Best of Hungary tasting

Our Zoom tasting with Best of Hungary gave a flavour of the quality and diversity of a winemaking nation often touted as the next big thing

Hungary may feel like a new frontier for many wine merchants in the UK, but its winemaking history dates back more than 1,000 years.

So why does it under-perform in the independent trade? The answer is partly political. Under communism, it’s fair to say that Hungary’s wineries lacked investment, and churned out some mediocre table wines for the Soviet bloc.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Hungary has been getting its mojo back. A new breed of winemakers has picked up where their forefathers left off, taking advantage of the terroir of the Carpathian Basin, with its temperate climate, gently rolling hills and variety of soil types. It’s a landscape almost tailor-made for viticulture.

Best of Hungary is an import business based in west Wales, set up in 2016 by Monika Gyenes. The company works with 24 of Hungary’s best wineries, most of which are family-owned boutique cellars, and its medal haul in this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards suggests it’s chosen its partners wisely.

“We aim to provide customers with the full cross-section of Hungarian winemaking, from easy-drinking crowd favourites to once-in-a-generation masterpieces,” says Gyenes.

Best of Hungary recently teamed up with The Wine Merchant for an online tasting of 16 of the company’s wines. One of the main attractions for the 40-plus indies in attendance was the focus on indigenous varieties.

“Hungary has 22 distinct wine regions growing around 140 different grape varieties,” says Gyenes. “It allows winemakers to create wines that are in perfect harmony with their terroir by choosing the best-suited varieties.

“Hungarian wine is one of the best-kept secrets of the Old World and has been heralded as the next big thing. With a diversity of regions, grape varieties and styles, there is so much to surprise yourself with.”

The white wines
Frittmann Generosa 2018
Frittmann Ezerjó 2017
Gál Tibor Egri Csillag 2019

Furmints and Olaszrizling:
Tokajicum Tokaji Furmint “Darázskö” 2018
Balassa Tokaji Furmint 2018
Figula Olaszrizling 2019

The red wines
Kadarka and Kékfrankos:
Tóth Ferenc Egri Kadarka 2017
Tóth Ferenc Egri Kadarka Superior 2018
Bolyki Egri Kékfrankos 2016

Bikavér “Bulls’ Blood”:
Bolyki Egri Bikavér 2016
Gál Tibor “Titi” Egri Bikavér Superior 2017
St Andrea Egri Bikavér Grand Superior “Hangács” 2017

The sweet wines
Balassa Tokaji Laate Harvest Cuvée 2017
Tokajicum Tokaji Szamorodni 2017
Tokajicum Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2014
Balassa Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2010

Carolyn Skeels
Vintoto, Wakefield

“The dry whites for me provided a varied and interesting mix – the Generosa presented on the nose like an Albariño and tasted akin to a Viognier. The Ezerjo was massively complex with a depth that definitely did not fit its billing as an easy-drinking wine – the winemaker even said that.

“The two stand-out whites for me though were the floral, aromatic, Muscat-esque Egri Csillag and the richer, creamy Tokaji Furmint. For the reds, the ‘Titi’ Egri Bikavér Superior. All of the sweet wines ticked the right boxes for me – what’s not to love?

“I don’t currently list any Hungarian wines, but it is something I will look at in the future.
Based on this tasting experience, I do think the Hungarian dry wines definitely warrant the shelf space and are worth promoting. They present as quality wines with their own distinguishing characteristics. For customers willing to try a native grape they may never have heard of, there are some gems and such varying styles, and there is bound to be something to please almost everybody.”

Sadie Wilkins
Vineyards, Sherborne

“I feel like I definitely understand Hungarian wine more since the tasting, and the philosophy and pride surrounding Bikavér and its renewal.

“My absolute favourite was the Balassa Dry Furmint. Delicious from nose to finish: lovely mouthfeel, silky and well balanced. I also enjoyed the Kadarka Superior 2018 and Gál Tibor Bikavér. A lovely mix of fruit, spice and herbs. The herbal notes on the Bikavér were fantastic. I just wanted a cheese board!

“I really do think that Hungary has a bright future in the independent trade.”

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