Fiercely traditional, spicy and warm – this encapsulates not only the wine and cuisine of Hungary, but also the people.
Hungarians are very proud people and have reverted back to focussing, growing and producing wines from their own regional grape varieties now. Because at one time they gave into pressure from Western Europe’s demands for mainly international varieties.
Of course, they still produce these wines as honorary Hungarians, but there are many other regional grape varieties of delightful character for us to explore from this country. Especially the spicy, aromatic, blossom scented whites!
Hungary is landlocked, but has the advantage of the largest lake in Europe, Lake Balaton, which cools and reflects the sun onto the many vineyards sites surrounding it. Long, warm summers and autumns allow long ripening time, alongside the river mists. You can just imagine that humidity levels are quite high, which they are. They are even high enough for noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea) to set in to the grapes.
Noble rot is a fungal disease brought on under these climatic conditions that is welcomed in the wine world! The grapes are affected by the noble rot, which literally rots the grapes by sucking them dry of all their water content, shrivelling the grapes to the size of raisins. This concentrates the flavours and sugar content to very high levels, producing some of the greatest sweet wines in the world!
Tokaji Aszú (pronounced ‘toe-ky’) is named thus due to the town from which it comes from is called Tokaj and Aszú means ‘nobly rotted grapes’. This is made from a blend of regional grape varieties- Furmint and Hárslevelű.
Tokaji is the most famous wine of Hungary, one of which they are extremely proud of for its worldwide recognition and very high prices it fetches!
Tokaji Aszú Essencia is a special form of Tokaji, made with the best grapes (worst affected!). It is produced in only the best years and this wine can be sold for hundreds of pounds due to its rarity and quality. It is classified as more than 6 puttonyos.
Tokaji is classified in puttonyos, from scale of 3-6, 6 being the sweetest. As the wine is actually made from a mixture of botrytised grapes and normal ones together, quite simply the higher the proportion of botrytised grapes that are used in the blend, then the sweeter the Tokaji wine will be.
When classifying in puttonyos, what is measured is the residual sugar content- this means how much sugar is left after fermentation has taken place. It is then matured in Göncs (Hungarian barrels!) for three to six years and can then age in the bottle for decades!
Each winery produces different styles ranging from fruity to chocolate and smoky flavours. This is purely by their own interpretation via blending, production methods and how they choose to age the wine. For example, whether they use new or old oak barrels. Either would impart different flavours into the wine.
Obviously, Tokaji sweet dessert wine is infamous. However, Hungarian dry red and whites are becoming more so with their regional grape varieties and blends, alongside the international varieties.
The main wine producing areas in Hungary are:
- Tokaji in Northern Hungary
- The Great Plain
- Rich, sweet, marmalade, caramel and honey flavoured highly acidic sweet dessert wines
- Full-bodied, powerful dry reds
- Spicy and rich whites
- Cabernet Sauvignon (reds)
- Hárslevelű ( Both Tokaji grapes )
- Irsai Olivér
- Chardonnay (whites)
- Tokaji (Aszú and Aszú Essencia)
- Bulls Blood from Eger
- Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and regional variety whites from Balatoni (one of the appellations next to Lake Balaton)