Since the Magyars conquered this region a thousand years ago, viticulture has been taken very seriously — no surprise given that Hungary has two native grapes suited to making complex white wines. Despite that tradition, the tumult of the 21st century saw winemaking all but wiped out. During the communist era, the focus was on quantity, not quality, and Hungarian wine disappeared from shelves. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there’s been a revival — youngsters relearning the skills of their great-great-grandfathers. With the reputation of the nation’s wine improving every year, connoisseurs are coming back to what’s being called the ‘new old world wine’.
The vineyard visit
Tokaj is famous for its ultra-sweet dessert wines, but it’s now making more dry whites, mostly with native grapes furmint and hárslevelű. Some locals are also experimenting with sparkling wines. Within a few miles of each other, vineyards around Mád range from the award-winning Szepsy to madcap garage production, which is high on creativity but low on consistency.
What to pair it with
The Tokaj region is so focused on white wine that restaurants such as Gusteau prepare tasting menus absent of red. In Budapest, things are more diverse. Michelin-starred Borkonyha Winekitchen has Hungarian wines of all colours like bikavér — a red that translates as ‘bull’s blood’.
How to do it
Wine holiday specialist SmoothRed offers The Hungarian Collection: Budapest and Tokaj, a new four-night trip that explores the vineyards of Hungary. From £1,889, including return flights and a Michelin-star dining experience.
Gergely Somogyi, Tokaj-based wine expert and editor of Tokaj Today
“The tiny quantities of terroir-driven wines — often made from unique, native grapes — that Hungary’s centuries-old wine regions produce are destined to remain niche products. They’re aimed at the discerning connoisseur for whom wine isn’t only a beverage, but a vehicle for discovering the culture, history, and gastronomy of far-away places.”
Three to try
Take the white-knuckle option in Tokaj with an off-road 4×4 tour of the Szepsy vineyards, sampling wines right next to the vines.
To visit one of the country’s best bikavér — ‘bull’s blood’ red — wineries, check out Thummerer in the northern Eger region.
Just a day trip from Budapest, the Etyek region has dozens of wineries. Try the Hernyak Estate, which has a restaurant and distillery on site.
Published in the December 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)