Are the wines you drink as boring as your love life?! Think about it – if drinking the same wines day in, day out, has sucked all the excitement out of your life, maybe you should open up the relationship to new experiences! I’m not talking freaky stuff here, maybe just a few new varieties or even a few foreigners.
I was recently invited to the Hungarian Embassy in Stockholm to taste Hungarian wines for the first time – I was instantly hooked. If you’re interested in trying out some exotic eastern European beauties, here’s our buyers guide…
- Hungary’s younger winemakers are breaking traditions. Meaning: they are focussing their attention on the country’s indigenous wine varieties like Olaszrizling, Furmint and Kekfrancos, but making them with modern winemaking techniques.
- The total area covered by Hungary’s wine growing regions is relatively small – it’s half the area planted in Bordeaux. The 22 regions are spread out across the country, each with its own personality due to soil and climate differences.
- For white wine – look out for Olaszrizling, the most widely planted white grape variety. It translates to ‘Italian Riesling’ (even though it’s not related the Rheine Riesling grape variety). Expect crisp mineral/talc like aromas with traces of lemon and apple. It can be made several ways; oak maturation or fermented in stainless steel, dependent on the intensity/ripeness of the fruit being sourced and winemaker’s preferences.
- In Hungary, price usually dictates the style of the wine – ie – the more affordable wines are cheaper to make because they usually aren’t wood matured.
- If Olaszrizling is the most widely planted white variety, the variety that is almost exclusive to Hungary, Furmint, is the most prized white variety. If you’re craving something truly unique, you should seek this variety out. Just like Chardonnay – the winemaker can throw lots of tricks at Furmint in order to raise its complexity.
- Kekfrancos however is THE grape variety of Hungary – hunt this red wine down! It is the most widely planted across Hungary because it adapts very well to all of Hungary’s climates. If you love a top end Merlot, you will love Kekfrancos.
- Hungary has its own version of Italy’s cult- wine, The Super Tuscan. The wine style is called ‘Bikaver’, which translates to ‘bull’s blood’, and just like the Super Tuscan, is a mix of indigenous red grape varieties and noble grape varieties (like Cabernet Sauvignon). But the big selling fact – Bikaver wines can be purchased for a fraction of the price, yet offers a wine as intensely concentrated and complex, thanks to greatly improved viticulture and wine making techniques as well as the use of new oak maturation.
- 20 years ago Hungarian winemakers became lost. Instead of concentrating on the varieties that would stand them apart from the world, they planted lots of noble grape varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon etc. They were hoping to take on the likes of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but when placed side by side, people still preferred to drink the popular French regions. The Winemaking and viticulture techniques being used 20 years ago also needed a complete overhaul. Thankfully that has now been fixed.
- Hungary also produces prized sweet wines called Aszú or Tokay, which can be either ‘late harvest’ (for a fresher style), or Botrytis affected (for more intensely concentrated wines). They come from the region of Tokaji and are predominantly made from Furmint or Hárslevelű grape varieties.