Hungary can trace its wine history back to at least as far as Roman times. In 2015, Wine Folly described Hungary as “the best kept secret of the wine world”; it’s also one of legendary writer Hugh Johnson’s favourite regions.
Gyorgy Zsiga has been importing a list of carefully-selected Hungarian wines for nearly a decade, all of which are now available to buy through Novel Wines.
While the UK is no stranger to the fame of sweet dessert wines hailing from Tokaj, there is so much more to Hungarian wine. Most exciting of all is the production of dry Furmint, a grape not too dissimilar from Chardonnay. Balkan-grown grapes have a wonderful acidity that is perhaps only rivalled by the Loire, which is balanced with Hungary’s warmer, continental climate. This means indigenous grapes such as Furmint, Kekfrankos or Kiralyeanyku can be grown to top quality and produce some of the world’s more unique wines.
While Tokaj has altitude to balance acidity and sweetness to infamous perfection, those familiar with Hungarian wines may talk more about Lake Balaton. One of the largest lakes in Europe, the white wines produced here would rival some of Germany’s finest dry Rieslings. Grown on volcanic soils at altitude with the cooling influence of the lake, grapes here ripen slowly and retain wonderful acidity. The region is also a major tourist destination and offers some of Hungary’s best dining outside of Budapest.
The Danube River, which flows through the capital and down the centre of the country, traces the wine regions of Eger, Kunsag, Szekszard and Villany. As Hungary is landlocked, the influence of the Danube River is essential to quality viticulture in Hungary. Eger produces the famous “Bull’s Blood” or “Bikaver” blend of varieties, which at is best is richly fruity and structured. It is also home to the unusual Star of Csillag blend of around 7 white grape varieties.
Kunsag, which is a drier region made up of predominantly sandy soils, is where Hungary thrives in producing very aromatic, floral and juicy styles of white wine and sparkling, often from the Israi-Oliver grape. There is also a lot of Kekfrankos planted here, which grown in this soil and climate leans more towards cherry fruit flavour and is very easy drinking.
In the south, you’ll discover Szekszard, which is the home of quality Kekfrankos from great wineries like Takler. Here they’re matured in oak and give full bodied flavours of black cherry, savoury vanilla and charred wood.
Over the river from Szekszard is the region of Villany. Once fairly unknown in western Europe, they have since pioneered single variety Cabernet Franc, nicknamed “Villanyi Franc”. These wines are full bodied, premium and luxurious – but they do take a good few years for their tannins to soften and can be a little grippy when young. To get an idea of the region of Villany without breaking the bank, their Bordeaux-style blends are delicious and approachable just 1-2 years after vintage. Heumann winery is a great producer of both these styles.