When it comes to Old World viticulture, Central Europe is exploding with rich history and delicious bottles-- and Hungary is no exception. Viticulture in Hungary dates back to the 5th Century AD, when vines were first brought to present day Hungary by the Romans. Today, Hungary produces some of our favorite, under the radar wines; from dry, thirst-quenching whites, to full-bodied ‘bull’s blood’ (don’t worry-- we’ll explain), to the world-renowned dessert wines of Tokaj, we can’t get enough of Hungary’s exciting and diverse viticultural scene.
Grape VarietiesDon’t be intimidated by the wacky spelling of Hungary’s traditional varieties! Once you can overcome the grapes’ funky names, getting to know the wines behind the bottles is totally worth it. Here’s a cheat sheet to some of Hungary’s most important varieties:
- Furmint - Perhaps Hungary’s most important white variety; when affected by noble rot, the grapes are used for Tokaji Aszu production. When fermented dry, wines are steely and high-acid, with a thirst-quenching minerality
- Hárslevelű - Meaning ‘lime (tree) leaf’ in Hungarian, dry varietal expressions of Hárslevelű are generally dense and medium-full bodied, with notes of spice, flowers, and sappy stone fruit
- Juhfark - Meaning ‘sheep’s tail’ in Hungarian, Juhfark wines tend to be smoky and savory, brimming with citrus-driven acid
- Kékfrankos - Otherwise known as Blaufrankisch; a solid component in Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) wines
- Kadarka - Produces spicy, earth-driven wines, full of red fruit flavors; another popular component in Bikavér
- Bordeaux Varieties - Cabernet Franc is definitely Hungary’s most popular Bordeaux variety, though Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon also have a growing presence
TerroirMuch of Hungary’s soils tend to be volcanic, comprised of loess, clay, and/or sand, atop basalt bedocks. In Tokaj, a variety of colored (red, brown, yellow) clay soils dominate, with mineral rich subsoils laid beneath. Most of the country is characterized by a European continental climate, made up of warm, dry summers and chilly winters. However, certain regions exhibit sub-Mediterranean influences, providing more mild winter seasons. Hungary has a vast array of steep slopes and rolling hills. However, it’s the country’s Tisza and Bodrog rivers that create a uniquely moist microclimate, creating the perfect conditions for the development of noble rot, leading to production of botrytized wines.