Hungarian red wine (Sopron, Villány, Szekszárd)
When the mighty Count Festetics entertained the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa, in his Castle Keszthely on the western tip of Lake Balaton, he proudly served 300 wines, all of which originated in his native country. It is not known how many red wines were among these, but there is absolutely no doubt that several red grape varieties flourish in Transdanubia and are certainly worth a taste.
In Sopron, on the eastern slopes of the Alps, the vines have to contend with greater humidity and less sun than elsewhere in the country. In return, however, the winters are less harsh, thanks to the shelter afforded by the mountains. All these factors shape the character of the grape juice. Sopron was the first Hungarian wine to be widely introduced in Europe, since the town, which lies on an ancient trading route, is closer to Vienna and Bratislava than to Budapest.
Red wine production in Hungary began its development in the stone cellars of Sopron’s aristocratic houses. And it was in this area that the customs and laws governing the production and sale of wine developed. A fir branch on the gable of a house or white ribbons were attached to indicate the color. A green branch indicated a winegrower’s garden, a sheaf of straw a one-year-old wine. There were strict rules, which were rigidly enforced, to govern the purity and quality of the wine. Soproni kékfrankos (Sopron blue Franconian) is a granite-red, full-bodied, acidic, medium-dry, aromatic wine with a fine bouquet. It is an extremely good accompaniment to smoked meat and brings out its flavor, particularly if it is used in the cooking process. In this region, beans were often grown in the vineyards between the vines – hence the nickname poncihter (bean grower) given to Sopron locals of German origin.
Hungary’s southernmost wine-growing region offers ideal conditions. The red wines, in particular, are outstanding: granite-red, full-bodied, aromatic, and medium-dry. Kékfrankos (blue Franconian), Oporto, and Kadarka used to be the main grape varieties grown here, but today Cabernet and Merlot are coming increasingly to the fore.
Szekszárd is surrounded by seven hills, which archeological findings have shown were home to a flourishing wine industry as long as two thousand years ago. The Serbs, who had fled Dalmatia ahead of the Turks, brought the Kadarka grape with them. They transported the wine made from this grape along the waterways even as far as the remoter parts of Europe. The ruby-red Szekszárdi kadarka has a spicy aroma and a pleasantly soft, velvety taste. Szekszárdi bikavér (Szekszárd Bull’s Blood) is produced from a mixture of Kékrankos, Kékoporto, and Kadarka.