Hungarian wine has a history dating back to at least Roman times. Outside of Hungary, the best-known wines are the white dessert wineTokaji and the red wine Bull's Blood of Eger.
The Romans brought vines to Pannonia, and by the 5th century AD, there are records of extensive vineyards in Hungary. Following the Magyar invasion of 896, Árpád rewarded his followers with vineyards in Tokaj. Over the following centuries, new grape varieties were brought in from Italy and France. Most of the production was of white wine.
During the invasion of Suleiman the Magnificent in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger. This ancient variety was used to make the robust red wine blend later known as Bull's Blood, after the 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.
After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Blauer Portugieser. That influence also showed in the start in 1730 of the world's first vineyard classification in Tokaj, based on soil, aspect and propensity to noble rot.
From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard, with the traditional field blends of Eger and the many grapes of Tokaj being replaced with monocultures, often of Blaufränkisch (Kékfrankos) and the Bordeaux varieties in red wine districts, and of Furmint, Muscat and Hárslevelű in Tokaj. The twentieth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt, which were easier to grow and to vinify than Kadarka, and under Communism quality was neglected in favour of overcropping, pasteurisation, and industrial production. Since 1989, there has been renewed interest in the traditional varieties and a lot of new investment, particularly in Tokaj-Hegyalja.
The grape-plant (vitis) existed before the human civilization almost on all continents. In our country the oldest one, the Vitis Tokayenis , was found in Erdobénye, Tokaj Foothills and can be 15 million years old.
This plant was not the same as today. That sour, feral berries would not be suitable for winemaking today so a 6000 year-old wine-growing procedure results in this new form.
We can speak about history because the wine and wine-growing culture is in connection with place and time. It was created by men, similarly to them, to their companions and their desires: to capture the two archenemies.
Practically, the winemaking and human civilization are in the same age.Of course, it does not refer to wines which were made from grapes because people tried to make wines from apples, figs, dates to satisfy their thirst. But the most important substance is still the grape and we share our anestors's admiration.
The wine was known in Egypt, in Babylon and Assyria; moreover it was mentioned in Gilgames epic, Bible and Talmund, but its real culturewas born in Greece and Roma. Consequently, the wine-growing and winemaking started from the Middle East and from east to west, and from south to north reached Hungary.
If we search the foundations of Hungarian wine-growing, we should mention some important facts, which gave the basics of today's winemaking.
On the other hand, our ancestors did not set about wine-growing without antecedents The developed wine cultures of Greek and Roman origin express the appreciation and expert of people. The word 'wine' was used as one of the epithet of their God and our oldest words have Old Persian and Old Turkish origin.
On the other hand, later the Hungarian winemakers could apply the remained knowledge of Benedictine, teaching orders and settlers from Italy, Burgundy and Rajna. These influences can see on winemaking.
The notes of Arab travellers and Byzantine encyclopedias gave account of Hungarian wine-growing and the important contacts were sealed by wine. This custom still lives. Our wine drinking traditions and folk customs reflect high-standard wine culture. In Pannónia (which later was the Hungarian kingdom on the west part of the Danube) the most popular wines were made at Balaton and Szerémség. These were so successful , even in Rome, that Domitianus emperor made the vineyrads cut in 92 A.D. - in order to defend smallholders. The replantation was allowed again only two centuries later. The wine-growing and winemaking continued here during the migration of nations in the V.-X. century. Indisputable archeological prooves (seeds, tools) are from the region of Balaton, which vineyards were mentioned in the Byzantine encyclopedia.
The beginning of a carrier
King of the House of Arpad's documents mention almost all vineyards and write about huge and blooming wine-growing and winemaking. The fact, that many wine-grower, winemaker, cooper etc. were documented in the early centuries, suppose continuously developing wine culture.
The best vineyards of the country were demarcated and secured democratic legal status to the local self-governments (vine-growing communities), which was unusual in Europe. In the medieval Hungary the wine-growing was the 'queen' of agriculture, which had important role in economy because that time the most important exports of Hungary were gold, cattle and wine. The winemaking gave job and income to people for centuries. The vineyard was so exceptional property, which could have been owned by villeins because it was accepted as standard estates. The replanted vineyards were not tithable.
At the time of Anjou the vineyards enlarged and the market possibilities developed. That time and in the time of King Sigismund the wine-growing was defended by strict rules.. The winemaking employed many people and the wine-tasters, qualifiers etc. were important people.
According to the early notes the nobles, citizens, villeins strived for having good lands because the vineyards were the most valuable.
King Matthias made more grapes brought from Burgundy and Kampania and had influence on quality winemaking and increased the international reputation of Hungarian wine especially red wines. The magistrates performed important roles in the effective vertification since the XV. century. Our counties started to rule the vine-growing communities unitedly, first in Zemplén (Tokaj region), Zala county (the Balaton belonged to here till 1950). The winetraders started to form guilds and rule the vine-growing communities.
The Tokaj's wines appeared in commerce quite late. It was first praised in the second part of the XV. century and slowly replaced the wines of Szerémség. In this situation Zápolya János had adventage against the Turkish.
Many people say that Tokaj's wine is sweet, but sweet Aszú was grown 4000 hectares vineyards from which 350-400 hl wine was made in the XVIII.-XIX. century. This is the reason of its value and reputation . That time more articles dealt with Tokaji than with the other famous wines. Rákóczy Ferenc II. prince and his relations to Polish, German, Russian nations had important role in it. He made the Tokaj's wine the kings' popular drink and the title 'king of wines, and the wine of kings' is connected with his name.
After the Turkish occupation of Hungary the Hungarian winemaking started to bloom but Mária Terézia's Austrian customs' steps broke this development. It was meaningless to bring grapes from Burgundy and to extempt the Aszú wine from tithe in 1770, so her economic policy proved harmful.From the XV. century the more famous Hungarian wines were pushed out from the wine market of Central Europe. The Hungarians made mass productions.
In the XIX. century Széchenyi István and his mates realized the situation. They reflected the problems, indicated the way and struggled to stop the harmful processes. Their efforts had results after the Conciliation of 1867. Since that time the Hungarian wines started to be succesful.
This development was broken by which started in our country in Pancsova in 1875. The pest from America attacked the grape-vine during three decades through Europa and 90 per cent of the vineyards were destroyed. The powedry mildew in 1864 and the harmful peronospora in 1880 worsened the situation.
Because of phylloxera the vineyards were halved and the wine-growing decreased by one fifth - the organization, the laws and professional basis of wine-growing were renewed, by the determined orders. In 1893, the Parliament created the laws of wine and a year later the law of wine-growing community. Our well-qualified Minister of Agriculture, Tarányi Ignác, developed the situation significantly.
By the beginning of the century the Hungarian winemaking started to bloom again. The World War I.Peace Treaty of Trianon in 1920 resulted in recession.
The World War II. and the dictatorial economy broke the previous development. Our most important markets were closed again, the wineries and wine-commerce were ruined and the function of the wine-growing communities were stopped. After the deportation of Germans and distribution of land the great parts of vineyards were cultivated by incompetent farmers. These regions were died out gradually. The nationalization of wine-commerce and the violently executed collectivization at the end of the 1950s worsened the situation. This was the period when the basics, structure and organization of winemaking were destroyed gradually and significant guantity of artifical drink were put into circulation.
The so called second - five-year old - plan was about to replace the vineyards but huge part of the replanted vineyards were died out. The wine-growing and winemaking separated, different interests created.
In the 70s, the development of winemaking factories of state farms and co-operative farms was started but it serevd only typified mass production. The opening huge and insignificant Russian wine market aroused demands. The politics preferred this way so the home market became subsidiary and the western export tertiary. The missing vintage was substituted by cleverness and plain quality import wine. The Russian attempt to suppress consumption of alcohol in 1984 caused sale crisis.
The big factories, which produced mass productions, were on the verge of bankruptcy but the family wineries made quality wines and they started to spread. These facts characterized the beginning of the 1990s. Besides foreign investors, the wine-growing communities also had important roles in the renewing Hungarian winemaking.
Nowdays the Hungarian wines has one of the best value for money, worldwide!
Bull’s Blood (Bikaver) is the historic name of red wine of Eger. At best well-balanced, and full- bodied, Eger is the best-known red wine center of Northern Hungary.
- Hugh Johnson, Pocket Encylopedia of Wine