Hungarian wines are well regarded both at home and abroad and the industry forms a big part of the Hungarian economy and is a huge source of national pride.
- A brief history of Hungarian wine
- Getting the grapes
- Wine tourism in Hungary
- Enjoying good Hungarian wine in Budapest
A brief history of Hungarian wine
The first grapes were planted by the Romans during the 5th century AD, back when Hungary was known as Pannonia, and records show that vineyards were located all over the land. Later, following the Magyar invasion of 896, Árpád rewarded his loyal followers with vineyards in Tokaj.
The wine industry really started to flourish in 1000 AD when Stephen I founded the Kingdom of Hungary. As a Christian country, wine was an important part of the culture and over the years grape varieties were imported from all over Europe. Further influence from the Ottoman and Austrian Empires have led to the wide range of wines that are produced today.
Sadly, Communist times saw quality sacrificed for increased yields and nationalisation of the industry held back innovation. However, since 1989 there has been a renewed interest in Hungarian wines and the future looks bright as they continue to win international awards.
Getting the grapes
Hungary has 22 wine regions each with its own individual microclimate and soil conditions. Along with grapes imported through history, there are a number of varieties unique to Hungary.
Hungary’s most famous wines include:
Egri Bikavér - Known as “Bull’s Blood of Eger” this is Hungary’s most famous red. It’s made from a blend of at least three grapes and is thought to have originated during the Turkish invasion of the 16th century, brought by the Turks themselves of the Serbs that came after.
Törley - A deliciously sweet sparkling wine that’s made from grapes picked in the Etyek Buda wine region. The Törley wine company was founded by József Törley who was champagne production business using French base wines, before realising Hungary had perfect conditions for producing its own sparkling wine.
During the 18th and 19th century the annual grape harvest, which takes place between September and November, was a massive cultural and social event. It included the mass ringing of church bells and soldiers being let off activity duty to come home and pick grapes. Those wanting to experience the harvest atmosphere themselves should attend one of the many harvest festivals that happen all around Hungary.
Wine tourism in Hungary
Each year many thousands of wine affectionados travel to Hungary to see what she has to offer. And for expats, as reasons for getting out of Budapest go, taking a trip to one of Hungary’s famous wine towns is a good one.
Here are some places to check out:
Eger - Located in the Eger wine region and home to the legendary ‘Bull’s Blood’, this picturesque town is located in the north of Budapest. As well as an abundance of wine bars and cellars (known as pinces), there is a nice castle, thermal baths and other historic buildings to take in.
Tokaj - Located in the Tokaj wine region, this is the place to come for an afternoon or more sampling Hungary’s famous Tokaji dessert wines. You can hop from one cellar to the next, some of which date back to the 16th century, and take a stroll along the river at dusk. You might also want to seek out the quite unusual Korty, which is a beer fermented with Tokaji wine.
Balatonboglár - Located on the southern shore of Lake Balaton - which is surrounded by five wine regions that form a significant part of Hungary's wine economy - it is known as the ‘town of grapes and wine’, and you can enjoy Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Kékfrankos and Rieslings from the many vineyards, wine cellars and restaurants in the area. It’s also home to a statue of controversial Hungarian prime minister Pál Teleki.
Enjoying good Hungarian wine in Budapest
If you want to enjoy a glass of wine without leaving the comfort of the city then there are plenty of top wine bars in Budapest. And if you’re looking for something to take home for the weekend then there are plenty of wine shops as well.
Like many cities, wine tasting events are popular here in Budapest and if you’re after a good view while you sip then it’s recommended you attend one on a riverboat on in the grounds of Buda Castle.
Finally, the tiny village of Etyek is located in the southern part of Buda and is home 40 km long wine cave system that has been aging various Hungarian wines for over 300 years. If this piques your interest then you book a tour to see it.