Autumn also means harvest! – history of wine in Hungary
Summer has officially ended, but something great has started: autumn and harvest season. This is the time for making wine and attending wine festivals all over Budapest and Hungary. Hungary is a small country, who would know that we grow a lot of kinds of grapes and make so much nice wine, right? The thing is that it is not your fault that you do not know any of them, we do not export much and we are not the best at doing great marketing either. Let us introduce you to the history of wine in Hungary and recommend a few nice ones.
First fun fact about wine in our country: only three European languages have words for wine that are not derived from Latin: Greek, Basque, and Hungarian. The Hungarian word for wine is “bor”, which has Middle Persian origin. Hungarian wine has a history dating back to a long long time ago. The Romans brought vines to Pannonia (territory of Hungary which was occupied by the Romans before we settled down here), and by the 5th century AD, there are records of extensive vineyards in what is now Hungary. The Hungarians brought their wine-making knowledge from the East, the Hungarian tribes were familiar with wine-making long time before the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 896 (a date which you will hear a lot on our free walking tours)
Over the following centuries, new grape varieties were brought in from Italy and France. Most of the production was of white wine in that period. During the Ottoman occupation of Hungary (from the first half of the 15 hundreds until the second half of the 16 hundreds) an ancient variety of grapes was used to make the robust red-wine blend later known as Bikavér (Bull’s Blood), after a supposed secret ingredient in the wine that fortified the defenders of Hungary in 1552. This wine would be one of our recommendations, you can find it in most shops, supermarkets and restaurants as well. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaj region became known for dessert wines, harvested late to encourage noble rot. Tokaji aszú is mentioned in a document of 1571, and it was famously christened by Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), he called it “Wine of Kings, King of Wines.”
From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard, with the traditional field blends of Eger and the many grapes of Tokaj being replaced with monocultures. Under Communism quality was neglected in favour of overcropping, pasteurisation, and industrial production. Since 1989, there has been renewed interest in the traditional varieties and a lot of new investment, particularly in Tokaj- Hegyalja. We have 22 wine regions in the whole country and wine culture is flourishing in Hungary right now. Let us mention a few nice wines other then the most mentioned and most well known Tokaji and Bikavér! For more info on them or any other Hungarian drinks, food, do not hesitate to ask our enthusiastic guides on our free walking tours!
White wines: Irsai Olivér, Cserszegi fűszeres
Red wines: Kékfrankos, Kadarka, Kékoportó