Wine Country

Reclining on a patio chair to sip an aromatic vintage while gazing across expanses of undulating winery terrain, a connoisseur could easily be found among the picturesque vineyards of France or California—but this serene scene is also commonplace in Hungary, where the ever-flourishing wine industry currently enjoys an era of increasing global esteem. Magyar-made libations are truly coming of age after two decades of refinement and expansion following communism’s fall, but Hungary is no stranger to excellent wine production—since ancient times this fertile land bore grapes to distill into some of the most cherished tipples of merchants and monarchs.

The delicious diversity of Hungarian wines is because of varyingly fruitful geographical conditions existing in different areas around the country, each imparting distinct qualities into the contents of every bottle. Whether touring these scenic regions or savoring their spirited nectars at Budapest’s restaurants and autumn wine festivals, let this roundup of Hungary’s finest terroirs guide you to discover each locale’s most notable potables.

While primarily enjoyed as a watery playground, the “Hungarian Sea” is surrounded by uniquely varied European geology well-suited for vineyards, including steep volcanic mini-mountains on the north shore and broad rolling plains to the south; both areas are best known for white-wine viticulture, while fostering some impressive reds. Tinted scarlet with ferric oxide, the clay-infused soils of northern Csopak allow the Figula winery to create sensuous Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Szürkebarát, while the nearby Badacsony Hills bear fruit for the Szeremley cellars’ Olaszrizling and Riesling. Meanwhile, the southern coast’s Öregbaglas estate is reputed for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and the Olaszrizling and Sauvignon Blanc of Balatonboglar winery is a favorite nationwide.

Robust reds are the predominant products from this beautiful landscape of dramatic slopes and forested summits, centered by a castle rich in Hungarian history—here Magyar forces faced a seemingly insurmountable siege from Ottoman invaders in 1552 and were allowed to drink from the royal cellars before making their final stand. Against all odds the sozzled soldiers repelled the Turkish onslaught, fighting with such ferocity that the defeated horde assumed the Magyars must’ve drunk bull’s blood (“bikavér”) before the battle. Today Bikavér is Hungary’s most famous red wine, exported and enjoyed around the world, but the modern wineries of Tibor Gál, St. Andrea, Nimród Kovács, and Egervin also produce exquisite vintages of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and also some whites like Chardonnay and Olaszrizling.

Revered for centuries as “the wine of kings, the king of wines”, sweet Tokaji Aszú shines with a golden hue that gleamed in the eyes of Louis XIV and Catherine the Great, just a couple of history’s major figures with an affinity for Hungary’s most renowned libation. Created amid a special micro-climate of the nation’s northeast, where this late-harvest delicacy is derived from botrytised Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes, Aszú can be aged for decades before reaching its optimal, honey-like richness and smooth complexity. Among the best Tokaji producers are Szepsy, Disznókő, Hétszőlő and Oremus wineries—yet other fine-wine varieties yielded from the area’s inertly volcanic hillsides include dry white Furmint, sweet and dry Szamarodni, and even some good Pinot Noir from a region primarily known for whites.

Nestled amid the heart of Hungary’s southern farmland, the sun-drenched soils of Villány bear full-bodied red wines of subtle elegance and flavorful nose, drawing many top Magyar vintners to establish world-class wineries here in recent years. The father-son team of Ede and Zsolt Tiffán produce award-winning Merlot, Cabernets, and Pinot Noir; Attila Gere is highly regarded in international wine circles for his masterful Cabernet Franc and barrel-fermented Merlot; and József Bock creates top-notch Pinot Noir and Portugieser within his picturesque estate, complete with labyrinthine cellars below a gourmet restaurant and guesthouse.

From the hillsides of Austria’s border to the plains stretching above Lake Balaton, this vast tract of countryside boasts several innovative wine estates that craft fine varieties of red, white and rosé. Amidst it all is majestic Pannonhalma Abbey, where monks have practiced viticulture for over a millennium, and which still hosts over 37 acres of vines. To the north in Neszmély, Hilltop winery creates some of the planet’s most popular Hungarian vintages, including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Merlot. Meanwhile, Sopron-based vintner Franz Weninger is known as the “King of Kékfrankos” for his dedicated work toward reviving nectars from this domestic grape known for its spicy bite, used to create intricate reds like Cabernet Franc and Syrah, as well as delightful rosés.

Within the compact valleys adjacent to this settlement of southern Hungary, mineral-rich deposits of terra rossa present ideal conditions for growing red-wine grapes of premium caliber, nurtured by Szekszárd’s Mediterranean climate. This region is best known for its crops of Kadarka, a Balkan berry introduced by Serbian immigrants centuries ago. Some of the region’s best vintners include Ferenc Takler, who uses oak casks to produce accoladed Kékfrankos and fine cuvées of Merlot and Cabernet Franc; Zoltán Heimann also makes luscious cuvée concoctions, like his spicy Cervus blend of Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; and Tamás Dúzsi creates exemplary Kadarka varietals and a popular Kékfrankos rosé.

Some of Hungary’s best wine country can be found a short journey from the capital city—just west of the Buda Hills, sunny expanses of lime-infused earth are bountiful for white-grape agriculture. Found just 15 miles from downtown Budapest, the Nyakas winery crafts splendid Irsai Olivér (a recently developed variety indigenous to this region) alongside delicious Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. And in the nearby village of Etyek—a charming hamlet dotted with stone wine cellars tucked within surrounding hills—the soil is abundant with clay and loess, allowing the Etyeki Kúria estate to produce superb Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and even Pinot Noir.