Our wine journey started this year by bringing wonderful Hungarian wines to Germany through our company Wine Wonders. But what is so special about Hungary? Are wines good there? What is the history behind?
Hungary, located at the heart of Europe, once enjoyed commercial prosperity by being one of the biggest wine producing countries in the world, together with France and Germany. There is however a singularity about Hungarian wines and it has everything to do with its terroir. From a total of 22 wine regions, a big part of them lay above volcanic soil. Yes, even though there are no longer active volcanos in the country, some sediments are the evidence of the presence of volcanic activity centuries behind. This soil is full of minerals and the rich taste of them is present in these delicious wines.
Some Hungarian wines such as Tokaji were amongst the most exclusive goods that only royal families could enjoy in the 19th century. Louis XIV of France referred to them as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” or “Wine of Kings, King of Wines”. Emperor Franz Josef, Gustav of Sweden and Frederick the Great were other nobles who were deeply passionate about them. Tokaji wines are even mentioned in literary works from some of the greatest personalities in history such as Bram Stoker, Voltaire, Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Strauss, Goethe and Heinrich Heine.
This success and popularity wouldn’t last forever, as a series of unfortunate events would compromise Hungary’s well-established position as a wine player. First, the phylloxera outbreak at the end of the 19th century consumed major wine regions throughout Europe. It took years to rescue the vines with the introduction of resistant rootstocks. Then came World War I and the Great Depression, which strongly affected the country’s economy. However, the most significant and catastrophic event would only follow after the defeat of World War II.
Forty years of communism struck the country hard, placing them in a very bad economic situation. Wine trade was stopped, quality production replaced by mass production and almost all of it went to the Soviet Union. Only few wineries were able to conserve their wine development and consistency. The country was isolated for years until the regime finally left the country in 1989. The wine tradition, however, remained a well-kept secret.
Brighter days came with the fall of communism, as well as the opportunity to recover the wine culture and regain the throne as one of the countries with the most spectacular wines in the world. The last decades have been a constant effort to replant vines and rebuild quality-focused wineries. Young winemakers are bringing new techniques while conserving the traditional methods. Wine production focuses on low intervention practices and respect to the environment, with an increasing trend to offer more Bio, natural and organic wines.
Hungarian wines offer plenty of interesting native grapes for you to try, for example, Hárslevelü, Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Furmint, Zenit, Kéknyelü, Juhfark, Kadarka and Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch in Austria). Some of these grapes are also present in wines you might have heard about, like Egri Bikaver, Egri Csillag or of course Tokaji.
The wine scene keeps growing in the country, as Hungarian winemakers win more prizes every year at world-known wine competitions. While Hungary’s capital, Budapest, contributes to this success by attracting tourists and offering them unique oenological experiences as a new form of tourism. Restaurants and bars like the DOBLO, FIAKER, DiVino or Könyvbár are some of the locations that offer fantastic wines and are definitely worth a visit for any wine lover visiting Budapest.
We hope you enjoyed this first blog post. Our next ones will include some stories about our partners and their wine journeys, stay tuned!
- Carlos from Wine Wonders