Hungary has one of the oldest wine cultures in Europe. There is evidence of pre-Roman wine cultivation. Only two European languages have words for wine that are not derived from Latin: Greek and Hungarian. Records carved in a Runic alphabet used by ancient Hungarians have words for wine derived from Turkish, suggesting that the Magyars had contact with the first winemakers in the South Caucasus.Two millennium ago, Romans expanded the wine industry and trade in Hungary and by the 5th century AD, there are records of extensive vineyards throughout Hungary. Following the Magyar invasion of 896, Árpád rewarded his followers with vineyards in Tokaj-Hegyalja.
Over the following centuries, new grape varieties were brought in from Italy and France, including Furmint and the other great grapes of Tokaj. At this point of time, mostly white wine was made.During the invasion of Suleiman the Magnificent in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger. This ancient variety was used to make the robust red wine blend later known as Bull’s Blood. Legend has it that Bull’s Blood was supposed secret ingredient in the wine that fortified the defenders of Eger in 1552. Bull’s Blood soon became the best known Hungarian red wine.It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaj region became known for dessert wines, harvested late in order to encourage noble rot. Tokaji aszu is mentioned in a document of 1571, and it was famously proclaimed by Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” – Wine of the Kings, King of the Wines. Throughout Europe and indeed the wine-drinking world, from the 16th century to the present day, Tokaji has firmly established itself as one of the world’s greatest sweet wines.
After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Blauer Portugieser. In 1730, the world’s first vineyard classification based on soil, aspect and propensity to noble rot was established in Tokaj. From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary and many grapes of Tokaj were replaced with Blaufränkisch (Kékfrankos) and the Bordeaux varieties in red wine districts, and of Furmint, Muscat and Hárslevelu in Tokaj.
The 20th century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt, which were easier to grow and to vinify than Kadarka. In the post World War II period, under Communism, quality was neglected in favor of quantity. However, with the fall of Communism in 1989, there has been significant new investment and an emphasis on making quality wines. In Hungary today, the indigenous Kadarka and other common Central European varieties like Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) and Zweigelt are sharing their terroir with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and other international varieties. Traditional white wine varieties, including Tokaj’s Furmint and Hárslevelü, Zöld Veltlini (Grüner Veltliner), Riesling and Olaszrizling (Welschriesling) are getting better and better, while new international varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are becoming more popular. This experimentation with traditional and new varieties, modern viticulture and updated production methods combined with the centuries-old Hungarian wine traditions, is resulting in some truly excellent single variety and blended wines that are gaining respect and prizes worldwide. A new golden age of Hungarian wines has begun!
Why not try your hand (and mouth) on Hungarian wines?
Discover six Hungarian wine regions via a series of winetasting events.
Every month, a different region, every month, 12 different wines, every month, 3 dates to choose from
24, 25, 26 February 2011
17, 18, 19 March 2011
14, 15, 16 April 2011
25, 26, 27 May 2011
15, 16, 17 June 2011
Tickets are 15 euro per event and places are limited to 40 per event
The venue is the Hungarian Culture Brussels
10, Treurenberg, 1000 Bruxelles
+32 486 80 35 10