French wines I knew a little about and Italian wines I knew a little about, but of Hungarian wines I knew nothing before arriving. This may be because their wine export levels are very low, but whatever the reason, Hungarian wines are very historied dating back as far as Roman times from when there are extensive records of vineyards. Today, the best known wine is Tokaji, the dessert wine. While touring the Budapest castle, Gabe and I spot a wine museum/tasting, and figure that it doesn’t hurt to explore further. We enter the museum, and maybe because the temperature was so nice in the cellar, maybe because they offered student prices, or maybe because we hadn’t enjoyed a degustation recently, we decided to tour the museum and try the wines. We sign up for the cheapest wine tasting including only three wines, but after making friends with our pourer, we received tastes of four great wines. And by tastes, we actually tried four full glasses of wine. As a result, we were more than ready for lunch upon leaving.
The whole event increased both our awareness and appreciation for Hungarian wines. I will attempt to provide at least a sense of the diversity and magnitude of these wines here. Within the country there are twenty two wine regions with Eger and Tokaj-Hegyalja probably being the most famous. Located in the northern part of the country, Eger produces the well known Egri Bikaver, or bulls blood of Eger along with some good whites (like the rest of the country). That said, Hungry’s most famous wine region is hands down that of Tokaj-Hegyalia located in the foothills of the Zemplen Mountains in the far north. The region provides the perfect conditions for noble rot to take place. Noble rot is caused by the friendly grey fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Under certain conditions, this “rot” can be quite harmful, but at other times, if picked correctly, grapes covered by this fungus can produce concentrated sweet wine. These botrytized, late-harvest grapes make the sweet wine that is so famous in this region. Know as Tokaji aszú, this wine was famously christened by Louis XIV of France.