the slopes of the volcanic mountains are covered with basaltic Pannonian sand, Pannonian clay, or loess at certain points, which can also be found in Balatonfelvidék, though together with various soils. In Balatonfüred-Csopak, rendzina soils may also be found formed on red Permian sandstone, limestone or dolomite. Whilst in Balatonboglár, where the character of the soil is more gentle, brown forest soils form on typical loess. It’s similar in Zala, however, where barren areas may be found quite frequently on the eroded slopes.
Mediterranean-submediterranean effects are particularly detectable near Balaton, with the lake exerting a balancing impact. Somewhat different is Somló, which is very windy, thus moderately warm, but with favourably irradiated slopes. Perhaps this is our only wine district where vineyards are also typical on the north facing slopes. The vineyards of Zala are found further from the lake, and it has a mild, well-balanced, wet climate.
White grapes dominate everywhere, although red grapes, especially Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, play an increasing role in Balatonboglár and Balatonfüred-Csopak. At their best, they can and do compete with the red wines of Szekszárd and Villány. With 3,000 hectares, Olaszrizling constitutes about 27% of total production and is particularly renowned in Csopak, where it is known as rizling, as well as Badacsony and Somló. Szürkebarát is also a prominent grape in Badacsony, Balatonfelvidék and Balatonfüred-Csopak. Lake Balaton is the true home of a pair of indegenous varieties: Kéknyelű in Badacsony and Juhfark in Somló – which both give strong masculine wines, emphasizing the mineral characteristics of the volcanic soil. Somló also has indigenous Hungarian Furmint and Hárslevelű.
North-Transdanubia Wine Region
The North-Transdanubia Wine region is subdivided in 5 regions with an total area of 6 016 ha:
- Sopron 1 901 ha
- Etyek-Buda 1 587 ha
- Ászár-Neszmély 1 013 ha
- Mór 893 ha
- Pannonhalma 622 ha
With the exception of Sopron, the natural conditions of the region are mostly favorable for the production of fragrant white wines. After the phylloxera disease which killed off Sopron’s late-harvest and Aszú white wines, Sopron became “the capital of Kékfrankos” with it now accounting for 60% of plantings.
The calcareous soils of Etyek-Buda provide great acids that have long been utilized for making sparkling wine, with its production centered in Budafok. At present, the leading variety of the district is Chardonnay (13.6%), followed by Zöld veltelini (10.5%), then by Sauvignon Blanc, Rajnai Rizling (Riesling), Szürkebarát, Olaszrizling and Rizlingszilváni, each representing about 5-6% of the total. These are mostly used for making fruit-forward reductive wines.
Ászár-Neszmély, which has the best rate of new plantations (20.6%), is the home of light and fresh wines. Chardonnay is grown on the largest area (19.9%), which is followed by Ezerjó (13.2%), Szürkebarát (12%) and Rizlingszilváni (6.3%). Its largest producer, Hilltop Neszmély, has achieved great success abroad with the hybrids Cserszegi fűszeres and Irsai Olivér.
Mór is known for Ezerjó, which accounts for 20.5% of its vineyard and in favourable vintages, late-harvest and botrytized wines can be made from it, while Tramini has Olaszrizling dominates in Pannonhalma, claiming 26.7% of plantings. Tramini is also prominent in both areas, while Pannonhalma Abbey Winery also makes red wines.
The Pannonian Wine Region
The Pannonian Wine region in Hungary consists of 4 sub regions with a total area of 8 912 ha:
- Tolna 2 982 ha
- Szekszárd 2 644 ha
- Villány 2 553 ha
- Pécs 733 ha
Szekszárd and Villány are considered Hungary’s two premier red wine areas where red grapes account for 81.9% and 76.7% of plantings, respectively. In Pécs and Tolna white varieties are the most prominent.
The so-called “Bordeaux world varieties”, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are of high importance in Szekszárd and Villány and many of the great blends are usually made from these. Kékfrankos is the everyday wine in Szekszárd and Tolna, although winemakers, mostly in Szekszárd, have acheived great results with reduced yields. Portugieser is a key player in Villány with 17.1% of vineyard share to Cabernet Sauvignon’s leading 17.5%. New wines made Portugieser, not only light red wines but also rosés, play an important role in winery liquidity, since its early ripening makes wine available for St. Martin Day on November 11. Zweigelt is also significant in all areas while trendy Pinot Noir and Syrah have take up a few dozen hectares in Szekszárd and Villány.
With its 80 hectares, Kadarka may only be seventh in terms of planting in Szekszárd, but it is an intrinsic part of the identity and history of the wine region. It makes a fresh, spicy wine with a lighter colour, that is used to spice up Szekszárdi Bikavér; the backbone of which is typically provided by Kékfrankos.
Austrian Cirfandli is a speciality of Pécs, whilst Hárslevelű is a feature of Siklós, the other half of the Villány District. Rosé wines, especially those made from Kékfrankos and Merlot are of great significance in the whole Pannonian region, just as in the rest of red wine areas of Hungary.
North Hungary Wine Region
Though only consisting of 3 sub regions the North Hungary Wine region is the second biggest with 14 758 ha in total.
- Mátra 7 630 ha
- Eger 5 908 ha
- Bükkalja 1 220 ha
This is the second biggest region with its climate typified by long winters and little precipitation. Mátra and Bükk are white wine dominated districts. In Eger, since the nineties, blue grapes have become predominant, as opposed to the previously balanced proportion. Those red wines that do come from Mátraalja vary greatly from Eger. They serve to widen the assortment and are fragrant, more acidic and lighter. On the other hand, reds have long ageing potential in Eger which is known for its legendary Bikavér blends, which use Kékfrankos as the backbone. Bikavér was formerly known as Bull’s Blood on foreign markets. However, most of the district’s winemakers consider that name too blighted for its association as a cheap and cheerful, but by no means high-quality wine that flooded western markets in the communist era, that they have started marketing again from scratch. Bikavér continues to struggle as some winemakers continue to put out thin wines under the name and wine regulation has been insufficient to tackle this problem, though the introduction of the Bikavér Superior classification is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, certain producers still prefer to use another name for what is their top Bikavér.
The region’s soils are varied, but rhyolitic tuff is a typical base rock in all three districts, on which black “nyirok” soils (often poor in lime) and passivated brown forest soils have formed. Eger also has the highly prized south-facing limestone Eged Hill which has perfect growing conditions.
Experimenting is a characteristic feature in Eger. Many believe that Pinot Noir thrives in the cooler northern climate and could make Eger famous, while Syrah also grabbing people’s attention. Eger also has real rarities like the rich Menoir (previously Kékmedoc) and Turán, while Kadarka is making a comeback. Fashionable fragrant rosé wines are important in Eger and Mátraalja, and are often made from Kékfrankos. Traditional Eger whites include Debrői Hárslevelű, Verpeléti Olaszrizling and Egri Leányka, though the latter does not seem to be able to find its place on the market.
Mátra is the home of fragrant wines from Rizlingszilváni (11.2%), Muscat Ottonel (7.6%), Szürkebarát (7.2%), Olaszrizling (6.9%) and Chardonnay (6.6%). However, Irsai Olivér, Tramini, Leányka, Zöld veltelini, Hárslevelű, Cserszegi fűszeres and Zenit are also important. Late harvest wines are a feature of all three regions.
The Danube Wine Region
With a whooping 28 566 ha the Danube Wine region is the biggest in Hungary. Only for mass production or also quality? Find it out.
- Kunság 24 393 ha
- Csongrád 1 955 ha
- Hajós-Baja 2 218 ha
The “Great Plain” has a lot going for it in fact, and is home to diverse indigenous varieties, especially regarding whites which dominate in all three districts, taking up three-quarters of the share in the Kunság. Look out for spicy Cserszegi fűszeres, Zala gyöngye, Kunleány and Kövidinka, besides the traditional Arany sárfehér and Ezerjó. The latter pair are also used for sparkling wine due to their high acidity and juiciness. Regarding reds, Kékfrankos is the most prevalent in all three districts, though you’ll also find considerable Zweigelt, Kadarka, and French varieties, especially Cabernet franc and Cabernet sauvignon. The red wines are usually fresh and have lower acid and tannin content than those in higher areas.
The climate of Hungary’s largest wine region is rather extreme, hence the widespread use of sturdy and frost resistant varieties. Summers are warm and dry, with lots of sunshine. Winters are cold and dry, whilst spring and autumn frosts are not rare. The soil in Kunság is mainly limy sand of Danubian origin deposited on field and meadow soil, varying sometimes with loess in Csongrád. In Hajós-Baja loess is the basic type, that is interspersed with meadow clay covered with sand, which makes it closer to the conditions in Szekszárd than to its partner regions.
Hungarian Wine & Culture
In an unrivaled meeting of wine and culture, the country’s biggest wine fair is held every September in the imperial majesty of the Buda Castle. Like the Hungarian fine wine industry, the Buda Castle has been destroyed several times but has come back stronger than ever. Wine once again flows through the very heart of Hungarian society, especially now that Hungarians have come to be proud of the quality their wines have reached in the 20 years since the end of communism, and its associated collectivization.
Whether attending the opera where the audience indulges in the local sparkling wine or a glass of Tokaj szamarodni or Aszú in the intervals, or drinking fröccs (spritzer) in the Bohemian hangout of one of Budapest’s kert (garden) bars, wine is a key part of everyday life. Hungarians blog and debate about wine on internet chat boards in the same way as other nationalities interact about sports. Budapest hosts countless classy wine dinners whereby dishes are matched with a flight of wines in the presence of the winemaker who made them. Often at these dinners a much in-demand group of a Capella singers sing centuries old songs about the joys of making and consuming wine. The winemakers themselves are held in awe and regarded like movie stars.
Hungary and Hungarians have always been close to wine which has deep and unbreakable roots in every aspect of cultural life from the church to folklore, arts, literature and music. New wines are eagerly awaited on St. Martin’s Day on November 11 and it is still hotly debated whether the name Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) came from the defense of Eger Castle or from Szekszárd poet János Garay.
Sparkling wine made by József Törley in the méthode Champenoise from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from Etyek-Buda vineyards provided the fizz to fuel the good times after the Compromise of 1867 with Habsburg Austria. Törley spotted that Hungarian aristocrats loved Champagne and found they were totally open to the locally produced version, which was made on the edge of the capital in Budafok. Their influence filtered down through Hungarian society and soon it was popular among the rising classes created through the new wave of prosperity. It was just the stuff with which to toast the joining of Buda and Pest in 1873.
While sumptuous Tokaji Aszú was the wine of the Russian, Polish and even French courts in centuries past, as well as described in 1551 by Pope Julian III as fit for a pope’s table, now in 2009 a more modest traditional aspect of wine consumption is coming back to prominence. Five to ten years ago a waiter would have probably frowned at you if you’d ordered a fröccs in a trendier place in Budapest. Fröccs, i.e. spritzer, is wine (usually white but often rosé or red) mixed with soda in a plethora of variations regarding the proportion of wine and soda. It was considered to be a “proli”, i.e. working-class cheap drink until recently. However, legend has it that this extremely refreshing way of drinking wine got its name from one of greatest Hungarian poets and dramatists – Mihály Vörösmarty – who composed the second most important Hungarian national anthem, the “Szózat” (Appeal) in 1836. Fröccs has certainly succeeded in casting off the misconception that diluting the wine with soda is the best way to make a poor wine more palatable. In fact, many of the country’s leading winemakers will secretly tell you that their drink of choice is nothing other than a rosé fröccs.
Wine Bars in Budapest
As mentioned in the beginning already there are many wine dedicated bars opening up in Budapest these days bringing a very nice flair to the city. It is all about the wine, not only Hungarian, and enjoying life. Especially in the summer time, when you can sit outside, it is very popular to have a chat with friends over a glass of wine. Here are some recommendable wine bars in Budapest.
Some interesting statistics about Hungarian Wines
Hungary has 69,000 hectares (ha) of productive vineyard area. The five-year annual average production is 3.5 million hectolitres (hl) with 70% made from white grapes and 30% made from red grapes. Olaszrizling, with 7% of all vineyard under production and 10.3% of white vine plantings, is the most widely planted white grape followed by Furmint, Cserszegi fűszeres and Chardonnay. Kékfrankos is the leading red grape accounting for 11.7% of the total vineyard and 38% of total red grapes planted, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Portugieser and Zweigelt.
Some 10,000 companies are involved in grapegrowing and winemaking with an average vineyard size of 0.5 ha per player. 50% of their output is classified as quality wine (minőségi bor) with the other 50% classified as table wine and landwine (asztali bor and tájbor).
Total domestic consumption stands at 3 million hl/per annum with an average annual consumption of 30-32 liter per head. 48% of domestic consumption is of white wines while the share of red is 45%, though increasing, with rosé at 7%. 33% of Hungarian wine consumption is of dry wines, while 8% is of semi-dry, 50% semi-sweet and 5% sweet.
Hungary exported 640,000 hl of wine in 2008, representing an 6.8% drop on the 2007 volume. However, the total export value in 2008 of €67 million, marked a 1.6% increase on 2007. Consequently the average export price of Hungarian wine has grown with 8.5% and reached €1 per litre. Hungary’s leading export countries are Germany, the Czech Republic, the UK and Russia.
Wine tastings are a great opportunity to explore the regional wine specialties. Below are 3 different tours you can book comfortably from over internet before the start of your trip. Make one day of your holiday a relaxing day with a few wines of Hungary.
- Budapest Wine Tasting incl. Lunch
- Wine Tasting & Danube Cruise
- Wine Tasting Trip to Eger
Enjoy the best Hungarian wines over a great lunch in the city center of Budapest. This wine tasting is a perfect replacement for a normal lunch.
You are a small group of visitors than this tour is the perfect match for you. Enjoy the time with friends and good wine.
If you want to explore the beautiful Wine region of Eger, including its famous Egri Bikavér wine, this tour takes you there.
History of Hungarian WineGrape and wine production in the Carpathian basin dates back thousands of years as does winemaking in many European countries. However, what sets Hungary apart is that the legendary Tokaj region is home to the world’s oldest vineyard classification system, dating back to 1772. In 1630 Máté Sepsy Laczkó detailed the method for making Aszú that is still in use today.
Going further back data is scarce, but the oldest relating records and artifacts originate from the Celtic times. Many historical sources cite a boom during the Roman Empire, with the Huns and the Avars particularly active. Records from the period of the Árpád dynasty (9th – 13th Century) confirm that advanced horticulture, including vine-growing, existed in the Carpathian basin. The Church contributed greatly to the development. The reigns of the Anjou House (14th Century) and then Mátyás Hunyadi (1469-1490) saw dramatic improvement both in quantity and quality, with the export story beginning and Hungarian wines became popular across Europe. The Ottoman broke this dynamic, except in Tokaj which really started to gain ground with its wines in demand in northern Europe. Also, in 1551 Pope Julian III declared Tokaj fit for a pope’s table. After the Ottoman’s were expelled, the sales skills of the Thököly and Rákóczi families helped make Tokaj the wine of choice of the Russian and Polish royal courts. The period following the doomed Rákóczi war of independence against the Habsburgs was not so buoyant with an extremely disadvantageous duty system imposed on wine exports. The Habsburgs invited in loyal immigrants en masse and many brought red grapes with them: the Serbs contributing Kadarka, Germanic Swabians introducing Kékfrankos and Portugieser (formerly Kékoportó) to regions like Szekszárd and Villány. Meanwhile, a Hungarian Count, Ágoston Haraszty, played a prominent role in founding the Californian wine industry in the 19th Century, especially be experimenting with European grapes.
Hungary’s “Compromise” with the Austrians in 1867 saw a period of unprecended growth in domestic demand for wine as cash piled into Budapest as it became a worthy sister to Vienna. However, disaster struck less than a decade later when phylloxera devastated the nation’s vineyards, followed by other diseases from the US. This brought about a fundamental shift in the sector: from the variety structures through the production technologies, to the geographic location of the vineyards.
The industry started to stabilize before the seismic political shifts of the 20th century.
The crumbling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of the First World War and the associated Treaty of Trianon of 1919 saw Hungary lose two-thirds of its territory but it did keep most of its main wine regions, including most of Tokaj, Eger, Villány, Szekszárd, Balaton and Somló. The Second World War was followed by
agrarianization, then nationalization and cooperative farming due socialism created political barriers in terms of markets and quantity not quality becoming the main focus. Low yielding grapes like Kadarka were uprooted en masse.
However, Hungary has moved on significantly since the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of communism in 1989. In the past two decades both vineyard management and oenology have seen substantial modernisation, and now the country is producing wines that are not only technically sound but also deliver great value. Hungarian winegrowers are now paying more attention to indigenous varieties and many are focusing on expressing the terroir in their wines.