Hungary has plenty of autochton grape varieties, many of them have been cultivated in the country for centuries, while others were created by renowned Hungarian oenologists. However, the international grape varieties are also present in all wine regions of the country. The “renaissance” of winemaking after the change of the regime in the 1990s started with the Bordeaux and Burgundy grapes, and they are still significant, though the indigenous grapes are getting more and more recognized both by winemakers and winelovers.
Regions: Budai Zöld is grown in Etyek–Buda wine region, and mostly in Badacsony wine region (Mount Badacsony) adjacent to Kéknyelű to help the pollination of Kéknyelű.
Character: Simple, easy drinking wine with fresh, sometimes harsh acidity, green apple flavours and vegetal character.
Story: Budapest used to be a capital with significant vineyards – as it is Wien still today –, however the city took over. The name literally means ‘the green of Buda’ referring to the origin of the grape. Buda used to be the capital of Hungary, now it is part of Budapest. Some vines can still be discovered in Buda gardens to cherish the tradition.
Regions: The world’s second most grown white grape is popular in Hungary as well. It is mostly grown in the northern Etyek–Buda wine region – partially for producing méthode traditionelle sparkling wine by Törley and other producers –, and also typical in Eger region, which is often referred to as the ‘Hungarian Burgundy’.
Character: The well known fruity chardonnay (apple, pear, citrus flavours, tropical fruits) has beautiful examples in Hungary, both barrel aged and in reductive style.
Regions: The indigenous Hungarian grape can be found all over the country except Tokaj, and very popular among wine drinkers. Kunság, Hajós–Baja – the two less appreciated wine regions produce a lot of the grape, but we can find nice examples around lake Balaton as well.
Character: Aromatic spicy, muscat type grape with fairly high acidity. Not suitable for longer aging. The educated wine connoisseurs often despise the variety saying that it is not sophisticated, but it can be elegant, sleek and charming if made carefully.
Story: The variety was created by Károly Bakonyi, who crossed Irsai Oliver and Red Traminer. The word ‘cserszegi’ refers to the village on the north-west of Lake Balaton, where Károly Bakonyi lived. ‘Fűszeres’ means spicy, it refers to the spicy character of the grape.
Regions: It is almost totally restricted to one wine region, named Mór. The small region is proud of the grape and its winemakers produce more and more remarkable wines from this lesser known and lesser respected grape.
Character: Pale, greenish colour. Restrained on the nose, slightly aromatic. Light body, easy drinking, juicy with high acidity.
Story: Literally Ezerjó means ‘Thousand Good’, and it used to be one of the most common varieties in Hungary, well known throughout the Carpathian Basin.
Regions: It is believed to be or hoped to be the flagship of Hungary. Furmint is one of the few grapes allowed to use under the appellation of Tokaj, it is the main grape of aszú wines along with Hárslevelű. Tokaj winemakers answered with stunning dry Furmint wines to the decrease of sweet wine consumption. Furmint is grown all over Hungary, marvellous Furmint wines are made in Somló, Badacsony, Balatonfüred–Csopak, Mátra and Eger. Nowadays there is a dispute whether Furmint has a potential of long aging or does not.
Character: It ripens late and has a nose of fresh fruits, often compared to ripe pear. Its significant acidity and alcohol produce characterful wines sometimes with a touch of tartness.
Story: Furmint originates from Tokaj, and there are several evidences to prove that, one of them is the mention of the variety as early as 1611 in a document from Erdőbénye, Tokaj region.
Region: Hárslevelű is the other main grape variety in Tokaj besides Furmint, however it is widely planted all over the country, it can be found even in the southern Villány. Late to ripen, like Furmint, but with looser bunches. It has a thicker grape skin meaning that in dry vintages the botrytis attack it more slowly.
Character: Its wine is more aromatic than Furmint with delicate linden honey aromas, sometimes elderflower. Elegant, subtle wine can be made from Hárslevelű with refined acidity, creamy texture and a touch of spices.
Story: Its name is literally ‘linden leaf’ and comes from the shape of the leaf which resembles that of the tree. According to some recent DNA researches Furmint is the parent of Hárslevelű.
Region: Planted widely in Hungary due to its popularity. Wonderful examples of the grape are produced in Kunság region, where the best winemakers can hold in check the aromatic character of the variety. Also popular in Mátra, Balaton, Etyek–Buda, Neszmély, Sopron.
Character: Ripening early, it gives a very aromatic, intense wine with grapey aromas, delicate spices. Easy drinking wine with medium-low acidity and alcohol, almost always vinified reductively for instant consumption.
Story: Irsai Olivér is a crossing between Pozsonyi Fehér and Csabagyöngye created by Pál Kocsis in 1930. There are several legends of the naming of the grape, one says that Kocsis was a passionate gambler and he gave away the name of the crossing due to his massive debt, but the truth is likely to be much simpler: Irsai Olivér was of the son of a respected wine merchant friend of Kocsis. The grandson of Irsi Olivér is a university student now in Szeged.
Regions: Juhfark is grown almost exclusively in the small volcanic hill of Somló, a small amount in Balatonfüred.
Character: Rather neutral, restrained nose with some flowers and green apples. High, sometimes brutal acidity. It is really difficult to tame this variety, but there are amazing examples of it in history! If you are not afraid of straightforward acidity, take a chance on it. In Somló, the minerality paired with high acidity results some outstanding wines with great aging potential.
Story: Juhfark takes its name from the sheep’s tail, as the long cylindrical shape of the bunches resemble the sheep’s tail. It is often cited as the ‘wines of the wedding-night’, since it was believed to help when a couple had been longing for a son.
Regions: Exclusively grown in Tokaj, in fact it is an experimental strain previously known as Tarcal 10 that is a cross between Hárslevelű and Bouvier. It ripens at a similar time to Zéta, but produces lower yields. Kabar has a good tendency to accumulate sugar, botrytises well to become an aszú grape, but because of its thicker skin the aszú berries are less vulnerable to rainy periods.
Character: Kabar gives wines with some linden blossom on the nose and high acidity on the palate.
Story: Kabar is a new variety (the crossing was made in 1967 in Tarcal research centre) allowed in the Tokaj wine region since 2006. Kabar represents only 1 percentage of Tokaj plantations.
Regions: This grape is exclusively grown in Badacsony wine region. Planting alternate rows with a variety such as Budai Zöld encourages more consistent pollination.
Character: In good vintages it gives elegant wine with creamy structure and subtle, fine acidity. Rare grape variety that is capable of giving exceptionally high quality wines.
Story: Kéknyelű is quite likely of Hungarian origin. Very popular among the winemakers, though it is hard to cultivate. It ripens relatively late, therefore it needs protection from the hungry games living in the forests of Badacsony and Szent György mountain. “Kéknyelű, meaning ‘blue stalk’ and referring to the slightly blue tint of the petiole, is an old variety probably originating from the Badacsony region in western Hungary. The alleged synonymy between Kéknyelű and the Italian Picolit mentioned in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue has been disproved by DNA profiling.” Excerpt From: Robinson, Jancis; Harding, Julia; Vouillamoz, Jose. “Wine Grapes (9780062325518).” iBooks.
Regions: The grape is originally from Tranyslvania, the formerly Hungarian western part of Romania. Now it is often referred to as Hungarian indigenous grape variety. It is grown all over Hungary, typically in Mátra, Ászár–Neszmély, Eger, Mór, Pannonhalma, South Balaton and Pécs wine regions. It’s often used in blends, for exapmle in the popular white blend of Eger wine regon, Egri Csillag.
Character: The wine made of Királyleányka has light yellow colour with greenish taint. It is slightly aromatic, delicate. It has a significant, but pleasant acidity. Its fresh acidity makes it a good blending partner for other, softer aromatic varieties. On the nose and palate it is full of fresh fruits and flowers. The lightly perfumed, grapey, light wine is a popular summer party wine nowadays.
Story: The world Királyleányka literally means little princess. Királyleányka is said to be a natural hybrid of Leányka and Kövérszőlő – this latest is one of the typical grapes of Tokaj wine region. The grape was introduced in Hungary in the 1970s. It was said to be identical with Fetească Regală, however comparison of their DNA profiles shows that Királyleányka and Fetească Regală from Romania are distinct varieties (Wine Grapes).
Muscat Ottonel / Ottonel Muskotály
Region: In Hungary it is planted almost all over the country (except from Somló and Sopron), but mostly in Mátra, Eger, Kunság, Balaton.
Character: Wines of Muscat Ottonel are meant for early consumption. When young, it is fresh, aromatic with notes and flavours of the ripened grape berry and rose petals. Most Muscat Ottonel wines are not very complex, the acidity is medium or rather low, but pleasant on the nose and easy to drink.
Story: “Muscat Ottonel is a seedling obtained in Angers in the Val de Loire, France, by the vine breeder Jean-Pierre Vibert in 1839, and later released in 1852 by his chief gardener, Robert. It was named in honour of a certain H Ottonel. Vibert did not keep track of the parents, and the seedling was thought to be a CHASSELAS × Muscat de Saumur cross (Galet 2000) until DNA profiling at INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) in Montpellier, southern France, corrected this to a Chasselas × Muscat d’Eisenstadt cross. ”Excerpt From: Robinson, Jancis; Harding, Julia; Vouillamoz, Jose. “Wine Grapes (9780062325518).” iBooks.
Region: It is grown all over Hungary, in fact the most widely planted grape in the country, and popular in the whole Carpathian basin.
Character: It ripens rather late, in good vintages even shrivels. When young, there are flowers on the nose, on the palate full of flavours and there is a little bitter almond note in its aftertaste. It has a pleasant, refreshing acidity. Olaszrizling is capable of long barrel aging.
Story: It was and is mistaken for Rhine Riesling, though it is a completely different grape. Its synonyms include the most common Welschriesling (Austria, Germany), Graševina in Croatia, Laški Rizling in Slovenia. It is quite likely to originate from the Danube basin, though there are numerous other hypotheses. Though it is the most widely planted grape of Hungary, it did not have a good reputation for a long time and while nowadays wonderful examples are easy to find in Hungary both in fresh and aged style.
Region: This grape is exclusively grown in Badacsony wine region.
Character: The skin is rather thick therefore less sensitive than Kéknyelű, and more productive. It resembles Kéknyelű in its characteristics and can also give high quality wines.
Story: A cross between Kéknyelű and Budai Zöld develoved by Dr. Ferenc Király in Badacsony in 1957 – a most logical decision to cross these two grapes, since they are often planted adjacent to each other to improve pollination. The name literally means ‘Rose Stone’ and given after Róza Szegedi, a beautiful and intelligent woman who is known as the eternal love of the Hungarian poet Sándor Kisfaludy. The poet and Róza used to sit on a heart shaped basalt rock on Badacsony mountain enjoying the spectacular view of Lake Balaton. The stone is named after Róza, the grape is named after the stone.
Region: Apart from Hungary, it is widely planted mostly in Germany and New Zealand, though the overall quantity of this grape is less and less. It used to be the most widely planted grape in the United Kingdom before sparkling wine became so immensely popular. Even found in Japan. In Hungary Mátra, Eger, Kunság and Balaton are the main vineyards.
Character: It ripens early, gives high yield, but due to its thin skin it is rather sensitive. It gives slightly aromatic, fresh and light wine with subtle acidity to be consumed young.
Story: Riesling Sylvaner or Müller Thurgau are much more widely used synonyms. “A RIESLING × Madeleine Royale cross developed in 1882 by Swiss vine breeder Hermann Müller (born in the canton of Thurgau, hence the name), who was working at the Geisenheim research centre in the Rheingau, Germany, at the time. This variety was originally recorded as a RIESLING × SILVANER cross by its breeder, Hermann Müller, which explains the erroneous synonyms Riesling × Silvaner and Rivaner still in use today. It was later named Müller-Thurgau by a German grape expert in honour of the breeder. ”Excerpt From: Robinson, Jancis; Harding, Julia; Vouillamoz, Jose. “Wine Grapes (9780062325518).” iBooks.
Character: “Sauvignon the wine is typically high in acidity with a range of aromas generally associated with things green – grass, leaves, nettles and gooseberries – provided the grapes are picked early enough. ‘Cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush’ became a popular description of the aroma of some early-picked Sauvignon in the late twentieth century. The wine produced by overripe grapes, on the other hand, can be relatively dull.” Excerpt: Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz, “Wine Grapes2
Region: It’s one of the most planted grape around the world, the third most planted white grape in France. In Hungary almost 1000 hectares are grown all over the country except from Somló (even in Tokaj region, though it is not official there.) The most plantations are in Mátra region, the second is Eger region, then the third is Etyek–Buda wine region with its limestone – the best for Sauvignon Blanc.
Story: Instead of the common belief that Sauvignon Blanc comes from Bordeaux, it is more likely to have originated from the Val de Loire in France. However surprising it is, Sauvignon Blanc spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux and produced Cabernet Sauvignon – which is so the half blood child of a white and a red top grape variety. In Hungary Sauvignon Blanc has been an official grape since only 1982.
Region: Szürkebarát is grown on more than 1500 hectares in Hungary, mostly in Mátra wine region and around lake Balaton – ont he north of Balaton there are beautiful wines made of Szürkebarát grown on volcanic soil.
Character: Just like all over the world, also in Hungary you will find pinkish and white wines made of the variety. Since the berry has a pink colour, longer maceration can resulte a pale pink wine. It is worth reducing yield, because it can give full bodied, aromatic, rich wines. The acidity is medium or even lower. It likes volcanic soil and tends to be rich, oily with a nose like perfume. It often has some residual sugar.
Story: „Legend has it that in 1375 the emperor Charles IV brought Pinot Gris from France to Hungary, where Cistercian monks planted it on the Badacsony hills near Lake Balaton. This early introduction supposedly explains why Pinot Gris in Hungary is called Szürkebarát, meaning ‘grey monk’. In 1568, the theory continues, Pinot Gris was brought back from Hungary to Kientzheim in the French region of Alsace by Lazarus von Schwendi (Graff-Höfgen 2007), a general who took possession of the Hungarian city of Tokay in the reign of Charles-Quint and who owned a castle in Kientzheim, north west of Colmar. This also supposedly explains why Pinot Gris is called Tokay in Alsace, a synonym first cited in 1750 in a manuscript at Domaine Weinbach in Alsace (Krämer 2006). However, there is no historical evidence to document these hypotheses, and it is more likely that Pinot Gris, often used to make sweet wines in Alsace, was intentionally given the name Tokay to benefit from the fame already achieved throughout Europe by the Tokaji wines from Hungary, which were and still are mainly made from Furmint and Hárslevelű, two local varieties that are unrelated to Pinot Gris. Excerpt From: Robinson, Jancis; Harding, Julia; Vouillamoz, Jose. “Wine Grapes (9780062325518).” iBooks.
Region: This grape is exclusively grown in Badacsony wine region.
Character: It retains the complexitiy and richness of Szürkebarát which pairs with the fine acidity of Budai Zöld. Fairly resistant to diseases and able to transfer the terroir characteristics of Badacsony.
Story: It is a cross between Szürkebarát (Pinot Grigio) and Budai Zöld develoved by Dr. Ferenc Király in Badacsony in 1957. The name refers to the volcanic origin of the mountains of Badacsony wine region.
Regions: The grape is grown mostly in Badacsony wine region, Szeremley Winery made probably the most well known Zeus in 2002, a late harvest, amazing, complex dessert wine. Endre Szászi, an organic producer on Szent György mountain, Badacsony wine region also makes remarkable wines of Zeus. A small amount is grown in Somló region. In 2008 there were only 14 hectares of Zeus in Hungary.
Character: Zeus has quite high yields, and it gives a white wine with relatively high acidity – thanks to one of the parents, the Ezerjó. If harvested late, amazing dessert wines can be made of Zeus. Moderately susceptible to botrytis bunch rot and some tolerance of cold winter temperatures.
Story: It is crossing between Ezerjó and Bouvier, introduced by Ferenc Király at the University of Pécs, Hungary in 1951. Its other name is Badacsony 10 (Zengő, another crossing made by him is called Badacsony 8, and Zenit is also a Ferenc Király crossing, so he seem to like the letter Z…)
Regions: The well known Bordeaux variety can be found almost all over Hungary, but Villány should definitely be mentioned when speaking about franc. “Cabernet Franc has found its natural home in Villány” – said Michael Broadbent renowned British wine expert, and the wine region does his best to make the grape feel comfortable there. An annual Franc conference is held with tasting event, and Villány created the appellation Villányi Franc which is a seriously controlled premium brand. There are more then 1200 hectares planted with Cabernet Franc in Hungary (in France 37 000 hectars are planted with Franc).
Character: Genetically the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, but softer, lighter, crispier. When fully ripened, it can develop very elegant, deep fruity aromas. In Hungary it is almost always aged in barrel, usually in new barrique to make a complex, concentrated wine with long finish and considerable ageing potential.
Regions: The king of Bordeaux – and the world’s most planted black grape – is grown all over Hungary, even if it does not ripen fully in some northern regions.
Character: Dark colour, intense nose with black currant, blueberry and when barrel aged it develops toasty, nutty notes. High in acidity and alcohol, and this latter one is an issue nowadays since high alcohol is often despised. Winemakers try to balance between ripeness and high alcohol with more or less success.
Regions: Kadarka is grown almost all over the country. It has significant vineyards in the Great Hungarian Plain, where Kunság, Csongrád and Hajós–Baja wine regions are situated. Kadarka is most important in Szekszárd and Eger, the two wine regions where the famous blend, Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) is made, and Kadarka is usually one component of the blend. Total plantings of Kadarka account for less than 700 hectares.
Character: It is really hard to cultivate Kadarka. Late ripening, sensitive, its thin skin can be affected with harmful and noble rot. The colour is medium deep ruby. On the nose rich, spicy and elegant – if in good hands. On the palate juicy, spicy, medium bodied with good acidity and low tannins. Usually consumed young, within 1–3 years, but with properly restricted yield and careful vinification Kadarka can be aged for a long time – as it is proved by some vertical tastings carried on in Szekszárd and other wine regions.
Story: “Kadarka is said to have been introduced to Hungary from the Balkans, either by Serbians, which fits with Kadarka being the Slavic name for Scutari, a lake (also known as Skadar) between Montenegro and Albania, and with the fact that the variety was once cultivated under the synonym Skadarka in Croatia and Serbia (Levadoux 1956; Galet 2000; Rohály et al. 2003), or by Turks, hence its synonym Törökszőlő (‘Turkish grape’). It is conceivable that it made its way to Hungary via Bulgaria, where it is still widely planted under the synonym Gamza, and where it is considered to be indigenous. It is also said to be “be indigenous to the region of Miniş near Arad in western Romania, where the first sweet Aszú-style red wine was made from shrivelled Cadarcă grapes in 1744 (Dejeu 2004). The exact origin of Kadarka remains unknown but it lies somewhere within the Balkan-Pannonian area.” Excerpt From: Robinson, Jancis; Harding, Julia; Vouillamoz, Jose. “Wine Grapes (9780062325518).” iBooks.
Regions: In Hungary this grape variety is restricted to Villány wine region, rarely made elsewhere, if it is, in Eger and Kunság. Portugieser is grown in other countries in Central Europe: in Germany (more than 4000 hectars), in Austria (more than 2000 hectars), in Hungary (more than 1000 hectars, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, France.
Character: This productive grape ripens early and gives ruby red, fruity, velvety, easy to drink wines with sufficient acidity. Portugieser is to be consumed when fresh and young, it cannot be kept for long time.
Story: The grape variety is likely to be of Austrian origin, and despite the name it is not likely to derive from Portugal. In Hungary Kékoportó was the common name, but due to European Union regulations this name cannot be used any more, because it would refer to (mistakenly) the city and wine region of Port (Oporto) in Portugal.