Hungarian Wine Regions in the Shadows

Ask anyone outside Hungary about the country’s wine, and Tokaji and Bikavér (the blend also known as Bull’s Blood) will be top of mind. Furmint may get a mention thanks to the multiyear Furmint February program that has done so much to raise the grape’s global profile, and some might think of the volcanic wines of Somló, in the northwest, or the rich reds of Villány, in the south. But Hungary has 22 regions that contain 33 PDOs and 6 PGIs, and most remain firmly in the shadow of the big names. A recent trip to some lesser-known corners of Hungary gave me the chance to explore the challenges faced there and some options for building awareness.

Mátra: Compelling Wines from Many Grapes

Mátra is Hungary’s second-largest region, with 6,162 hectares under vine in 2021, yet few have heard of it. Mátra was the first place I visited in the early 1990s to seek good-value, well-made white varieties to match the successful Bulgarian reds that sold so well in the UK at that time. A return in 2022 highlighted that what I sought there decades ago still exists: bright, fruity wines with modest alcohol and fresh acidity, styles that are also in demand internationally. These wines can be produced thanks to the relatively cool, continental climate—the region, which is located in the north, west of Eger, is also mostly volcanic and hilly. Mátra doesn’t produce “big” wines, and maybe the lack of hefty, ambitious wines has hampered wider recognition of the region. Its best wines—including those from the tiny family winery Centurio (Diós Kékfrankos, Liberty), N.A.G. (Föld és Ég Kékfrankos), and Benedek—impress while retaining freshness, elegance, and restraint.  

Wine production in Mátra is white led, with 4,793 hectares planted to a large range of white varieties. There are 49 white and