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30 great buys: Hungary beyond Tokaj

In partnership with Wines of Hungary

It's an exciting time in Hungarian wine. Winemaking has advanced in leaps and bounds, helping to show off to best effect the country's diverse grapes and styles. Caroline Gilby MW, Oz Clarke and Tamás Czinki MS select 10 wines each to represent the best of Hungarian quality and value in whites and reds

Welcome to Hungary – a country of volcanic hills and natural hot springs, vast plains where cowboys still roam and dense oak forests that cloak the mountain tops. Wine is everywhere, too, deeply ingrained in Hungarian culture. Increasingly, Hungary is becoming my personal ‘go-to’ for world-class wines, as producers have learned (and continue to learn) to understand vineyards and how to make wines with balance and refinement, gaining value from place, not from overwrought winemaking.

It’s a proud country, and slowly this pride is translating into international awareness – recently the UK became the top export destination for Hungarian wines in bottle, with wines increasingly appearing on merchants’ shelves and restaurant wine lists. Undoubtedly Hungary experienced difficult years during the communist era, when winemaking was all about squeezing every drop from overworked vines; but today the country’s winemakers are firmly back on the right path to a place in our glasses.

Hungarian wine: did you know…

Hungarian Zsigmond Teleki helped save wine for the worl in the 19th century by breeding the rootstock that enabled European grapevines to resist the destruction caused by the phylloxera bug.

Two-thirds of Hungary’s vineyards grow on volcanic soils.

If wine drinkers have heard of Hungarian wine, it’s usually Tokaji, or cheap but cheerful ‘Italian lookalike’ whites, especially Pinot Grigio. But Hungary has so much more to offer. The combination of 22 distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristics, and about 180 grape varieties makes it a fascinating country to explore. With more than
58,200ha in production, Hungary ranks eighth in the EU by area planted to vine, according to the OIV. Industry figures reveal harvest sizes have averaged about 2.7 million hl in recent years, which puts it ahead of big hitters like Austria and Greece, and close in size to New Zealand.

The people are important too – every glass of Hungarian wine has its personal story based on the dreams and visions of those shaping the wines. Today, there is a new generation of young winemakers who often travel in order to experience winemaking in other parts of the world, returning home full of new ideas.

In our tasting, conducted between three of us in Hungary and London, we aimed to pick out some of the best Hungarian wines – beyond Furmint – that the country exports, notably to the UK, but also to other markets. The results show the incredible diversity and striking quality available from Hungary. These are food-friendly, distinctive wine styles with a real sense of place that are well worth exploring. Caroline Gilby MW

Kolonics, Hárslevelű, Nagy-Somló 2018 96

£13 Wanderlust Wine

Stupendous stuff. Somló is one of the few volcanic areas of Europe where you really can taste the lava, and Kolonics is the star producer. Its wines are famously austere, but this Hárslevelű is gentler – still pulsing with volcanic energy, but also honeyed, waxy, scented with lime leaf and rosemary, and something feral but friendly, like rabbit fur! Oz Clarke Drink 2021-2031 Alcohol 13%

Kreinbacher, Brut Classic, Somló NV 95

£22.79 Best of Hungary

Not entirely ‘beyond Furmint’, but here Furmint’s fruit and knife-edge acidity complements creamy Chardonnay and gently peachy Pinot Blanc. A Champenois cellarmaster oversees some of Hungary’s best traditional-method sparklers. This is seriously classy, with bright acidity and fine, lingering bubbles. There’s great fruit intensity, with honey, pear and crisp apple overlaid with biscuit notes. Culminates in a long, refined finish. Caroline Gilby MW Drink 2021-2024 Alc 12%

Somlói Vándor, Teraszok Juhfark, Somló 2019 94

£16.99 Novel Wines

A real impression of Somló, aromas driven by smoky, stony minerals lifted by ripe stone fruit and bruised orchard fruits. Rounded and fruity on the palate, complemented by sweet fennel and jasmine notes. Long and mineral on the finish. Tamás Czinki MS Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12%

Gizella, Barát Hárslevelű, Tokaj 2019 93

£15.79 Novel Wines

Beautifully clean, very pure and gorgeously drinkable. It’s from a top-rated single vineyard belonging to this small family winery, named after the owner’s grandmother. No oak is used, which allows the inviting acacia blossom and vivid fruit – including juicy pear notes – to shine. The wine is completed with refreshing acidity and a long, fine finish. CG Drink 2021-2023 Alc 12.5%

Kikelet, Lónyai Hárslevelű, Tokaj 2018 93

£19 Wanderlust Wine

The lure of Tokaj persuaded Stéphanie Berecz to leave her native France – she’s from the Loire Valley. Her tiny winery has become noted for some lovely Hárslevelű wines, but the Lónyai vineyard selection is a star. The 45-year-old, organically grown vines give incredible depth and intensity, backed by steely, mineral freshness and incredible length, and accompanied by notes of apple, linden blossom and Mirabelle. It should age well too. CG Drink 2021-2025 Alc 13%

Kovács Nimród, Battonage, Eger 2016 93

£19.30 North & South Wines, Vinomondo

A Hungarian Chardonnay with a Burgundian heart. Fresh and dried orchard fruit complemented with sweet brioche on the nose, followed by a creamy and robust palate with pronounced but integrated oak. TC Drink 2021-2023 Alc 13%

Hungary wines 2

Kovács Nimród, Dixie, Eger 2018 93

£11.49-£14.95 All About Wine, Caviste, Cheers, Kwoff, ND John, NY Wines of Cambridge, Vin Neuf

Exciting, lively, ambitious white made from oak-aged Chardonnay and stainless steel-aged Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris). Awash with oatmeal, tangy with fresh-roasted hazelnuts, chewy peach skins and drifting white flower scent. Excellent, impressive white, with a jazz-band back-label. OC Drink 2021-2024 Alc 13.5%

Sabar, Birtokbor Olaszrizling, Badacsony 2019 93

£11.49 Novel Wines

Clean and youthful wine with zesty citrus and stone fruit character, delicate nutty notes with almond in the aftertaste. Classic example of a good-quality Olaszrizling, with a rounded mouthfeel and persistent finish. TC Drink 2021-2023 Alc 12.5%

Szeremley, Kéknyelű, Badacsony 2006 93

£22.99 Malux Hungarian Wine

A fascinating wine made from Kéknyelű, a truly original Hungarian variety which, though once loved, was down to a single hectare at the end of the communist era. This is almost like an orange wine in style – metallic and mineral, with the chewiness of tamarind skins and dried herbs, an orange citrus acidity and a smokiness trailing after the bitterness of wood bark, all dallying with the soothing balm of lime-leaf tea and honey. OC Drink 2021-2030 Alc 13%

Heumann, Rajnai Rizling, Villány 2019 92

£13.75 Wanderlust Wine

Finding a noteworthy Riesling is a bit of a shock in warm southern Hungary. But the Heumann family is Bavarian-Swiss, and they do have limestone soils, so at the end of August they can pick their Riesling to make an irresistibly refreshing style. This is a delicious wine marked by appetising, ripe lime and grapefruit zest, a flicker of lemon flower, and a tautness like stones flecked with honey. OC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12.5%

Frittmann, Irsai Olivér, Kunság 2020 91

£15.95-£19.20 Malux Hungarian Wine

Tremendous example of how to make a delicious juicy white glugger from an unfashionable grape variety in the unfashionable prairie of the Great Pannonian Plain. Spritzy, cut with lemon zest, juicy with pear flesh, and just a hint of damped-down rose petal scent. OC Drink 2021-2022 Alc 12%

Gilvesy, Rajnai Rizling, Szent György-hegy, Badacsony 2019 91

£15.95 (2017) Davy’s

Starbright white with a youthful expression in the glass. Zesty lemon, lime and pink grapefruit on the nose are complemented by notes of stone fruit. On the palate, the racy acidity is rounded out by a few grams of residual sugar, along with stony minerals on the finish. TC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12.5%

Hungary wines 3

Haraszthy, Sauvignon Blanc, Etyek-Bud a 2020 89

£7.99 Lidl

Expressive, with floral, lime and exotic fruit notes and a touch of fresh-cut grass. This is textbook Sauvignon Blanc with lovely purity, mouthwatering flavours and vivid freshness. The vineyards are planted on the limestone hills of Etyek, where constant cool breezes contribute to slow ripening of the grapes, giving real intensity of flavour and refreshing acidity. CG Drink 2021-2022 Alc 13%

Sauska, Siklós Cabernet Franc, Villány 2017 95

N/A UK, sauska.hu

The Siklós sub-region of Villány is just a touch cooler than the rest of this most southerly wine-growing area of Hungary and is increasingly proving its worth for elegant reds. This is a beautiful, restrained and inviting example of Cabernet Franc, with crushed mulberry fruit and a touch of raspberry leaf, along with hints of cedar and some well- integrated oak. It has superb intensity and length, with very fine-grained tannins and enough freshness to give it a promising future. CG Drink 2022-2026 Alc 14.5%

St Andrea, Merengő Egri Bikavér Superior, Eger 2017 95

£29.49 Best of Hungary, Malux Hungarian Wine

Explosive on the palate, a classic Eger mish-mash of Kékfrankos, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Kadarka. Too many varieties? Not at all. This is tremendous wine: dark, rich, scented – super-ripe, but the fruit flavours are pure and unbullied, and the acidity as crisp as a juicy Cox’s apple. Lush texture, tempered by roasted almond smokiness. OC Drink 2021-2031 Alc 14.5%

Vida Péter, Bonsai Kadarka, Szekszárd 2017 95

£21.99 Malux Hungarian Wine

Such a joyful, light red wine from 100-year-old, organically grown Kadarka vines so wizened they resemble bonsai trees. It almost disappeared in Hungary, but examples like this show why it’s quietly recovering ground. Inviting, ethereal aromas and a lovely complexity of red berries, spice and forest fruit, with a hint of cedar and a graceful finish. CG Drink 2021-2023 Alc 13%

Vylyan, Duennium, Villány 2012 94

POA Jeroboams

Deep ruby with some tawny highlights in the glass. Intense on the nose with matured plum, blackberries and dates, complemented by secondary notes of truffle and leather, along with well-integrated oak. The palate is dense and robust, with ripe tannin and just enough freshness to give balance to this hedonistic style. TC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 14.5%

Etyeki Kúria, Pinot Noir, Etyek-Buda 2017 93

£19.99 Malux Hungarian Wine

The rolling limestone hills of the closest wine region to Budapest are great for producing elegant wines with fine acidity. This is proper Pinot Noir, thanks to a delicate hand in the winemaking, so just 30% new barrels for 10 months. It has a lovely inviting scent of raspberry, woodland berries and a touch of violets, then elegant structure, fine fruit and beautiful integration supported by a silky tannin backbone. CG Drink 2021-2024 Alc 13.5%

Hungary wines

Heumann, Kékfrankos Reserve, Villány 2015 93

£22 Wanderlust Wine

A love story of a Swiss- German couple who fell for the Villány region and set up their dream winery here. This Kékfrankos Reserve has real Burgundian style and structure to it. It’s maturing gracefully, with aromas of cherry, forest fruits and tobacco. Cherries and bilberry come through on the palate too, with vivid fruit supported by great freshness and nicely mellow tannins. CG Drink 2021-2024 Alc 14%

Pannonhalmi, Hemina, Pannonhalma 2018 93

£22.50 Malux Hungarian Wine, Vagabond Wines

The Benedictine monks were making wine on this hill south of the Danube in 996AD! The patron saint of The Vintners’ Company was born at the foot of the hill. But this is a brand new revival. Based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this wine is powerful, earthy and packed with rich cherry fruit dusted with cocoa, yet with juicy acidity and an appetising gritty bitterness keeping it thrillingly fresh. OC Drink 2021-2030 Alc 14.5%

Sebestyén, Iván-völgyi Bikavér, Szekszárd 2017 93

£23 WoodWinters

This Bikavér is a blend based on Kékfrankos, Merlot and Kadarka. With a bright, intense ruby colour, it is attractively aromatic on the nose, with plenty of ripe blue and dark fruits. Juicy fruits are balanced with brisk acidity, while silky tannins provide refined texture. On the palate it shows spices with violet floral notes and a hint of cacao. Powerful aromatics combined with elegant structure. TC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 13.5%

St Andrea, Aldás Bikavér Superior, Eger 2018 93

£12.50-£15.49 Best of Hungary, Malux Hungarian Wine, The Wine Society

Aldás actually means ‘blessings’, which is a well-matched name for this juicy, modern-style Bikavér from this father- and-son team. Spicy, cherry-fruited Kékfrankos at the core, with Merlot, Pinot Noir and other grapes adding layers of flesh and character. Supple, nicely textured tannins, just a hint of oak polish. CG Drink 2021-2024 Alc 14.5%

Bolyki, Bikavér, Eger 2016 91

£14.49-£18.99 9 Elms Wines, Best of Hungary, Brigitte Bordeaux, Martinez Wines, Novel Wines, Saxtys, The Drink Shop, Yorkshire Vintners

Egri Bikavér – ‘Bull’s Blood of Eger’ – is usually a sturdy blend, here Zweigelt, Kékfrankos, Blauburger, Cabernet Franc and Merlot: a lively crew. And this wine has the typical chewy drinkability of Eger red: dry cherry skins and cranberry, nut husk savouriness and apple pip bitterness. And is there a slight whiff of blossom? OC Drink 2021-2026 Alc 13%

Bussay, Charmes Pinot Noir, Zala 2017 91

£15.49 Novel Wines

A delicate ruby colour, crisp red berry fruit on the nose with a note of hibiscus. It’s earthy yet fruity at the same time, with cacao nib and nutmeg notes from delicate oak usage. Sturdy acidity along with very fine tannin. TC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12%

Hungary wines

Heimann, Porkoláb-völgy Kadarka, Szekszárd 2019 91

N/A UK, heimann.hu

This wine has a very pale delicate ruby colour, but there is great fruit intensity on the nose. Bursting with sweet red berry fruits, almost like sugar-coated cherry and cranberry with over-ripe raspberry. The fruit aromas are uplifted by a fresh floral character, while there is a silky texture with focused acidity carrying the flavours through to the finish. TC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12%

Bussay, Csókaszőlő, Zala 2018 90

£17.99 Novel Wines

Pretty pink-red wine from a grape (named after jackdaws) that was almost extinct. It offers masses of fresh raspberry and cranberry notes with lively and vibrant fruit, crunchy acidity and gentle tannins. Not a big wine but appealing, fresh and a lot of fun. Crafted by two sisters who took on their father’s passion. CG Drink 2021-2023 Alc 12%

Martinus, Kékfrankos, Balatonfüred-Csopak 2018 90

£18.95 Davy’s

Dark berries on the nose: blackberry, plum and flesh of ripe cherry. Medium- bodied with a juicy structure. Ripe, silky tannins with fresh acidity creating harmony. TC Drink 2021-2023 Alc 13%

St Donat, Magma Kékfrankos, Tihany 2018 90

£17.99 Hungarian Wine House, Novel Wines

Youthful nose. Intense, with cherries, dark plum and blackberries. Smoke and black pepper with medicinal herbal notes. Freshness dominates the palate, with smooth tannins and moderate alcohol. TC Drink 2021-2023 Alc 12.5%

Tóth Ferenc, Kadarka Superior, Eger 2018 90

£22.95 Best of Hungary

Kadarka is supposedly one of Hungary’s classic grape varieties. Well, it may be that – but it’s also a difficult one to grow, keep healthy and ripen, and it is best used or making a soft, dry, mellow wine. This one from Eger is quite light, with soft red apple and cranberry fruit, together with some leafiness, a pleasant apple pip bitterness and a lingering finish of stewed English plums. OC Drink 2021-2025 Alc 14%

Vesztergombi, Turul, Szekszárd 2016 90

£16.95 Best of Hungary

A Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend from southern Hungary. The Cabernet Franc shows how it is able to cope with warm conditions without losing any of its freshness. This is mellow, with a touch of warm summer dust settling on gentle red-plum fruit, which is deepened just slightly by liquorice. And, as so often in Hungary, with an appetising bitter nip to finish. OC Drink 2021-2026 Alc 13.5%

Caroline Gilby MW is a widely published wine writer, awarded author and consultant, specialising in the wines of Central and Eastern Europe, and is DWWA joint Regional Chair for Northern and Eastern Europe. In 2018, she became the first foreigner to be awarded the title of Friend of Hungarian Winemakers. She is also a member of the Confrérie de Tokaj

Oz Clarke OBE is a world-renowned wine writer, author, judge and broadcaster, as well as a long-time fan of Hungarian wines. He first discovered Hungary as a student singer – and he is still performing concerts around Britain with Armonico Consort. Keep in touch with his latest work at www.ozclarke.com

Tamás Czinki MS is Hungary’s first and only master sommelier, offering services for wineries and restaurants through his website www.tamasczinki.com. Tamás recently relocated to Budapest, having previously lived in the UK while working towards his MS title, which he was awarded in 2020

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