No, I did not just slight the viticultural traditions of an entire nation — the Hungarian word for wine is Bor. And Hungarian wines are anything but boring.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an online wine chat on Twitter (#winechat), hosted by the Protocol Wine Studio and the Blue Danube Wine Company. Several wine bloggers have already written their impressions from the evening, providing detailed explanations of Protocol, Blue Danube, and how the #winechat works: Talk-a-Vino, Cliffswinepicks, and Winecompass.
I won’t duplicate their fine efforts, so if you’re curious about the process, click on one (or all) of the links.
Why should we care about Hungarian wine? Because wine is a passport to the world. As wise Saint Augustine once said, ”The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” As a wine lover, I don’t want to read just Merlot or Chardonnay in perpetuity. I want to read new pages . . . and Hungary is a new page.
Hungary is famous for it’s decadent Tokaj wines. But beyond that (unless you’re having dinner with Robert Parker and his merry band of wine critics), if you asked ordinary folks what they know about Hungarian wine, you’d probably get crickets. Hungarian wine is definitely a niche — you have to seek it out. And seek you should . . .
The story of Hungarian wine mirrors a great many stories of European wine: Wine begins and flourishes under the Romans; comes close to ruin under 16th century Islamic Rule; comes closer to ruin with the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s; faces ruin yet again under Communism (which wiped out almost any shred of viticultural uniqueness in favor of mass production); and finally . . . rebuilding, with an emphasis on shepherding the indigenous grapes to have their Phoenix moment and rise from the ashes of socialist farming.
Trivia Break: The Hungarian language is known as Magyar. It probably came from the Huns (you remember the Huns — the warlike nomads who terrorized much of Europe and Asia in the 3rd – 5th centuries), and is related to Finnish and Estonian. Hungary has a rich folk tradition, evident in their national dress, embroidery and paintings. I opened my cedar chest and unearthed this little doll my dad brought me from a trip to Hungary, many moons ago. She’s probably pushing 40 now, but she’s aging gracefully. And the photo on the right is a Hungarian painted plate that belongs to my BFF. Aren’t the colors against the black backdrop spectacular?
Wine has been made in Hungary since the days of Bacchus, and Hungary boasts 22 different wine regions. Discussing all of them here would make this post waaaay too long, so I will happily leave that to the Hungary experts. I can’t think about wine from any geographic region without a map . . . so here’s a map, which includes the three wine regions we “tasted”.
Now that you’re properly oriented — which Hungarian wines did we taste?
- Eszterbauer is the name of the winery — the Eszterbauer Family emigrated to Hungary from Bavaria in 1746.
- Nagyapám means grandfather in Hungarian.
- Kadarka is the grape, which is indigenous to Hungary.
- Szekszárd is the name of the wine region. I love the 1930s black & white family photos on the wine label — what a great nod to family and history.
This wine is supposed to be served with a slight chill, so I threw the bottle into the fridge for half an hour before the tasting. Slight in color, very clear in the glass. There’s a smokiness on the nose — not unpleasant, though. And the flavor? Won’t you take me to . . . Funkytown?? Kadarka has some of peppery funk on it, but it’s a fresh funk. Light-bodied, it’s juicy and edgy at the same time. A beautiful expression of terroir! 13.5% ABV and $18. I tried the Kadarka again on Day 2, and it went from Clark Kent to Superman! Richness and character abound.
Hungary is famous for its paprika — and it’s national dish is Goulash (pronounced Gooyash), a cross between soup and stew. And I wish I’d thought to make some so I could enjoy it with this wine!
Trivia Break: Hungary’s second most famous wine (behind Tokaji) is probably Bull’s Blood of Eger, or Egri Bikavér. According to legend, in the 16th century, Turks laid siege to the Castle of Eger. Frightened villagers sustained Hungarian troops with red wine from their vineyards, and the Hungarian troops fought courageously and tirelessly — eventually beating back the Turkish army. Rumors circulated that the wine the Hungarian troops drank was mixed with bulls’ blood to give the soldiers strength. Eger was saved, Bulls Blood wine was born. I got the impression during the chat that Bull’s Blood is sort of a schtick wine, but I still want to try it.
Bodrog Bormühely Lapis Furmint 2011 /85
The dessert wines of Tokaj are legen . . . wait for it . . . dary. (Sorry, just watched the HIMYM finale). Furmint is the most important grape used in the production of Tokaji, but Furmint is also used to produce dry white wines . . . which brings me to the wine we tasted for #winechat.
- Bodrog is a river in northeastern Hungary that converges with the Tisza River in the town of Tokaj. Anytime I see the word river associated with wine, I immediately think microclimate.
- Bormühely translates to wine workshop. They’re basically hand-picking the Furmint grapes that haven’t been affected with botrytis.
- Lapis is the name of the vineyard.
- Furmint is the grape used in this wine.
- Tokaj is the region.
100% Furmint. There’s a sweetness on the nose of this wine — almost mandeln-like, but this is a bone dry wine. You’ll think I’m nuts, but the sweetness reminds me of root beer (call it sassafras). The oak aging is apparent, lending a creaminess to the texture of the wine. 13% ABV and $22. On Day 2, the creaminess is even more intense, the finish longer, and the mineral notes much more apparent. This is a wine that craves time.
Trivia Break: The Tokaj region and its famous wine sit on the highest of pedestals in Hungary. So much so, the Hungarian national anthem thanks God for dripping the sweet nectar of Tokaji into the region. ♫♫♫
- Fekete is the name of the winemaker (Fekete Béla).
- Olasrizling is the name of the grape. Olasrizling has several aliases — Graševina (Croatia), Welchriesling (Germany), Riesling Italico (Italy) and Laški rifling (Slovenia).
- Somló is the wine region (the smallest wine region in Hungary and sitting on what used to be an underwater volcano).
100% Olaszrizling. The Fekete is a glass of minerals – the nose reminds me of a bottle of multi-vitamins. There’s a lemon-sherry quality to it, as well. And even some saltiness. Very strong finish of white pepper. Interesting. Day 2: I’m getting a buttered vegetable note, maybe green peppers. The finish is a little chemical now. Huh. This wine is supposedly best after 2-3 years of aging — I would love to revisit this wine with some age on it. 14.5% ABV and $25.
Trivia break: Did you know the Rubik’s Cube was invented by a Hungarian engineer named Ernő Rubik? I never could solve more than two sides of that confounded cube!
Thanks again to Protocol Wine Studio and Blue Danube for hosting . . . and to everyone who offered their time and thoughts on the wines of Hungary. It was a night of education and intrigue.
I can’t wait to read the next page . . .