“Munchausen, I know you Christians are judges of good wine. Here is a bottle of Tokay, the only one I possess, and I am sure that never in your life can you have tasted better.” – The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1785
I was recently reflecting upon my last meal in Budapest that I happily consumed just over a week ago. Despite being fed whipped pig fat, goose cracklings, paprika laden stews, kolbász, pickled everything and so on 3-4 times a day for 11 days, I still felt compelled to order basically the same thing when finally given the chance to order for myself. I even upped the ante a bit and went right for rooster testicles and cocks comb stew with an Irsai Olivér Fröcs (aka Spritz).
There was so much delicious fat, bright raw onions, smoke, garlic, paprika, and fermented flavors over the course of the dinner that it was difficult to think about drinking anything other than Hungarian wines. Maybe a volcanic Canary or Etna here or there or perhaps some Chenin or Riesling, but after you had a Tokaj Aszú with over 300 grams of residual sugar, 12 g/l total acidity and 7% alcohol that tastes refreshing, it’s difficult to imagine drinking anything else with this food. And if you’re ever able to tour the five kilometer long 400 year old Szegi Cellar in Tokaj and stand amongst Aszú bottles from the 1920s onward, this feeling is compounded exponentially.
Hungarian cuisine and wine are both so riddled with the influences of hundreds of years of invasions, occupations, revolutions and the occasional hayday, that they both scream and embody their national identity. In a typical lunch in Budapest you can find a unique blend of Ottoman, Slavic, Habsburg, French, and Russian techniques and flavors. Perhaps this is why earlier this very week a Hungarian was named the best chef in Europe at this year’s Bocuse d’Or. Hungary is also the only nation in the world to sing about wine (Tokaj) in their National Anthem. This isn’t to say that other countries don’t have this same level of passion for their native food and wine, it’s just that most people in the States don’t know that Hungary is one of them.
My hope is that we can start making the connections between why these delicious wines taste the way they do and the people and places they come from. Hungarian wine will eventually get to the point where we are all well versed about soils, iconic vineyards and influential winemakers, but in the meantime we have some great and largely untold stories to tell about whole appellations and grapes. To start, I hope we can find some time to get into the new arrivals from Somló (Apátsági, Kreinbacher), Sopron (Wetzer), Tokaj (Füleky, Tinon, Barta, Bodrog Borműhely), and for the first time, Lake Balaton (Csendes Dűlő). So much salt, smoke, acid, sugar, spice and fruit to drink.