Hungarian wine an overview

Hungarian wine an overview
Hungarian wine an overview
There’s a thing about the Hungarians - these days they like to keep their wine to themselves (only a fifth of their wines are exported). Interesting when you consider that under communist rule in the early 1980’s Hungary was the principle Central European wine exporter, shipping out over 60% of their wine production (mostly to the USSR and Eastern Germany). These days, Hungary has about 315,000 acres under vine, scattered throughout the country everywhere except the far South East. Since the fall of communism in 1989, considerable investment has come in from the west (notably from Germany, Italy and England). Not surprisingly, this investment has done great things for the country’s wine industry. Hungary is comparatively northerly in latitude (on a par with Burgundy), which makes it ideally placed to produce aromatic and semi aromatic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. The country has a number of idiosyncratic and wonderful indigenous varieties however, not known well outside of its boundaries, but important quantitively or qualitatively. Furmint is perhaps the best known (arguably the most characterful grape in the famous dessert wines of Tokay, more of this later). You’ve also got Ezerjo, Harslevelu, and crossings like Irsai Oliver - all whites. The Kadarka grape is Hungary’s best known red. These grape varieties (and more) are spread across Hungary’s 22 wine regions. You can’t of course talk about Hungary without mentioning Bull’s blood (known as Bikaver in its homeland), a big and important brand in the 70’s. Bull’s Blood was a wine packed full of many of Hungary’s weird grapes - Kekfrankos, Portugieser and Kadarka (these used to be the principle grapes in the blend), along with a host of other varietals. The Bull’s Blood name comes from the story surrounding the 17th Century siege of Eger (a Hungarian city) by the Turks. The invaders were overcome by the Magyars (the dominant Hungarian tribe), leading them to speculate that their opponents drank the blood of bulls. Hungarian wine has however an undeniable jewel in its crown - the sweet, flavoursome, distinctive Tokay made in the North East of the Country, a wine so loved it’s mentioned in the national anthem! If you have not tasted these wines I would urge you to go out and buy a bottle. Remember when you do there are two main styles - the old school producers like Crown Estate and the new wave guys like the Royal Tokay Wine Company. Tokay, popular in the courts of France and Russia, was known in the 18th Century as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”. The principle grape in the wine is the fiesty Furmint, blended with the indigenous Harzlevelu. Muscat blanc a petit grains also occasionally forms part of the blend. Tokay produces a number of styles of sweet wine, but the most sought after are the aszu wines. Aszu literally means dry or shrivelled. These aszu berries were traditionally crushed by foot or gentle rubber rollers and then macerated in base wine. This base wine must be of the same vintage as the aszu berries. Traditionally the concentration of aszu wines has been measured by the number of Puttonyos (hods) per barrel. Generally, a 3 putts wine has 60 gl res sugar, 4 putts 90 gl res sugar, 5 putts 120 gl res sugar, and 6 putts 150 gl res sugar. These days the berries are not crushed, and the old measurement is still not used, put the term puttonyos still appears on the label. If anyone ever offers you a Tokay Essencia, don’t say no. It is the free run juice of hand picked pure botrytised grapes, with over 450 g/l sugar (800 g/l + is not unheard of). It takes years for this wine to achieve a modest alcohol level of 4 to 5 percent. Essencia is rarely sold commercially, and is typically used for blending to improve the concentration of aszu wines. So when it comes to Hungarian wine, don’t be put off by the odd names. If you haven’t tasted the country’s wine for a decade or two get out there and try them. Don’t forget to kick off in the North East! Pip Martin manages and produces International, UK-wide and corporate wine tasting games and other specialist events for the corporate events industry.
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