The centre and south
Hungary has around 128,000ha (316,160 acres) under vine, scattered all over the country except the far south-east. More than half the total are on the Great Plain, the name of which could not be more appropriate, both for size and flatness. The Great Plain lies south of Budapest and east of the River Danube. The climate here is one of extremes: the summers bake, the winters freeze, and the wind races across the grasslands. It races so much, indeed, that the sandy soil is apt to blow and erode, and one means of holding it down is to plant vines. The sand and the summer heat combine to produce wines that are ripe and low in acidity, quite light and without much positive regional character, most of it is white, and mostly from Olaszrizling, a grape with equally little character of its own. The Great Plain wine region is divided into three districts:
Mostly white wine from Olaszrizling, Ezerjo, Chardonnay and others.
Mostly red wine from Kadarka, Cabernet and others.
Mostly red wine from Kadarka, Merlot and Cabernet.
The northern region
It is the north of the country that produces most of the wines that have built Hungary's greatest fame abroad. Bulls Blood comes from here, and on a rather higher level, so does Tokaji. Here, too, is the Australian-inspired Gyongyos estate.
Eger The old city of Eger is the capital of a district whose most famous product has been the red wine known as Bulls Blood, or Egri Bikaver. Bulls Blood is made mostly from Kekfrankos grapes, with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Kekoporto. Once made principally by the Egervin winery, under present wine laws both Egri and Szekszardi Bikaver are recognized. The original legend maintains that the 17th-century siege of Eger by the Turks was overcome by the Magyars because of their copious consumption of the wine, leading the Turks to think their opponents drank the blood of bulls. Today's Bulls Blood, a commercial blend, rarely lives up to the legend.
A large and diverse district on the southern slopes of the Matra Mountains, west of Eger. It produces mostly white wines of all styles from Olaszrizling, Rizling-szilvani, Tramini, Szurkebarat, Zold-veltelini, Leanyka and Muscat Ottonel. Matraalja is the location of the Gyongyos estate, a winery in which Australian-trained winemaker Hugh Ryman produces clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Ryman was one of the first Western winemakers to invest in Hungary and he has revolutionized winemaking at the estate. These are not intended to be great wines: they are soundly made, immensely attractive varietals that compete in both price and quality with middle-ranking Australian wines.
Nagyrede, a village in the Matraalja district, has gained a reputation for fresh, fruity wines, including good rose.
A sizeable district, specializing in white wines, which is close to Egri, in the foothills of the Bukk Mountains.
To the west of the Great Plain, on the other side of the Danube, which splits Hungary in two, lie the vineyards of the Southern Transdanubian region.
Villdny-Siklos is the southernmost winemaking district of Hungary. Villany makes plummy, earthy Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon reds that are exported, but the local specialties are the red Kekfrankos and Kekoporto grapes; the latter, with its round flavour and low acidity, is perhaps more to domestic Hungarian taste. Siklos is known for whites.
A little further north, around Pecs, is the Mecsek district, making mainly white wines. The vineyards are on the slopes of the Mecsek hills, and grapes include Olaszrizling, Furmint, Chardonnay and Cirfandli (the Zierfandler of Austria). The soils are volcanic sand or slate, and the wines tend to sweetness
Mor and Sopron
Further away from the lake, but still in the Northern Transdanubian region, Mor and Sopron yield wines with higher acidity, white in Mor and red in Sopron.
Sopron is more temperate in climate than the rest of Hungary, situated in the first foothills of the Alps in the west of the country. Sopron borders another lake, the Ferto To or Neusiedlersee of Austria. Winters are milder here, and summers cooler and wetter. Sopron makes red wines from Kekfrankos, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, and whites from Zoldveltelini, Tramini and Leanyka. Most of Sopron's red is from Kekfrankos, though the Cabernet can be more exciting.
Another step northwards brings red wines back into dominance. Kadarka rules in this hilly area, but there is also Cabernet, Merlot, Kekfrankos and Kekoporto, with some whites from Chardonnay, Tramini and Rizlingszilvani.
The main Balaton vineyards are included with several other districts in the Northern Transdanubian region. The importance of the enormous Lake Balaton to viticulture in the region can hardly be overstated. It is the biggest lake in Europe, and brings with it all the tempering effects on the climate that large expanses of water can offer. The soils are sandy and volcanic.
The main grape variety of these vineyards north of the lake is Olaszrizling, but the best varieties are the native Furmint, Keknyelu and Szurkebarat. Improved winemaking here could yield aromatic wines of great individuality.
Districts of the Balaton region are: Badacsony Area centred on an extinct volcano towards the western end of the lake which makes white wines from Keknyelu, Szurkebarat, Olaszrizling, Sauvignon Blanc, Rajnai Rizling, Zoldszilvani, Muskotaly, Rizlingszilvani and Tramini.