The history of Hungarian wine
The history of Hungarian wine started in the 3rd century during the era of the Roman Empire. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus brought the first vines to the present-day western Hungary, called Pannonia. Then, in the 9th century, the head of the Hungarian tribes' confederation Árpád rewarded his followers with vineyards in Tokaj. They and their descendants were responsible for developing the wine culture, which were influenced by Roman traditions and advanced methods from Western Europe. By the 17th century Hungarian wines became the favourites of royal courts in Europe. Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) called the Tokaji aszú "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" i.e. Wine of Kings, King of Wines.
However, during the Communist era (1949-1989), the small vineries got integrated to state-owned wine factories. They changed their focus from quality to quantity in order to maximise the export to the Soviet Union. From that moment the greatness of the Hungarian wines became forgotten.
After the end of Communism, the need for quality wine started to increase, but it took 20 years to re-discover the traditions of winemaking. Now, this combined with new techniques resulted in excellent wines. In the last few years, many of them were awarded on international competitions showing that Hungarian wine is on the right way of regaining its lost popularity.
There are 22 wine regions in Hungary. They are all protected from the north winds by the Carpathian Mountains. They mostly located on hills or next to rivers or lakes. The dried-out ancient Pannonia Sea as well as the mountains made of volcanic rocks provide lots of minerals for the grapes in this area. The most important wine region is Tokaj, which was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002.
Where to find good Hungarian wines?
It is challenging to find a decent one in the supermarkets. Even when the label says "Product of Hungary", the company name in the small prints suggests that the wine was produced elsewhere. Sadly, these wines do not represent good quality. Neither do the cheap Bull-Blood wines that you can find in Hungarian or Polish shops.
The fines wines almost entirely sold for the domestic market. Most of the vineyards are owned by small producers who cannot make enough quantity to enter the foreign markets. They often needed of foreign partners to invest to their own vinification and bottling facilities. In spite of the current popularity of international varieties and styles, Hungary remains rich in indigenous grapes of character that have potential to contribute splendid wines to the world scene. Grapes that often simply do not succeed elsewhere. The most notable of all is the vigorous Furmint, the dominant grape of Tokaj. It does not only rots nobly like in the Tokaji Aszú, but in its dry form (such as the Tokaji Dry), it yields strongly sappy and high-flavoured wine. If you like serious Bordeaux style wines then Villány, the most southern wine region of Hungary is the best option.
I strongly believe that the history of Hungarian wine will reach a new chapter when people learn more about wine making countries whose priority is the quality rather than mass-production. The old Hungarian saying "Good wine needs no label" is not valid on the world market.