Overlooked perhaps by the general public, but lauded by those in the know, Hungarian wine has a huge amount to offer, with a large and exciting range of wines.
Most will have heard of its signature dessert Tokaji wines – popular in the UK since the Victorian era – and the exuberant Bulls Blood red wines.
But there are so much more being produced by a new generation of Hungarian winemakers.
Many feature indigenous grapes such as kekfrankos, keknyelu, olaszrizling and kadarka.
Others have taken the country’s most versatile grape, furmint, and turned it into a world-class dry white. It’s no wonder that the country’s wines have won bucket loads of prizes at recent blind tastings.
Now’s the time to get ahead of the curve and enjoy some of the most outstanding wines that eastern Europe can offer.
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Archabbey Pannonhalma sauvignon blanc 2018 13.5%, 75cl
Just to prove it’s not only local grapes which provide the best that Hungary can offer, here’s a stunning sauvignon blanc from Pannonhalma, where they’ve been making wine for a millennium. The grapes were grown in two distinct vineyards on slopes out of the sun, which lets strong flavours and aromas develop slowly. Cold maceration is followed by chilled fermentation, partly on the lees, resulting in an aromatic sauvignon blanc that has intense but crisp flavours of passion fruit and pineapple.
Buy now £16.95, Fieldandfawcett.co.uk
Heumann rosé cuvée villány 2020 13.5%, 75cl
What links Provence and Villany, Hungary’s southernmost wine region? Well, they both make excellent rosés, and this example, mainly made from the indigenous kekfrankos grape (70 per cent) with more than a little helping of syrah (30 per cent) is bursting full of fresh, bright strawberry and red fruit flavours. Produced from low-yielding vines in limestone-rich soils and aged for six weeks in stainless steel, it’s the perfect wine with which to welcome a longed-for summer.
Buy now £9.50, Thewinesociety.com
Sabar keknyelu kõmagas 2019 13.5%, 75cl
From a small winery at Lake Balaton in the volcanic-rich Badacsony wine region comes a young, fresh white that’s brimful of zesty lemon and citrus flavours. It’s another example of how local grapes are transforming Hungarian winemaking with the hand-picked keknyelu grape variety, making its mark in a wine that’s pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks before being partly matured in oak. Enjoy it by itself or with a light salad, white fish, or goats’ cheese.
Buy now £12.99, Novelwines.co.uk
Zsirai Nagy-somlói olaszrizling 2018 13%, 75cl
Sisters Kata Zsirai– young winemaker of the year in Hungary in 2018 – and Petra Zsirai have been running this winery in Tokaj since the unexpected death of their father in 2011. They believe the secret of a good wine is a great terroir, a careful selection of grape varieties and hands-on care. The result is this crisp and moreish white wine made from Hungary’s own olaszrizling grape. Despite the name, it’s not connected to German riesling, although equally attractive, with fleshy, soft fruit and orchard flavours complemented by a pleasing minerality.
Buy now £13.78, Jascots.co.uk
Oreg Kiraly Dulo sweet szamorodni furmint barta 2013 11.5%, 50cl
Hungary has been the home of sweet wines since the 16th century, with tsars, popes and even Queen Victoria all devotees of this gloriously rich and mellow dessert wine from the Tokaji region. “Szamorodni”, literally “as it was grown”, means that the local furmint grapes were left on the vines until well after the normal harvest date to concentrate the sugars inside. In addition, many of the grapes would also be affected by botrytis, the “noble rot” that adds another layer of full-on sweetness and texture. Aged in oak barrels, the end result is a pale golden wine where the sweetness – think candied fruits, sun-dried apricots and succulent oranges – is offset by a dash of acidity. A fruit harvest in a glass.
Buy now £25.95, Corneyandbarrow.com
Tóth Ferenc egri kadarka superior 2018 14%, 75cl
Kadarka is another indigenous Hungarian grape variety from the south-facing vineyards of the historic Eger region in the north-east of the country. It’s a variety that crops up in the famous Bull’s Blood wines, but here it’s slightly more restrained, in a silver-medal winning red wine that’s overflowing with raspberry and red fruit flavours allied to smooth tannins and a welcome minerality. A wine that will keep but can also be enjoyed now with rich meaty dishes or a hearty vegetable casserole.
Buy now £22.49, Bestofhungary.co.uk
Chateau Megyer tokaji dry furmint 2019 12%, 75cl
If, as it appears, Hungarian wine is playing an ever-increasing part in the European wine revolution, then it’s furmint which is leading the charge. Already known for marvelous dessert wines, furmint is a versatile grape that is also capable of producing wonderfully dry, bright and intense white wines such as this. The 2019 vintage includes a dash of harslevelu that brings an added zest. Hugely rich lemon and orange citrus flavours are offset by a crisp acidity, making this an ideal summertime wine. Enjoy it with fish or roasted vegetables.
Buy now £13.95, Fieldandfawcett.co.uk
Bonsai öregtőkék kadarka péter vida, Szekszárd 2017 13%, 75cl
Peter Vida, a former Hungarian winemaker of the year, is doing wonders with wines that reflect the terroir of the Szekszard wine region in southern Hungary. This kadarka from 100-year-old vines (that’s the “oregtokek” in the name) is rich in flavour, with layered notes of raspberry and red berries complemented by undertones of spices and herbs. It’s light red in colour but more complex than you may think. Often compared with a pinot noir, kadarka works well with spiced dishes and even curries.
Buy now £21.99, Oxfordwine.co.uk
Esterhazy Etyeki Kuria zweigelt etyek 2017 14.5% 75cl
The name may not trip off the tongue that easily, but as a relative newcomer to the Hungarian wine scene – the Etyeki Kuria winery was founded in 1996 and a partnership was established with the Esterhazy winery of Trausdorf, Austria, in 2006 – this is a company that’s already making a big name for itself. This wine utilises the Austrian zweigelt grape, creating a relatively strong (14.5 per cent) and opulently rich red wine, with intense dark fruit and dark berry flavours with hints of spice and liquorice. We wouldn’t go quite as far as the winery, which calls it a “real fruit bomb”, but you are getting a lot of bold, in-your-face (or should we say mouth?) flavour for your money. It may not bite back, but treat it with caution.
Buy now £22.40, Thirsty.selz.com
Chateau Megyer tokaji cuvée F late harvest furmint 2018 11.5%, 50cl
A drink so rich and golden that you feel there must be a touch of alchemy in how this delicious dessert wine is produced. It’s made from clusters of the furmint grape left on the vine until the sweetness is intense and concentrated. However, those grapes which have developed botrytis or noble rot are avoided, making it lighter-bodied than other Tokaji wines. Instead, the distinctive honey-like tones are slightly softened by notes of citrus peel and soft fruits. Fresh but never cloying, it’s the perfect wine with which to end a meal.
Buy now £19.00, Vagabondwines.co.uk
The verdict: Hungarian wines
Here’s a great chance to explore some grape varieties which may be new to you, from the kekfrankos in the rosé cuvée villany Heumann to the kadarka in the Bonsai Oregtokek and the zweigelt in the Esterhazy Etyeki Kuria.
The furmint, known for its use in sweet wines such as Oreg Kiraly Dulo sweet szamorodni, also impresses in the crisp Chateau Megyer tokaji dry furmint. But it’s the elegant, light and beautifully aromatic Archabbey Pannonhalma sauvignon blanc which takes the honours. It’s rare to find a sauvignon blanc which is as refreshing, flavoursome and exhilarating as this.
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