Please refer to the official Wines of Hungary webpage for a full reference – I start listing wine regions with the most important ones for my purpose, and will try to keep expanding.
Villány – the southernmost wine region of Hungary, producing the best Mediterranean style red wines and Bordelaise blends, in tandem with the Szekszárd neighbours. Think of Italy, or possibly Bordeaux for a comparison. Most producers use the highly reliable merlot and cabernet franc for their flagship wines, cabernet sauvignon seems to lose space to them. In the best years, beautiful varietal cabernet sauvignons may be produced, in other years they spice up the blends. Warmer Australian climates could also be a good paralell for high alcohol, direct, fruity, tannic wines for new-worldish producers. White wine production exists, but it is kept in the background, high alcohols, full bodied whites are common.
Szekszárd – just like Villány, but with much more kadarka planted. One of the homelands of the (once?) famous Bull’s Blood (bikavér) red cuvée beside Eger. The product to be put up behind the Bull’s Blood label is still pretty much a work in progress in Szekszárd. For the moment, Szekszárd producers aim to place “Bull’s Blood” as a core product, somewhere in the middle of their product range, being an easy-to-approach, friendly wine with lots of fruit and spices, with at least a few (5%-10%) compolsory percents of the light-bodied, spicy kadarka.
Eger – the “Hungarian Burgundy”, as sometimes referred to, Eger is the home of very different terriors, most of them are yet to be rediscovered. Mainly a red wine district, building upon kékfrankos, some Bordeaux varietals, kadarka and some pinot noir, it is also the home to beautiful white wines, olaszrizling, leányka, chardonnay producing the best known among them. The well known red cuvée brand of “Bull’s Blood” is mostly associated with Eger, and is currently being highly debated, with several top producers not using the phrase formally on the wine label. In Eger, producers definitely want to use “Bull’s Blood” as their prestige cuvée, looking on it as a harmonious blend of different varietals, thus prescribing the use of at least 5-7 varietals for Bull’s Blood and Bull’s Blood Superior. I guess in an ideal case such a wine could taste like a cool-climate version of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Sopron – a cooler climate wine region on the Austrian border, pretty much like Eger. The top varietal is kékfrankos, which has already made its debut on the international stage with its Austrian name blaufrankisch. As Blaufrankisch is only produced in the immediate vicinity in Austria, it is reasonable to consider them as a single region, despite that winemaking practice and quality is different for the moment. Sopron is also home to some beautiful Rhone-style syrahs, but Burgundy pinot noirs and (right bank) Bordeaux-style cabernet francs also do well here. White wine production takes the back seat to red varietals, but this rather on a traditional basis, not on suitability.
Tokaj – home of probably the best known sweet wine of the world, the Tokaji Aszú. Only white grapes are permitted under the Tokaj label, with the native furmint, hárslevelű, plus some muscat lunel taking up most production area. The search for the great Tokaj dry wines started in 2000, with the intention of reinventing the best vinyards of the region. While everyone looks on Aszú as the flagsip product, and furmint as the main varietal, foreign varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc gain experimental space. Several flying consultants dream of high quality pinot noir production, but these ideas are also in an experimental phase at best.
Somló – the smallest wine region of Hungary, resembling a small, prestige AOC such as Hermitage in the Rhone valley a bit. Consisting of a standalone eroding volcanic cone and its vicinity, the region is also called “God’s hat” due to the shape of the hill. A terrior of a long standing history and tradition, Somló is very much in the process of reinventing itself both for the winemaking styles, and the vinyards and varieties. Geographically it is close to the volcanic slopes of the Badacsony hills in the Northern Balaton region. Looked on as a prodigy like Tokaj, Somló is at a much earlier stage of development with less infrastructure, less tourism, and less consistent, recognized producers. I need to admit, however, that taking size into account puts Somló probably on top. Four to five top-flight producers for such a small region is probably more than any other wine region can boast. Mostly white grapes are permitted, olaszrizling, juhfark, hárslevelű, furmint being the most important varietals, with promising syrah (and also some kékfrankos) plantings in my opinion.
Detailed plantings according to the local administration as at end of 2010 (courtesy of Zoltán Balogh, co-owner of Somlói Apátsági Pince, the Somló Abbey Winery):
- Olaszrizling 163 hectares 27.14
- Juhfark 93 hectares 15.56%
- Furmint 73 hectares 12.16%
- Hárslevelű 31 hectares 5.11%
- Traminer 13 hectares 2.17%
- Pinot gris 12 hectares 1.92%
- Chardonnay 11 hectares 1.84%
Mátra – the neighbouring hills to Eger never really made to the same fame as its Eastern counterparts. Currently the region is best known locally for its fragrant, easy-to-drink white wines, but some young, dedicated, and talented winemakers are looking at Burgundy, or Loire-style reds made from kékfrankos, kadarka, cabernet franc, and some truly local crossings, while trying to reach back to the old, lively wine traditions of the region, sometimes long forgetten.
Badacsony – just north of lake Balaton, Badacsony is a volcanic region, once producing famous, highly mineral white wines, with top quality olaszrizlings and furmints. This is the region where producers expect the most from the olaszrizling grape. Scarce attempts are also launched at making red wine.