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Hungary has always had its own unique wine-making traditions, despite a long history of subjugation by foreign powers. This included being part of the Austrian empire, periods in which the Ottoman empire made incursions on the country, and more recently the country’s domination by the Soviet Union. Hungary revolted against Hapsburg rule in 1848. The country’s independence was recognised by the Treaty of St Germain in 1919, after World War I, but the country was annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II. More than a century after the uprising against the Habsburgs, there was an uprising against Soviet domination in 1956 but the uprising was brutally surpressed. After the crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1988, Hungary finally got back its independence in 1989.

Macroeconomic Overview

Hungary has a population of less than 10 million people and its GDP is slightly over $150 billion. The capital Budapest is the most populous city with an estimated population of 1.75 million. It is bisected by the river Buda, which divides it into the Buda region to the north and the Pest region to the south of the river. Although its agricultural products are well known, agriculture accounts for only 8-9% of merchandise exports, with manufactured goods accounting for 85% of export trade. Budapest is the commercial centre, but most of the wine making is in the north and northeast of the country.

Viticulture, Climate and Terrain

 

 

The country is best known for its luscious sweet wines, but in recent years exports of good quality dry white have increased. The climate of Hungary ranges from cool continental in the north and northeast of the country, the region known as Tokaj which produces the eponymous wines labelled Tokaji.

The Tokaji wine growing regions run alongside the rivers Tisza and Bodrog, and lie near the Slovak border in the low foothills of the Carpathian mountains. This region experiences high levels of humidity from the rivers, as well as mists on the hillsides, and these create suitable conditions for noble rot to form on the grapes. Most of the wine produced in Hungary is grown in the Tokaji region, but the southern regions has a moderate Continental climate and produces smaller volumes.

Dry white wines from Hungary, usually from the Furmint grape, are exported in 75 cl bottles while the sweet wines are usually sold in smaller 50 cl bottles.

Phoro of red and white grapes in back of truck

Black Grape Varieties

Hungary is less well known for black grapes but international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir (known locally as Medoc Noir) are grown, and the country also has some indigenous varieties such as Turán.

Photo of bunch of black grapes hanging on vine

White Grape Varieties

The main white grape is Furmint, which is made into both dry and sweet wines. The grape produces acidic wines with an apple taste that transforms into nuts and honey flavours when aged. The grape is susceptible to Botrytis and is used in the production of the famous Tokaji Aszu wines.

Harslevelu is a late ripening, aromatic grape variety that is also popular for making sweet wines. These wines have been sold recently in UK supermarkets, and appear to be gaining in popularity.

Sanga Moskateli is another aromatic grape variety grown in the Tokaji region. It is used in the production of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

The grapes are sorted into three categories known as Aszu (grapes affected by noble rot, which may be used for sweet wine); Zamorodny (“as it comes”, grapes which may be partially affected by noble rot, but are not specially selected for this); and grapes which have no noble rot. These grapes can be fermented in different ways to make wines in a range of styles from dry (“szaras”) to sweet (“edes”).

Photo of bunch of white grapes hanging on vine

Regional Analysis

Northern Hungary

Tokaji

The Tokai region is the main wine-growing area, and is used to make a range of lusciously sweet wines including Tokaji Aszu and Tokaji Eszencia.

Aszu wines are the most famed. The lusciously sweet Aszu wines are produced from berries affected by noble rot. They are macerated for between 12 and 60 hours, and matured in oak for specified periods. In the past, the rotten berries were crushed into a paste before being fermented but now they are macerated without pressing. The Aszu wines are legendary, with intense flavours of orange and apricot, and as they mature, complex flavours of honey emerge.

Tokaji Eszencia is made from the free run juice of Aszu berries. These wines are fermented slowly over a period of years, and are extremely low in alcohol, usually less than 5% abv. They can be aged for more than a century. These are rare wines that are often not available outside the region in which they are produced.

Late Harvest wines are also made. These involve fermenting botrytised grapes but are no subject to the strict rules applied for Aszu and Eszencia wines.

Southern Hungary

Outside Tokaj, the wine making regions include Villány, Eger and Nagy Somló. These regions are less well known and make wines mainly for domestic consumption.

Statistical Data
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Production Trends
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Consumption Trends
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Trade Outlook
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