I was born in a small village in Nógrád county, which is not exactly a wine region, so I can’t say that I absorbed the love of wine and grapes with breast milk, my mum didn’t sing me a lullaby in the shade of the vines in the scorching sun, and unembroidered vine leaves didn’t garnish my clothes. Although, two people in the family couldn’t wait to put their hands on some little fresh stum at the harvest parties: my grandmother, who particularly appreciated the sweet wines, and myself. I had been drinking sweet grape-juice as a kid with golden curls until I didn’t start to giggle cheerfully, and that’s when my mother usually took the glass from me.
I had to wait for the first real love kiss with the wine until I moved to Eger after my high school graduation. I believe in love at first sight; however, the rendezvous with the wines of Eger was a real, overwhelming love for the first sip. (And as it is common in love, they did cause big headaches sometimes.)
But let me explain to you why Hungarian wines are so exceptional. Many would argue with me when I say that we here in Hungary already knew the secrets of winemaking before the Romans have arrived, and it was not them who brought grapes and wine to Pannonia. (The province of the Roman Empire bounded on the north and east by the Danube.) I believe they brought fundamental innovations and new varieties, though. Still, there is more evidence that we have been producing our wine for a long time before Emperor Augustus had the idea of sending an army to this area. The first proof of this lies in our language.
In contrast, in most languages, the word wine comes from the Latin vinum, as represented in English (wine), German (Wein), French (vin) or Portuguese (vinho), while we say with great simplicity “bor”. Apart from us, only two other nations in Europe have their own word for wine, the Greeks (Oinos) and the Turks (Sarap). With this, the linguists convinced me that we did not take over the practices of making wine from the Romans, but we knew them before. (And even if that’s not exactly what happened, it sounds good.)
Throughout history, Hungary has always been well known for its high-quality soil (even in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, we were the ‘pantry’ of the empire). Then, building on Tokaj’s reputation, we became one of the leading wine-producing countries. Our sweet Tokaj Aszu was called the wine of kings and the king of wines throughout Europe. Unfortunately, since then our reputation has deteriorated, communism has left its mark on our agriculture, but to my great joy, the Hungarian winery is starting to rise again.
Hungary has an ideal climate for viticulture and enough experts to make high-quality wines here and put them on store shelves around the world.
Then what is the reason that we rarely get Hungarian wine outside of Hungary? When I was in Japan, I was outraged that they knew Romanian wines, but only a few people had information of Hungarian wines, some could add it’s very sweet, others managed to extract the Tokaji name from their memory bank. There I decided that I would promote Hungarian wines and introduce them to the full range, from the full-bodied Bull’s Blood of Eger to the freshly crisp, dry Tokaji Furmint. In Japan, wine consumption is growing year by year, and I saw an excellent opportunity to start some business there, but fate intervened, and I did not become a wine importer in Japan; but that doesn’t stop me from writing about Hungarian wines.
In this series of articles, I would like to present the 22 Hungarian wine regions and their winemakers, our folk traditions related to harvesting and wine, and the excellent Hungarian gastronomy in a nutshell, which in my opinion has outgrown the use of goulash and paprika.