- History - A history of Hungarian wine and winemaking.
History of Hungarian Wine and Winemaking
Hungarian wine is often thought synonymous with sweet Tokaji. Romans are reported to have brought the first vines to Hungary, and by the 5th century AD there were extensive vineyards in parts of the country. Grapes were imported throughout the years to broaden the varieties grown in Hungary; the Furmint and other Tokaj grapes likely trace their roots back to Italy and France, the Kadarka grape came to Eger from Serbia. When the Ottoman empire ceded to Austria, Hungarian wines came under the German influence, which continued throughout the Hapsburg rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately, wars, the Nazi and subsequent Communist occupations decimated both vintners and vineyards throughout the region. During the Soviet-Communist regime, wines suffered under poor care of the government that hardly valued the quality of the wine, instead focusing on producing great quantities to distribute within the Soviet bloc.
Fortunately, Hungary’s wine-growing history strengthened since the 1989 collapse of their Soviet controlled government. Since the fall of the Communist regime, winemakers have begun to concentrate again on rebuilding the name of Hungarian wine. This “Renaissance” of Hungarian wine encompasses both Hungarian and foreign grapes. The production of Tokaji wine, mostly made of Furmint grapes, has reemerged as a true craft in the Tokaj-Hkegyalja region where it has always grown. Today, Hungarian vintners are presently cultivating an array of varietals in addition to those used to produced Tokaji wines, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
- Overview - An overview of Hungarian wine today.
Nearly 272,000 acres of Hungarian countryside are dedicated to wine in Hungary, in regions across the country. Hungary has four designated levels of wine: table wine, regional wine, quality wine and extra-quality wine. Hungary’s most famous wine, the dessert Tokaji wine, capitalizes on the abundance of Botrytis, or “Noble Rot,” a fungus that sweetens the wines of grapes it strikes. While Noble Rot is now courted, many Hungarian grapes fell prey to phylloxera damage, wiping out many varietals that were once native to the country. In their stead, Hungarian vintners have embraced French, Austrian and German varietals.
Although Hungary is landlocked, Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Europe, and the Danube, which divides both country and its capital city (Budapest), provides for the cooler microclimates and variations between regions of the landlocked country. Hungary officially identifies 20 wine regions, however they can be broken down within three macro-regions:
I. Northern Massif
III. Eastern Plains
The Northern Massif region of Hungary sits in the northeast against the Slovakian border. It is arguably Hungary’s most important wine producing region. Massif experiences cold winters and warm summers, making it the perfect home for the Tokaj-Hkegyalja, Mátra Foothills, and Eger regions which live in the volcanic hills and decaying lava of the Northern Massif’s south facing slopes.
The Trans-Danube includes 13 of the 20 regions, where Lake Balaton moderates the climate so grapes can fully ripen. Although the Trans-Danube plains border Austria’s Burgenland region of wine, the wines produced on the Hungarian side of the border are French varietals of red.