Like that of its neighboring countries, Hungary’s wine culture dates back thousands of years ago to the Celtic times. During the Roman times, it is believed that the Romans brought vines to Pannonia (an ancient province that includes western half of Hungary, parts of Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and it was in this time when Hungary’s vineyards boomed. Later on, more new grape varieties were brought from nearby countries. Hungary’s wine culture continued to flourish and their wine produce became popular in countries like Russia and Poland. Over the centuries, Hungarian wine exports were carried out to northern Europe. The union of Austria and Hungary in 1867 brought an unparalleled growth in domestic demand for wine however an instant decay followed decades later when the country’s vineyards got devastated by phylloxera. The crumbling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of the First World War, the Second World War, and the rise of Socialism in Hungary also created barriers to the development of the country’s wine industry.
It was after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when the country’s wine industry experienced an ascent once again. In the past two decades, Hungary has seen unprecedented growth and development to its wine industry. Wine makers are now, more than ever, focused on producing quality wines, on producing ingenious varieties, and on expressing the terroir in their wines.
Hungary is blessed not only with international varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot but also varieties which are believed to be indigenous to or originating from Hungary like Hárslevelű, Irsai Olivér, Furmint, Királyleányka, and a few others. These grape varieties grow in abundance in Hungary’s wine regions.
North Transdanubia Region: Having a climate which is somewhat cooler than the country’s average temperature, this region is favorable for the production of fragrant white wines. The calcareous soil in this region provides great acid for sparkling wine. Presently, the leading varieties in this region are Chardonay, Zöld Veltelini, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Szürkebarát, Olaszrizling, and Rizlingszilváni.
Balaton Region: Home of indigenous variaties, Kéknyelű and Juhfark, this region is known for its strong masculine wines. Blessed with a volcanic mountains covered with basaltic Pannonian sand and mediterranean-submediterranean climate, this region produces full-bodied whites with considerable acidity. White grapes dominate the area but red grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc play an increasing role to this region’s wine industry.
Pannonian Region: Though fresh spicy wines with lighter colors are also produce in region, the robust, full-bodied, spicy red wines hold court. Known as Hungary’s premier red wine region, varieties grown in this area include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.
North Hungary Region: Eger, probably the most famous wine district in this region, is the maker of the famed Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) which, the winemakers in this district believe, is ruined by its association to other cheap wines that filled the western market in the communist time. Because of this, they decided to start the marketing from a scratch to differentiate the high-quality Bikavér wine from others. This region also has wine districts that produce fragrant wines from Rizlingszilváni, Muscat Ottonel, Szürkebarát, Olaszrizling, and Chardonnay.
Danube Region: This region is characterized by vineyards aimed at mass production. A couple of years ago, a move to the reevaluation of this region was started but winemakers in this region find it difficult to get out of the reputation of producing sub-standard table wines no matter how they gear towards quality.
Tokaj Region: This region is famous not only because it has the world’s oldest classification system but also because of its sweet wines. Located on mixed volcanic soils and having a unique terroir, this area is perfect for botrytis—a fungus known to cause the grape to produce more intense wines. Tokaj produces some of the world’s most notable dessert wines which were long sought for by different courts in Europe and wine enthusiasts from all over the world.