Hungary? Grab a Glass

Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer Jordan is the senior editor at www.savoreachglass.com. With a vast knowledge of wine etiquette, she writes articles on everything from how to hold a glass of wine to how to hold your hair back after too many glasses. Ultimately, she writes her articles with the intention that readers will remember wine is fun and each glass of anything fun should always be savored.

When I think of Hungary, I don't think of wine. I think of architecture, goulash, folklore, and a country that isn't very good at picking sides when it comes to world wars. Occasionally, I think of people named Helga. But, I don't really think of wine, at least not until now....

Written in wine

Despite my ignorance, Hungary maintains more tradition regarding wine than any other country in the Eastern side of Europe. However, most of this tradition, after being walled in from 1949-1989 by communist rule, is recently just coming to light and people are finally starting to hear through the grape vine great things about Hungarian wine.

Hungary, a landlocked country with forests, vineyards, rivers and orchards, is home to 22 wine regions, with the most prestigious one called Tokaj-Hegyalja. Boasting a number of different grape varieties, vineyards have flourished here since Roman Times. The climate, one that adheres to seasonal rules with hot summers and cold winters, allows for the country's soils to be diverse, leading to the variety of regions and a variety of wine.

The wines of Hungary come in all types and, despite previous communist control, are not limited to just reds. Though the vineyards of Hungary produce a variety of wonderful wines - Balatonlellei Cabernet Sauvignon, Tokaji Furmint, Tokaji Muscat - the one that is their claim to fame, the one they raise their glass to most often, is the Tokay Aszu.

The Tokay Aszu, whether accompanying a side of tiramisu or a pack of Twinkies, is one of the leading dessert wines in the world. Historically, it was discovered in the mid 17th Century and was soon filling the goblets of many European aristocrats. Certain types of it were even rumored to have magical healing powers.

Another famous Hungarian wine is the Egri Bikaver, also known as Bull's Blood. As legend goes, the name from this wine was derived during a 16th century battle between the Magyars (the modern day Hungarians) and the Turks. During the battle, in which the Magyars were protecting the fortress of Eger, the Magyars fought like lions and drank red wine like fish. While their arrows may have been a tad off target, their orders slightly slurred, and the bathroom line inside the fortress longer than usual, the red wine did the trick. When the Turks saw the Magyars with beards covered in red, they assumed the enemy was drinking bull's blood, and the Turks quickly retreated.

The best wineries to visit, if you ever find yourself in Hungary, are those in Tokay, which is located in the northeast, about three hours by train from Budapest. The wineries are usually open for tastings and tours of the underground cellars from May through October.

Overall, the wine in Hungary is a good thing to have by the glass, the bottle, or the case. Having been perfected over centuries, it gives connoisseurs something to study, something to order, and something to drink. And, of course, it keeps Hungary, as a nation, thirsty.

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  • Wice says
    We used to drink a Spanish wine called "Bulls Blood" which had a little black plastic bull attached to the cork. Haven't seen this for years though. It' was interesting to read about the Hungarian variaton. If it is anything like the Spanish, it was a very bold, almost rough wine - great with hearty meat dishes! Love to try Toya Aszu and Egri Bikaver - they sound quite different.

    I did quite a thorough search to find where I could buy these Hungarian wines. The sources are few and far between but if you would like a taste, here are a couple of merchants who say they have them in stock. They are not cheap!

    Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos (500ml) 2000 $135
    http://www.glengarrywines.co.nz/product.jsp?code=90960

    2004 Hugel Tokay Pinot Gris $44.99
    http://www.caros.co.nz/shop/buy/item/0/2184/2004-hugel-tokay-pinot-gris.html
  • Starlite5 says
    Like the author of this piece I wouldn't have picked Hungary as 'wine country' so goes to show how you learn something new everyday! Although I have tried a version of Tokjai Muscat many moons ago when I was too young and inexperienced to truly appreciate the $300 price tag (I hung around a bunch of winos and a winemaster whose name shall remain a secret but who I shall be eternally greatful for introducing me to the wonderful world of wine!)
    • KH says
      That's very cool!
      • Anna says
        i dont think ive ever drunk wine with that kind of price tag!!!
        • Rosie says
          nah, the most expensive one I've drunk is a $70ish bottle of Moet & Chandon on my 21st
        • Wice says
          Looked into this a little further and found out there are lots of regions in Hungary (22 according to one website) where wine is made. There are also wine tours of Hungary which sound really fascinataing. Here's one if you are interested: http://www.gohungarytours.com/food-wine-tours/wine-tour-hungary.html

          What surprised me though, was looking at the bottles of Tokaji wine on the web. It is a really unusual colur - a deep gold (see below). This made sense when I went back and read it was a sweet dessert muscat wine - probably a bit like a sweet sherry. Hence you would only drink it in small quantities rather than in a large glass like a standard wine.

          Another interesting fact I found is that Tokaji is mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem!

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