Hungary as a wine region has been around for quite some time. However, I doubt that the wines have ever been as good as they are today. Many people automatically think of Tokaj when Hungarian wine is discussed. Tokaj has always been the prestige region of Hungary, producing sweet wines of rare intensity. But dig a little deeper and you will find amazing dry whites and reds as well. Not least the amazing Egri Bikavér.
Wherever you go in the Hungarian wine regions today, Tokaj or elsewhere, things have evolved enormously. Our first trip to Hungary was in 2004. We went to Tokaj and Eger and we tasted some very good wines. But now quality is first class. And the wines are also exciting for the wine lover who is tired of seeing the same grape varieties over and over again. You see these so called international varieties also in Hungary but you have many local grapes. Admittedly some of them hard to pronounce. But see it as a challenge. And you don’t always have to learn the name of the varieties, just the name of the wine, like Egri Bikavér, Bull’s Blood from Eger.
You reach Eger after a 2 hour drive east from Budapest. The vineyards are close to the mountains which gives a fairly cool climate.
“Our wines are never overpowering, more elegant and always with a superb freshness. We have perfect conditions for production of quality wine”, says György Lőrincz Jr of Saint Andrea Winery in Eger. “The only thing we lack is experience. During socialism, quality was not rewarded. So we have only had about 20 years so far, it is really a short time.“
The wines from Eger are already very good. But maybe it will take longer to change people’s perception of Hungarian wines.
For many wine consumers Egri Bikavér is a somewhat rustic and simple wine. That is what it used to be. “Now”, says György, “we want to show the true face of Eger wines, the unique character. We believe in blends. Eger has a lot of different grapes varieties and Egri Bikavér is always a blend of at least three different varieties.”
Saint Andrea Winery makes three different Egri Bikavér.
Áldás Egri Bikavér 2012 is a full-bodied Bikavér with some spiciness, freshness, and lovely, ripe fruit. Main grapes are Kékfrankos, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. “This is an important wine in our range”, says György, “a traditional Eger wine with all things in balance. The style is mineral as most Eger wines, structured and always very fresh.”
The superb Merengő Egri Bikavér Superior has a warmer, Mediterranean style with aromas of tobacco and spices and sweet cherry. Elegant and intense. The aromatic and fruity Hangács Egri Bikavér Superior comes from a single vineyard and has been aged for 14 months in 500 litre barrels. “The barrels add complexity but no wood taste”, says György.
The family Thummerer is another top quality Eger producer. In their impressive wine cellar they have the ideal temperature for the ageing of their wines. The family bought the cellar from the state in 1992 (the state had actually confiscated it from a count in 1949).
Thummerer Egri Bikavér Superior 2009 is balanced, fruity and quite elegant. Another wine to remember is the Egri Cabernet Franc Selection 2007, well-structured with some oak aromas and a fresh acidity. Cabernet Franc actually does very well, not only in Eger but all over Hungary. Vili Papa Cuvée Eger 2006, with intense dark fruit aromas and spices, is the prestige wine of the winery. The grapes are French, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Thummerer do mostly red wines but also a delicious white called Egri Bokréta Cuvée 2014, a full bodied wine with a bit of waxiness, made from two grapes, Királyleányka and Muscat Ottonel.
Another shining star in Eger is Bolyki Cellars, a stunning winery with a cellar built into the rock and with 4 hectares underground.Egri Bikavér Bolyki 2012 is elegant and structured with some discreet oak aromas. Quite powerful and a great food wine.
Egri Bikavér Bolyki és Bolyki 2012 Superior is even more powerful but still very fresh with soft tannins. I also like their white wine Eger Meta Tema 2013, made from Hárslevelű, the famous grape in Tokaj. The wine is barrel fermented, a bit waxy with some oak aromas in the background, quite round and full bodied.
The Tibor Gal winery is maybe the most famous one in Eger. Now run by son and daughter of the founder Tibor Gal, the quality is getting better and better. New wines are being introduced. Like the delicious Pinot Noir 2012 that we tasted. “Pinot Noir was brought to Eger in 1990 by Tibor Gal”, says daughter Veronica Gal. “Pinot Noir makes very good wine in Eger, light and elegant”.
The white Csillag 2013 (csillag means star) is a new blend in Eger. This is an interesting wine, made from a whole bunch of varieties, like Leányka, Királyleányka, Cserszegi fűszeres and Szürkebarát. Just remember Csillag and forget about the grapes. It is a delicious wine. It is intense and lively with citrus and grapefruit aromas and a good body.
The Bull’s Blood actually turns out to be a very elegant wine. “Of course it is”, says Veronica Gal, surprised that I could even consider that it wasn’t. Well, she wasn’t around in the 1970s. Things have changed.
When you go to Budapest the place to be is The St. Andrea Wine & Gourmet Bar in Budapest, opened earlier this year. A terrific place to sample good Hungarian wines and delicious food.
— Britt Karlsson