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07.16.2008

Hungarian Wine on My Doorstep

After nearly five years of writing about wine on the Internet, you wouldn't believe all the things that I've been propositioned with. Of course, I get a lot of wine samples, but I also get all sorts of unsolicited e-mail offers of sample products (many of which have nothing to with wine), offers to pay me to review products or services, requests to visit various places, to have dinner with strangers, not to mention all the honest questions and requests for advice from wine lovers.

One of the oddest e-mails I've ever gotten however, was an e-mail that simply read something along the lines of, "Thank you for reviewing a Hungarian wine. This is a good wine, but there are many good wines in Hungary. I would like to bring you some one day."

I respond to all the e-mail I get, so I naturally wrote back thanking the gentleman for his offer and said he'd be welcome to if he really wanted to go to the effort. And then I promptly forgot about the exchange.

A little over a year later, however, I got another e-mail from the same guy telling me that a friend was going to be passing through San Francisco, and he had a package for me. 800px-Flag_of_Hungary.pngSure enough, a few days later, there was a stranger standing on my doorstep, thrusting a brown box into my hands and fleeing down the stairs with little more than a shy "OK!" and my call of "Thanks!" at his heels.

I'm used to getting wine from wineries, publicists, and importers. Most of the time they don't even bother asking me if I want it, it just shows up. But I'm quite unused to strangers offering me bottles simply out of what I assume in this case is immense kindness coupled with some national pride. Wine sparks something special in people that never ceases to amaze me.

Carefully wrapped inside the heavy brown box, triple sealed with tape, double wrapped with bubble wrap, I found a little treasure trove of Hungarian wine. I have no idea how my mysterious benefactor selected these wines, or whether he has any relationship with these vintners, but they represented a wider selection of Hungarian wine than I had ever had access to before, so there was only one thing to do. I sat down and tasted them.

Hungary is one of the least known wine regions of Europe, especially as far as most Americans are concerned. Those who are serious dessert wine lovers, however, may likely have heard of Tokaji Aszú, an amber colored sweet wine that has been coveted by wine lovers and royalty since the early 17th century.

In many ways the fame and popularity of Tokaji Aszú has eclipsed what is a broad and beautifully diverse wine region that produces many interesting red and white wines. Many people consider Hungary to be a serious up-and-coming concern in the wine world. Over a drink a few months ago, Lettie Teague, Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine let it slip that she thought dry Furmint was the veritable Next Big Thing, at least as far as white wines were concerned. I raised an eyebrow, but she was dead serious. Furmint is one of several white wine varieties native to Hungary (it's one of the components of Tokaji Aszú), and alone it can be made into lovely dry and off-dry wine.

In addition to whites, Hungary's next most famous wine would probably be Bikavér, or "Bulls Blood," a red wine of generally mediocre quality that has been a favorite in Eastern Europe for centuries. Where one finds middling red wine, however, it is often possible to find much better, and that is certainly true of Hungary, especially in the 21st century. With a long tradition of growing red wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, there are more and more producers who are attempting to make wines of extremely high quality, and some are succeeding.

Needless to say, as someone who enjoys "exploring" wine regions off the beaten path, this gift of wines was a real treat. Thank you, Richard.

TASTING NOTES

2006 Hollóvár Pincészet "Somloi" Furmint, Száraz Minaségi Fehérbor, Hungary
Medium blonde in the glass, this wine has a hint of honey and roasted wheat aromas in the nose. In the mouth it is smooth and lush, and bursting with fruit flavors that range from yellow plums to kiwifruit, with overtones of chamomile and other floral scents that linger into a long finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2006 Royal Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Pale gold in color, this wine has a very peculiar nose of celery and lipstick aromas. In the mouth it straightens up and flies right with flavors of unripe apples and candle wax, but doesn't manage much more than pleasant flavors. Score: around 8. Cost $15.
Where to buy?

2004 Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Pale green-gold in the glass, this wine has a waxy nose with subdued but juicy aromas of starfruit. In the mouth it offers nice flavors of unripe apple and starfruit, combined with a slightly waxy quality. Unfortunately the wine doesn't possess quite as much acidity as it should in my opinion, which makes it fall a little flat on the palate, despite delicious flavors. Score: around 8.5.

2006 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec, Hungary
Pale green-gold in color, this wine smells like what I think a melon perfume might smell like if anyone ever tried to make one. In the mouth it offers gorgeous flavors of a cornucopia of tropical fruits. I'm sitting here looking at my tasting note feeling a little ridiculous at the string of adjectives I wrote down: golden apples, melon, yellow plums, gooseberries. Great acidity gives this wine a bounce on the palate and a juiciness through its long finish. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28 .
Where to buy?

2006 Kiralyudvar "Lapis" Late Harvest Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
Yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and sultanas. In the mouth it feels satiny and thick on the tongue and offers slightly sweet flavors of apricot, honeysuckle, and pineapple, with a spicy undercurrent that lasts through the moderate finish. This is a very unique wine with a great personality. Score: around 9. Cost: $20

2000 Hetfurtos Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos, Hungary
Bright orange-gold in color, this wine has a heady bouquet of honey and tamarind fruit. In the mouth it is thick, liquid silk that is buoyed up by bright shining acidity meaning that instead of being syrupy, this wine is a live, electric stream of apricot essence straight to the taste buds. It is however, so sweet it makes my teeth hurt, but no matter. This is dessert we're talking about here. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2004 Malatinszky Kuria Cabernet Franc, Villanyi, Hungary
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a distinctive, nutty set of aromas on the nose. In the mouth that nutty quality continues with flavors of hazelnuts, almond skin, and leather wrapped around a core of red fruit, and structured with slightly grippy tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2004 Weininger & Gere Cabernet Franc, Villanyi, Hungary
Inky ruby in the glass, this wine has a lush nose of cherry and plum aromas. In the mouth it has a lovely balance between bright cherry and plum fruit, and a green wood quality that gives it an earthy depth and attitude. Nice length on the palate and smooth texture make this a very nice wine. Score: around 9.

Comments (18)

Arthur wrote:
07.17.08 at 1:42 AM

Awesome! Hungarian wine! I'm a big fan of this country's wines. Growing up in eastern Europe we had a lot of exposure to Hungarian and Bulgarian wines. Glad you got to taste some. I can get Egri Bikaver and Royal ToKajii Aszú in several LA stores.

geri wrote:
07.17.08 at 4:43 AM

I'm really surprised you even mentioned the Bikavér. Of course it's one of the most famous Hungarian wines but I guess the real quality wines of Tokaj and Villány deserve much more attention. (Glad to see you've recieved a really well picked selection.)

bela wrote:
07.17.08 at 6:52 AM

Very nice selection of Hungarian wines. If someone will go over again to Adler, he should bring some Raspi and Bukolyi wines as well, to show that terroir-reds also exist in the country

slaked wrote:
07.17.08 at 11:49 AM

Hey Alder, cool post. If you ever make it to (or back to, as the case may be) Hungary, you should visit the northern slopes of Lake Balaton, a gorgeous retreat town just an hour southwest of Budpest (if you drive like my Hungarian inlaws do) where they make gorgeous dry whites. And strangely, there is some dry white being made from "tokai friulano" on the North Fork of Long Island, but it doesn't taste like the Hungarian. See www.channingdaughters.com.

Alder wrote:
07.17.08 at 12:10 PM

Slaked,

Thanks for the comments. Not sure if you knew, but Tocai Friulano is a) not related in any way to the grapes used in Hungary and b) no longer allowed to be called Tocai Friulano because of a EU court ruling in favor of the Hungarians who claimed that the name was confusing with their products. Which you might have inadvertently just proved...

slaked wrote:
07.17.08 at 12:13 PM

Hell, that *is* confusing.

Angelika wrote:
07.17.08 at 12:53 PM

Hello Alder. I am very happy that you have tasted our wine and you liked it. Hetfurtos (it is our brand name, it means SevenCluster in English) 6 puttonyos aszu, 2000 got high scores in Wine Spectator and won lots of international awards. We are very proud! Thanks. Angelika Arvay

frank wrote:
07.17.08 at 3:09 PM

Nice, to see you continuing to explore the ancient wine regions of Central-eastern Europe, Alder.
What makes Hungary so interesting as a wine culture is the fact that it features many indigenous grape varietals. As importers we concentrate on those since they contribute many exotic and unusual flavors to the world of wine. Besides the distinguished Furmint you mentioned there are several others of note. Check out and taste Irsai Oliver, Királyleányka, Cserszegi Füszeres, and Hárslevelü. All are kind of tough to pronounce -but you'll see- very easy to drink and enjoy.
Cheers, Frank

Jeff wrote:
07.17.08 at 6:11 PM

So, did you email the guy back to get an email exchange going after you received the wine? That's the part I want to hear about, the human element.

Jeff

Alder wrote:
07.17.08 at 6:18 PM

Jeff, I'm embarrassed to say that I have lost his e-mail. The human part is a bit of a mystery.

Richard wrote:
07.17.08 at 8:55 PM

Hey Alder,

many thanks for reviewing the selection of Hungarian wines I have sent to you at the end of 2007, your judgement means a lot. I wish the delivery was easier, but - as we all know - interstate shipment of wine is difficult in the US... so I had no choice but wait until a friend from NY had business to do in SF. He was the guy who eventually brought the wines to your door.

cheers,

Richard

PS: You, or anyone else interested in Hungarian wines can always contact me at info@winesofhungary.com

Ron wrote:
07.18.08 at 9:53 AM

Hi Alder, At what point during this story did you smile and think "I have arrived" Great blog! We recently began receiving samples also and the first thing i thought of was your blog that i used to read when we lived in Hawaii and dreaming of someday receiving wines to review. Thanks for starting a wave of wine bloggers, I know you were a big influence and KD and I........Loved this story. It actually is a wonderful thing that bloggers do in getting the wine information out from around the world to someone who may never read about a particular wine unless they were reading your blog Alder! I am sure Richard is pretty happy about having these wines review by you.

Ron

GT wrote:
07.20.08 at 9:57 AM

Hey Adler - I mentioned before that if you ever get out to NYC, give a holler and we can try some more - a few of the wines you mention are available out here, if things work out, there may be some additional ones available soon, and there are also some others that are really good. Bela's suggestion that you try the Bukolyi wine is obviously based on experience - Lazslo is one of the great producers in Eger - his wines can be stunningly good and deserve wider recognition.

Anyway, nice post and keep up the good work!

Alder wrote:
07.20.08 at 6:30 PM

Ron,

Certainly the first few samples I received as a blogger were delightful surprises. Now they're just work! Serious work. This story didn't really make me feel like I had accomplished anything, as much as it was really a sweet and earnest gesture on Richard's part.

07.21.08 at 4:56 PM

Last year I had the great opportunity of visit Budapest and taste the Hetfurtos Tokaji.
It was like honey in my mouth, is kind of addictive.
Was a great pleasure in every sense.

Ervin wrote:
10.18.08 at 10:22 AM

hi, being of Hungarian descent, I am happy to see more info about Hungarian wines. My only problem is finding any in my part of Florida. If anyone has info of places here to find it and can pass it on to me I would really appreciate it. Thanks, Ervin

mireya veres wrote:
12.09.08 at 7:29 AM

I love Hungarian wines and like Ervin, would like to know where to buy them in Miami, Florida

Laszlo Csepreghy wrote:
08.23.09 at 9:58 AM

Hello All,
Good to read positive comments on Hungarian wines. Yes - I am convinced that Hungary has some unique geography/geology/climate combination that lends itself to produce a phenomenal variety of quality wines in a small country. I have been visiting vineyards for the past few years and am blown away with the beautiful handcrafted wines that I discovered. There is a renaissance in wine making in Hungary. You wouldn't know that unless you visit the right cellars there.
There is a great monthly magazine:Borbarat - has articles in English also. www.borbarat.hu

Avoid the Egri Bikaver or Merlot at Trader Joe's ...criminal

Egeszsegunkre,

Laszlo

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