Hungarian wine (in Hungarian “bor”) has a history dating back to the Kingdom of Hungary. Outside Hungary, the best-known wines are the white dessert wine Tokaji aszú and the red wine Bull’s Blood of Eger (Egri Bikavér).
The Romans brought vines to Pannonia, and by the 5th century AD, there are records of extensive vineyards in what is now Hungary. The Hungarians brought their wine-making knowledge from the East. Over the following centuries, new grape varieties were brought in from Italy and France. Most of the production was of white wine in that period. During the Ottoman occupation of Hungary, an ancient variety of grapes was used to make the robust red-wine blend later known as Bikavér (Bull’s Blood), after a supposed secret ingredient in the wine that fortified the defenders of Eger in 1552. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaj region became known for dessert wines, harvested late to encourage noble rot. Tokaji aszú is mentioned in a document of 1571, and it was famously christened by Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” – Wine of Kings, King of Wines.
Tokaj, Hungary’s most famous wine region lies in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains of the far north of the country – in fact the traditional area crosses into the southeast corner of modern Slovakia. The area is notable for its long warm autumns and mists that come in from the River Bodrog, creating perfect conditions for noble rot. This can contribute towards creating the botrytised (‘aszú’) grapes for which the region is famous. These are individually picked as late as mid-November into buckets (‘puttonyos’) and crushed to a paste.
In Hungary there are 22 wine regions. It’s important to know that it’s permited to produce the famous red wine called Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) only in Eger and Szekszárd.