Eger wine region

Scientists actually identified a 30 million-year-old wine grape fossil in Eger, where  grapes grow natively on the rolling terrains. Eger is best known for two of its native blends: the Bikaver, or “Bull’s Blood” (a red blend), and the Egri Csillag, or “Star of Eger” (a white blend). Egri Bikavér,  as the name implies,  can be a pretty badass red blend, rich in tannin and spice.  Legend claims that the wine gets its name from a famous event during the Ottoman siege of Eger in 1552, when the Hungarian troops were caught drinking copious amounts of spicy red wine by Turkish onlookers. Seeing the bloodshot eyes, red-stained beards, and fiery temperaments of the wine-drinking Hungarians, the Turkish soldiers rushed back to their captain, insisting that the Hungarians were not to be messed with for they had been drinking the blood of a bull! Winemaking has long been a huge part of Eger’s economy and culture. Monks who lived in Eger more than 1000 years ago engaged in winemaking with native grapes. Although Turks took the castle of Eger in 1596 and held it for nearly 100 years, winemaking was such a substantial source of revenue that the Turks allowed it to continue under their rule. By the 16th Century, there was a complex system of labyrinths underneath the town for storing wine.

The legendary wines of Hungary

Just a hundred years ago, Hungary was one of the most important wine producers in Europe. Every royal court clinked glasses filled with precious gold Tokaji (“toe-kye”) wine, while other lush Hungarian whites and reds were lauded and enjoyed throughout Europe.  But the aggressive assault of phylloxera in the 1880’s,  two world wars, and forty years of communist collectivization made some temporary changes.

Fortunately, Hungary is bouncing back. Countless small estates, replanted and cultivated across the country are turning out beautiful wines–a result of traditional winemaking culture mixed with a modern sensibility. Besides  22 historical wine regions growing hundreds of varietals, the country offers a multitude of great wines to explore almost all over the Hungary. So, where to start?  Being impossible to show up all,  one can get a really great overview of the country’s wines from  5 of its top regions: Eger, Tokaj, Villány, Balaton-Somló  and Etyek.

Tokaj is the gold standard of the Hungarian wine regions, and also  Hungary’s most famous wine route, the oldest classified wine region in the world, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and home to the world’s first noble rot wine, the sweet Tokaji Aszú. Tokaj – Hegyalja -named after the village of Tokaj – is made up of 28 towns scattered along rolling hills and nestled between two rivers, the Tisza and the Bodrog. The rivers and the sunny slopes create a special microclimate in the area with high levels of moisture in the air, offset by wind.  Tokaj had a major wine economy in the 1700’s, when Poland and Russia were ravaging fans of Tokaji Aszú. Peter the Great was such an Aszú fanatic that he stationed a permanent military barrack in Tokaj to ensure there would be no interruption to his constant stream of liquid gold to the royal palace in St. Petersburg. Louis XIV famously described Tokaji Aszú as “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” Before the invention of refined sugar, royal courts throughout Europe would consume the sweet Tokaji from dainty crystal spoons.  This treasured wine often tastes like candied tangerines and apricots, cinnamon and cloves, with a sweetness somewhere between honey and nectar. Its bright acidity balances out the extreme sugar content.

Several international critics in the 2000’s have said that Cabernet Franc has found its new home in Villány. And really, the sub-Mediterranean climate here is particularly ideal for making wine, with long hot summers and mild winters. The wines of Villány region  are world-class, structured and elegant, with good tannins and a balance of fruit and earth. Native grapes are grown volcanic soils, include Portugesier and Kékfrankos, but many producers focus on red Bordeaux varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

For centuries, people believed that the volcanic Somló wines had positive effects on everything from anemia and paralysis. In fact, legend has it that aristocrats and monarchs sent fertile women there to drink the wine, believing that the wine’s overpowering masculinity would lead them to beget a male heir. Some historian says, a glass of Somló wine was obligatory on the wedding’s night for the young couples of the Habsburgs since Empress Maria Theresa.  Somló is Hungary’s tiniest wine region, but its wines are possibly the most fascinating in Hungary.  The bedrock is black basalt, the remnant of ancient lava flows, and above it lies a topsoil with loess, clay and sand. The unique terroir makes some of the smokiest, most fiery white wines in the world.  The flagship here is the Somlói Juhfark. Juhfark–or “sheep’s tail” in Hungarian,–makes white wines that are ashy, savory and fierce. The wines have flavors of lemon, smoke and wheat, with mineral-driven intensity. While Juhfark’s effects on health (and masculinity) have yet to be proven, its uniqueness makes it a coveted bottle among wine geeks.

When you have limited time, the quickest way to experience Hungarian wines to visit Etyek. Actually up to the 19th century, Buda was the most important winemaking center in Hungary, but after the mentioned phylloxera plague here the grapes were not replanted, and a little village,  Etyek became the closest wine region. The area is famous for producing sparkling wine, better to say the elegant white grape varieties giving the base for the