The pendulum swings for Hungary as their wine scene is blooming after a tumultuous century of phylloxera, world wars and communism. Hungarian wines are some of the oldest of the old world yet also the best kept secret in the new world. This is a story of scrappy survivalists with a head strong, blood-thirsty fire for life.
The quest to advancement hasn’t been easy. Alas, the dynamic wines of Hungary are brewing a serious comeback. The last 40 years have brought a full-blown wine renaissance that is exposing the brilliance of terrior and varietals that are uniquely Hungarian. Many have fought to live in the Carpathian basin, this low land plain of rolling hills that was once underwater 2.5 million years ago. Once the Pannonian Sea dried out, it exposed an agricultural gem of a land that is laced with loamy soils, basking in minerals and striations. The soil, microclimates and varietals are just as diverse as the styles of wine that are currently being produced.
Since the regime shift, there has been a surge of research on proper clones, harvest times, planting densities and winemaking advancements. Hungary’s wine scene is slowly gaining international attention and they are not seeking to make more generic red wine. They are looking to accurately portray the indigenous varietals and innate terroir of Hungary. Thoughtful, passionate and knowledgeable are the new generation from all across the 22 regions of this land-locked, lake-country of Hungary. Gone is the day of Tokaj Aszú being the most popular and sought-out wine in the world but now is an opportunity to rebuild for today’s industry. This means new styles and the resurgence of nearly extinct varietals like Fekete Járdovány are hitting the market in a sleek fashion. It’s an exciting time for Hungarian wine and its people.
Take Heumann Villány Franc for example. Having 95% of estate vineyards under the premium or DHC status, the lower yields and attention to detail in the winery is being noticed on an international level. It’s a gifted area that is made up of loess, clay and limestone with littered dolomite throughout. Villány is most famous for its warm, Mediterranean Bordeaux reds with the most notable being Cabernet Franc. Heumann Villány Franc was raised for 24 months in Hungarian 225L barriques and is from south-facing in Siklos and some on the Vokany plateau. The wine is deep, bright purple with bright intensity black currant, blueberry satin and dark chocolate. Villány Franc is a full-bodied wine with electric acidity and a deep concentration of flavor. Since Villány offers the highest sunshine hours than any other region in Hungary, the bold red wines make a statement here and quickly becoming known as Bordeaux of the East. It’s worth taking note from the female lead of the family, Evelyne Heumann. Her ingenuity and vision has brought this winery and country into bloom.
Another gem is the St. Donat Winery Magma Kékfrankos from Lake Balaton in the stunning region of Balatonfüred-Csopak. This resort town is the part of the food and wine crazed town of Csopak, which St. Donat planted their winery (complete with an underground cellar and elevated bistro), to officially elevate your experience of food and wine together. The wine has stony, dark raspberry vibes complete with wild strawberry, mint and currants on the palate. Snappy acidity and medium body pairs beautifully with the confidence and personality of the wine. A perfect pairing for the local culinary treats of Hungary, like spicy fish soup. Kékfrankos (Blaufrankish) is the most planted grape variety of Hungary and is now being made into thoughtful, lower-produced wines that offer style, verve and class.
The wines that are being made in today’s scene are electric and playful in all their seriousness and they are laced with soul and stories. There is a real sense of relief and triumph in the new wave of Hungarian wines and pure authenticity is on the menu.