Wines of Hungary: From Classic to New Wave

At The Oxford Wine Company we love celebrating lesser-known wine producing regions, and one of my personal favourites is the historic wine regions of Hungary. Known for a wide range of wine styles using native and international grape varieties, Hungary really can provide something for every palate and budget. 

On a cold evening in The Jericho Wine Rooms, Romain, Dom and I, alongside 27 guests, were joined by Audrey Zarach from Malux Hungarian Wine & Spirits for an exploratory evening of just a handful of Hungary’s broad range of wines. In total we tried 6, ranging from bone dry whites, to rich, full-bodied reds, and of course Hungary’s most famous export, the famous sweet wine of Tokaji. 

First up was the Etyeki Kuria Zenit 2021. Zenit is a native Hungarian grape, created as a crossing of Ezerjó and Bouvier in Pécs in 1951. This particular example showed wonderful citrus fruits and, typical of Hungarian wines, bright acidity. It also had a delightfully savoury, saline finish that I was particularly fond of. This would be a wonderful wine to match with food, and would reward adventurous pairings! 

Our second wine of the evening was the Château Megyer Hárslevelű 2014. Hárslevelű is another native Hungarian grape (something of a theme for this tasting) and is mostly known for being added to Hungary’s most famous grape Furmint in the blend that makes up Tokaji Aszú, Hungary’s world-famous sweet wine. However, it can also make very interesting and delicious dry wines, as this example from Chateau Megyer shows. Wonderful peach and apricot flavours and aromas are complemented by notes of honey and petrol, which often means this particular wine is mistaken for German Riesling! Although the most interesting fact is that we were tasting the 2014 vintage, which despite its age, shows no signs of losing it’s intensity of fruit anytime soon! 

Afterwards we moved on to the discussion-provoking Tuske Pince Panni Siller 2022. Is it a red? Is it a rosé? In fact it’s neither! Siller is a classification in its own right, and refers to a pale, bright red wine that works well lightly chilled. Tuske’s example is full of bright, crunchy red fruit (think cranberries, pomegranate etc), with notes of white pepper and spice which come from the inclusion in the blend of Kékfrankos, which is also known as Blaufränkisch. 

Our next wine saw us move into slightly more familiar territory, with the Egri Korona Borhhaz Bikavér2019. Bikavér may be known to some as Bull’s Blood, (the English translation of Bikavér), and was well known when Hungary was part of the Soviet Union, where it was used to make mass-produced, low-quality red wines. Thankfully that style of wine is now a distant memory, as this example from Korona Borhhaz shows. A blend of the previously mentioned Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this is a fruit forward wine that shows great complexity and intensity of fruit. Personally, I would love to take this to a BBQ in the summer! 

Our second red of the evening was the Tuske Pince Szekszardi Cabernet Franc 2017, our first and last foray into a wine comprising entirely international varieties. This one is made by the same wonderful family winemakers that brought us the Siller from further up our list, and is a great example of what Cabernet Franc can do in the wonderful region of Szekszard. Lots of typical Cabernet Franc characteristics (blackcurrant, cassis, bell pepper), but retaining a freshness that would mean this works as well on its own as it does with red meats and roasted vegetables. 

Our final wine took us into long-awaited sweet territory, with the Château Pajzos ‘H’ Late Harvest Hárslevelű. Late Harvest sweet wines are different to their Aszú compatriots in that they follow a different production method. Aszú wines are made with botrytised grapes (noble rot), whereas late harvest wines are made with grapes that, as the name suggests, have been harvested much later without being infected with Botrytis. The extra ripening means that the grapes contain much more sugar, which accounts for the sweetness of the wine. This Late Harvest Hárslevelű from Château Pajzos was full of rich stone fruit and honey, whilst retaining the refreshing acidity for which Hárslevelű is known. Furthermore, judging by the reception of this wine and the post-tasting sales, this was the hands-down favourite of the evening!  

 Egészségedre! That’s Cheers in Hungarian, but try saying that after a glass of all of the above!