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Hungary: Where It's Tough to be a Wine Critic

200px-Coat_of_Arms_of_Hungary.svg.pngHere in America, our government doesn't produce its own wine, it just reserves the right to monopolize the power to make an obscene profit from selling it.

But if, perhaps, Uncle Sam did try his hand at winemaking, it's quite likely that it would be pretty shitty wine, and that I would have no fear of saying so here on Vinography.

Unfortunately, it seems that the freedom to criticize lousy wine, especially when it's made by your government, isn't exactly a considered universal right. At least according to the government of Hungary.

Hungary, of course, is home to some of the world's greatest dessert wines, thanks to the centuries-old tradition of producing Tokaji, a runner up for "the nectar of the gods" if there ever was one. Combined with some fantastic dry white wines, and a smattering of excellent reds, and clearly you have a country that (while a little under appreciated by the mainstream wine consumer) knows good wine from bad.

But according to Courthouse News Service, when journalist Péter Uj recently penned a column in a daily newspaper, referring to a wine produced by a state-owned winery as an oxidized, poor quality wine and that he was amazed "hundreds of thousands of Hungarians drink [this] shit with pride" the government convicted him of libel, and threw him in jail. and made an example of him.

Thank heavens for the European Court of Human Rights, which probably performed its first and hopefully last good deed in the service of wine criticism, by overturning the Hungarian court's ruling, and delivering a legal slap on the hand: "Although [journalism] must not overstep certain bounds, in particular in respect of the reputation and rights of others, its duty is nevertheless to impart - in a manner consistent with its obligations and responsibilities - information and ideas on all matters of public interest... Journalist freedom also covers possible recourse to a degree of exaggeration, or even provocation."

The court ordered the Hungarian government to pay Mr. Uj's legal fees.

Too bad they didn't order them to make their wine better. Perhaps this little incident will also encourage some of Uj's countrymen to consider upgrading their house wines a bit. It's a shame to drink "oxidized shit" when you can have a nice dry Furmint.

Read the full story.

Comments (14)

Alex wrote:
07.23.11 at 10:15 PM

I can't believed, it's so sad that thing like this still happening. C'mon it's the 21 st century, those people never hear about something call FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

Dan Tesic wrote:
07.24.11 at 12:01 AM

Ah, good old Central Europe and its proud Kafkian traditions. :) I've travelled to Hungary a couple of years back and have tasted some real stunners (none of them government-made). I still recall Tinkler's Cabernet Franc from the Szekszárd region, it knocked my socks off.

Furmint wrote:
07.24.11 at 4:15 AM

I genarally agree, from Hungary. Two minor notes.
1. The government didn't trow Péter Uj in jail, it was a more clement judgement of the (still?) independent, but no doubt, silly court.
2. The government doesn't produce wine directly. The claimant was a state owned - not privatized yet - company.

Alder wrote:
07.24.11 at 8:23 AM


Would you by chance be referring to Takler, instead of Tinkler? I agree with you!


Thanks for the clarification.

Dan Tesic wrote:
07.25.11 at 2:04 AM


Of course - my memory's working overtime.


Szabolcs wrote:
07.25.11 at 8:48 AM

Guys, it is a great piece of writing, but I was lauging my head off reading the bit about "and threw him in jail..."

C'mon, life is shit (Tokaji Keresked?ház wines likewise), but not that shit. Well, not that shit yet, anyway... the story is kinda grotesque already without him getting the nick... UP is the luckiest git you've ever met who built up an entire media empire, probably not that pushed, really...

Otherwise keep up the good work, guys, thirsty Hungarian throats depend on you! For our freedom and otherwise!

pittman wrote:
07.26.11 at 12:12 AM

Takler is that Tinker in Szekszárd

Jennifer wrote:
07.27.11 at 1:37 PM

No matter if over turned it is still a scary example of how a government can have too much control.

HWC wrote:
07.27.11 at 1:48 PM

Interesting story. I don't foresee this happening in the U.S. as it's a different world when it comes to freedom of speech. I guess a toast to free markets (i.e. non-government wine makers) is needed at some point. :)

John Skupny wrote:
07.28.11 at 12:18 PM

At least they did not cut off his tongue!.....
Alder, this line goes in my history book of great quotes -"it just reserves the right to monopolize the power to make an obscene profit from selling it." Great piece - you made my day - cheers

07.28.11 at 12:39 PM

In ex-Iron Curtain countries, grape crushes you!

Mark wrote:
07.28.11 at 10:19 PM

I'm not even sure where to start....other than it is sure nice to live in a place where freedom of speech is taken seriously, no matter how crazy the concept seems in the political realm from time to time.

That being said, I'm sure every wine critic and frankly wine blogger has plenty of stories about the reaction to a negative review.

07.31.11 at 9:28 AM

Thanks for posting this article, Alder.

It should be clear that quality of wine and freedom of speech can not be compromised. Eastern Europe has made progress on both accounts, more needs to be done to improve the situation. Observing the young generation working there today I am quite confident that they will revive the great traditions of these ancient wine regions.

gitt wrote:
09.07.11 at 6:24 AM

I have been regularly visiting Hungary for the last 20 years. Tokaji can be wonderful, 99% of the rest is just UN-drinkable, expensive stuff. You spend 4 o 5 euros to get oxidized shit, while for the same amount in Italy I get a decent wine and for double that an excellent one. Shame.

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