Discover the wine in Hungary: The best-kept secret of the old wine world

While Hungary is globally lauded for its abundance of geothermal spas and hot springs, many people overlook the fact that this Central European nation produces some of the world’s most luxurious wines. Hungary boasts an astonishing 22 wine regions, including the world’s oldest, with a history of winemaking influenced by the Romans, the Ottomans and a diverse array of Hungarian tribes. Today, winemaking in Hungary is going through somewhat of a renaissance, which is starting to turn the heads of wine connoisseurs across the globe. Go back a century or so, and you’d find Hungarian wine in just about every European royal court. Wines from intriguing regions such as Eger, Tokaj, Villány and Nagy Somló were relished by the upper echelons of society, while plenty of other Hungarian reds and whites were revered throughout the continent. Fast forward to the modern era; Hungary now produces one of the world’s most expensive wines at $40,000 a bottle – the Royal Tokaji Essencia. With such a rich winemaking heritage, Hungary is a must-visit destination for anybody who enjoys a fine tipple. We delve into Hungarian wines in six different regions that boast tongue-twisting grape varieties, century-old cellars, and zingy bottles with real personality. While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our Budapest travel guide.

Let Us Book
a Luxurious Vacation
For You

Mr Hudson’s team of expert trip designers inspire and book unique and luxurious vacations for sophisticated travellers who prioritise style and beautiful design.

BOOK WITH US
Marseille Johannesburg: 5-Day Kruger National Park Safari Tour

Hungary | Photo: Walkerssk

An introduction to Hungarian wine

Despite being overlooked as one of the world’s best winemaking nations, Hungary has plenty of credentials that prove it deserves your attention. Hungary itself is located between the same latitude range as many well-known French winemaking regions, such as Champagne and Northern Rhône. Hungary is also home to rolling hills that are rich in limestone and volcanic soils, ideal for fine winemaking. And then there’s Hungary’s winemaking history, which dates back to the Roman Empire. However, since the 1990s – around the time of the fall of communism – Hungary has been striving to puts its seemingly long-forgotten wines back on the map.

Winemaking in Hungary has never come to a standstill, even during times of war, border changes and occupations. Today, Hungary is the 7th-largest wine producer in Europe. The nation’s national anthem even mentions Tokaj wine, which is produced in the world’s first demarcated region (1737). Hungarian wines are both high-value and delicious, even if they’re often a little difficult to pronounce. However, with centuries-old winemaking production techniques, a range of native grape varieties, and a plethora of mouth-watering food-matching possibilities, Hungary is – in our opinion – highly deserving of an accolade for its wine. In this guide, we’ll tell you precisely why.

Badacsonytomaj, Hungary | Photo: Zoltan Kovacs

Budapest | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Hungary’s rarest and most expensive wine is the legendary Royal Tokaji Essencia, which reaches an alcohol content of 5 to 8% after two years of fermentation

Hungary produced the world’s most expensive wine

With nearly 100 wine varieties produced in 22 historic winemaking regions, Hungary has been home to a flourishing wine industry for centuries, particularly since the 16th century. In Central Europe, Kékfrankos is essentially a household name thanks to being both tasty and affordable, and there are plenty of other budget-friendly wines that hail from Hungary. However, some of Hungary’s wines are far from what you might call economically priced, but they are among the world’s most luxurious.

The Tokaji Aszú dessert wine is one of Hungary’s finest wines, made from the juice of handpicked, dried and rotten aszú grapes. This globally revered wine is fermented for several months before being left to mature for three to eight years. Hungary’s rarest and most expensive wine, though, is the legendary Royal Tokaji Essencia, which reaches an alcohol content of 5 to 8% after two years of fermentation. Producing just a teaspoon of Royal Tokaji Essencia requires a kilogramme of perfectly ripe aszú grapes. Consequently, Tokaji Essencia is priced at $40,000 a bottle. The only two remaining bottles of Tokaji Essencia are owned by James Carcass, a Hungary-based wine artist.

Photo: Zsanett Mezei

Photo: Pavel Danilyuk

Winemaking regions in Hungary

Just over a century ago, Hungarian wine was a staple of a royal banquet, with many fit-for-royalty varietals hailing from regions including Tokaj, Villány, Eger and Nagy Somló. Today, it seems that Hungary is engaged in a battle to re-establish itself as a renowned wine producer. But why did Hungary fall off the map for wine lovers in the first place? Over the past century, Hungary has struggled through two world wars, four decades of communism, and the phylloxera assault of the 1880s. Now, Hungary is bouncing back, with countless wine estates being replanted and cultivated across the nation.

Hungary boasts so many wine varieties largely thanks to its diverse landscapes, which include flatlands, plains, basal-vulcanite mountains, and sandy soiled areas. The nation’s volcanic and limestone soils are, coupled with a favourable climate, perfect for luxurious winemaking. Hungary’s 22 winemaking regions can be grouped into four (Eger, Tokaj, Villány and Somló). Located in the north, Eger is famous for the two native blends of Bikaver (red) and Egri Csillag (white), while the Tokaj region is famous for being the world’s oldest classified wine region, home to a wide range of clay-dominant soils. Towards Hungary’s southernmost tip is the region of Villány, where a sub-Mediterranean climate and volcanic soils create the perfect conditions for harvesting native grapes like Kékfrankos and Portugesier. And then there’s Somló, Hungary’s smallest wine region, where you can try savoury and ashy volcanic wines.

Lake Balaton, Hungary | Photo: Holdosi

1. Eger

Located about 86 miles northeast of Budapest, the rolling terrains of Eger have long been used for cultivating wine grapes. In fact, a 30-million-year-old wine grape fossil was found among the region’s modern-day vineyards. Eger’s monks were engaged in winemaking over 1,000 years ago, and when the Turks held the castle of Eger for nearly a century after 1596, the occupiers permitted winemaking to continue because it was such a significant revenue source. It was around this time that a complex series of labyrinths for storing wine were constructed beneath the town.

Egri Bikavér, which translates to ‘bull’s blood’, is Eger’s most famous red blend, rich in spices and tannin. According to legend, the wine takes its name from an incident that occurred in 1552 during the Ottoman siege. Apparently, Turkish onlookers spotted Hungarian troops drinking the spicy red wine. The fiery temperaments, red-stained beards and blood-shot eyes of the Hungarians led the Turks to tell their captain that the Hungarians had been drinking bull blood and we’re not to be trifled with. Today, Egri Bikavér is Eger’s flagship wine, made with a minimum of three grape varieties, one of which must be a native red grape, which is usually Kékfrankos or Kadarka. Ask a local wine retailer for help with finding Egri Bikavér, and avoid the two-buck-chuck options that leave a lot to be desired.

The white grape sister of Egri Bikavér is Egri Csillag, which translates to ‘the star of Eger’. This blend contains four grapes, of which at least half must be native. Super aromatic, Egri Csillag is brimming with tropical fruits such as citrus, tart pineapple, almonds and lychee mingle. You’ll find Egri Csillag in many of Budapest’s clubs, though it’s best enjoyed cold on a hot summer’s day. Look out for qualifiers such as Leányka, Királyleányka, Furmint, Hárslevelü, Zengö, and Zenit.

Eger, Hungary | Photo: Adonis Villanueva

2. Tokaj

Made up of 28 towns in the rolling hills between the rivers Tisza and Bodrog, the UNESCO-listed Tokaj wine region is the world’s oldest classified wine region, home to the first noble rot wine in the world – the Tokaji Aszú. Abundant sunshine and wind, high moisture levels in the air, and clay-dominant soils covering an iron and lime-rich volcanic rock subsoil create the perfect conditions for cultivating botrytized wine grapes. The resulting Tokaji Aszú wine has been treasured for centuries, notably during the 18th century by Russia, when Peter the Great stationed a permanent military base in the region to maintain a constant stream of his favourite sweet golden wine to the palace in Saint Petersburg.

For a wine to receive the prestigious Tokaji detonation, it can only consist of the six native grape varieties of Hárslevelü, Furmint, Kabar, Kövérszölö, Zéta, and Sárgamuskotály. Botrytized grapes are individually picked before being mashed and soaked in must or dry wine. The resulting wine is golden in colour and extremely sweet, somewhere between nectar and honey, balanced out by its bright acidity. When properly stored, it has the potential to age indefinitely. You can expect to pay at least $55 for a bottle of the good stuff, which pairs deliciously with foie gras, lemon tarts, and creamy cheeses.

The dry whites of Tokaj, most notably the dry Furmint, have been gaining a lot of attention over the last 15 years. With its impressive structure and minerality, Furmint has already positioned itself as one of the world’s great white varietals. It’s also remarkably versatile; it can taste like a full-bodied Chardonnay, a floral Riesling or a bright and crisp Grüner. In all styles, flavours of wet tree bark and apple are persistent. A good bottle will set you back $12-20.

Tokaj, Hungary | Photo: Arpad Czapp

Tokaj | Photo: Arpad Czapp

3. Villány

Nicknamed the ‘Mediterranean of Hungary’, Villány is located in the nation’s southernmost tip, with a climate that’s mild in winter and hot over summer, ideal for making the region’s famous opulent red wines. Native grapes such as Portugesier and Kékfrankos thrive in Villány’s volcanic soil and climate, though over the past 20 years, the region has become associated with Bordeaux varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – the late writer Michael Broadbent stated in 2000: “Cabernet Franc has found its natural home in Villány”. While most of Villány’s wines are characterised by their high alcohol content, ripe tannins, oak and full body, today’s winemakers are also embracing lighter, fresher and fruitier styles.

Since 2006, Villány has held a protection of origin designation, with its protected wines falling into the quality levels of Classic, Premium and Super Premium, mostly based on the ageing period. In the region’s cooler areas, you’ll find white wine varietals such as Chardonnay, Olaszrizling, and Hárslevelű. Head to the village of Villány to samples premium wines in the tasting cellars of the whitewashed buildings that reflect the region’s Swabian influence.

Villány, Hungary | Photo: Eszter Miller

4. Somló

Situated around 90 miles west of Budapest on an extinct volcano butt, Somló is the tiniest but also, arguably, the most fascinating wine region in Hungary, home to just 600 hectares of vineyards. The region’s topsoil of clay, sand and loess above a black basalt bedrock allows winemakers to produce some of the world’s smokiest and fieriest white wines. Monarchs and aristocrats of the past believed the masculinity of the region’s wines improved a woman’s fertility. Today, the region’s wines are known for being extremely delicious, particularly the Juhfark, a mineral-driven wine with flavours of smoke, lemon and wheat. Give Juhfark some time to mellow out inside the bottle, and it’ll exhibit a citrus fruit burst with a golden, savoury richness. Besides Juhfark, Hárslevelű, Olaszrizling and Furmint are popular wine varietals found in Somló.

Despite being dominated by small-scale wineries, Somló has long been an esteemed wine region. Since 1135, winemaking at a Benedictine convent in Somló has been documented, and its wines have been favoured by names including Maria Theresa, the Habsburgs, Eszterházys, and Queen Victoria. If you’re visiting Somló, we recommend spending a few days hiking around the region’s hilly vineyards.

Photo: Aletta D Nagy

Photo: Mauro Lima

5. Badacsony

Badacsony is located in the west of Hungary on the northern shore of Central Europe’s largest lake, Lake Balaton. On top of its fine wines, Badacsony is one of our favourite Hungarian regions to simply explore thanks to its unusual landscape of hills of various shapes and sizes, which historically lent their name to the region’s wines. The landscape was formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, with Mount Badacsony and its flat top being the region’s standout natural feature. The best-known of the region’s white wines is the Szent György Hill, adored for its full body, minerality and characteristic saltiness.

The most widely planted grape variety in Badacsony is Olaszrizling, which grows superbly in the region’s volcanic soil. If you’re visiting Badacsony, we recommend sampling the more obscure wine variety of Kékneylű, which is being revived after falling out of favour due to the heavy work required to produce it. Because Kékneylű only has female flowers, it must be fertilised by another grape variety such as Budai Zöld. Kékneylű can be difficult to find in most areas of the world, making it a must-try wine during a trip to Badacsony.

Badacsony, Hungary | Photo: Sindy Sussengut

Mr. Hudson highlight image

While Szekszárd enjoys less fame than Villány, it’s one of the most gorgeous wine regions of Hungary, characterised by stunning vineyards that lie in scenic valleys

6. Szekszárd

Located in southern Hungary, Szekszárd is the northerly neighbour of Villány. However, while Szekszárd enjoys less fame than Villány, it’s one of the most gorgeous wine regions of Hungary, characterised by stunning vineyards that lie in scenic valleys. Like Villány, Szekszárd is a producer of premier red wines, and it’s the only other Hungarian region apart from Eger that can call its signature red blend Bikavér (Bull’s Blood). In Eger, Bikavér must contain a minimum of 30% Kékfrankos, while it must contain a minimum of 45% Kékfrankos and 5% Kadarka in Szekszárd. Bikavér from Szekszárd is available in two quality levels. Both quality levels are aged in oak for at least 12 months, but the premium Bikavér specifies lower vineyard yields. Besides Bikavér, you’ll also find plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in Szekszárd.

Photo: Ron Lach

Luxury Wine Hotels in Hungary

Naturally, the best place to try Hungarian wine is Hungary, particularly if you enjoy views of stunning vineyards resting on gently rolling slopes. The nation is home to an abundance of luxurious wine hotels that offer spa experiences, excellent cuisine, and – of course – unforgettable vineyard tours.

A combination of modern and traditional, Andrássy Rezidencia Wine & Spa is one of the only 5-star hotels in the Tokaj region, boasting luxurious rooms, a spa with two indoor pools plus sauna facilities and vinotherapy treatments, and a restaurant that serves premium local and international dishes with wine pairings. The more contemporary Kreinbacher Birtok is located in Somló, on the hillside of Witness Mountain, which you can admire through the hotel’s glass walls. Facilities at the hotel include a terrace, bar, restaurant and a garden. It’s an ideal accommodation option for those wishing to explore Somló and taste fine Hungarian mineral wines such as Olászrizling. If you want to explore the iconic wine-cellar villages of Villány and Villánykövesd, consider booking a stay at the Crocus Gere Wine Hotel, where the concept of ‘wine wellness’ takes centre stage. The hotel can organise activities ranging from wine estate and thermal bath visits to ship excursions. It’s also home to the lauded Mandula Restaurant. For a getaway to the wine regions surrounding Lake Balaton, we suggest staying at the Liszkay Borkúria, which sits on the site of a former wine-press house. While this hotel provides guests with a selection of swimming pools, our favourite one is located on the terrace. Guest rooms feature a countryside-inspired décor, with authentic stone bathrooms, oak floors and light colours. There’s also an indoor sauna that’s especially inviting during winter, and plenty of vineyard tours are on offer.

Photo: Pavel Danilyuk

Budapest | Photo: Keszthelyi Timi

Want to simplify luxury travel planning?

Whether you want a resort vacation, wildlife safari, city break, luxury cruise, wellness retreat, honeymoon, once-in-a-lifetime adventure or weekend escape, the trip curation experts at Mr Hudson make travel planning a breeze. Find out how we can handle the finer details of holidaying in style.

Subscribe to our newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.