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Tokaji & Bull’s Blood: A Beginner’s Guide to Hungarian Wine

Boasts of traditional sweet, sweet wine   |   June 2017

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Develop a taste for Hungarian wine and embark on an oenological adventure with our guide

Vineyard © Nneirda

Some pledge their allegiance to the Rhone; others swear by the grapes of Napa Valley; but we say there’s nothing quite like a draught of good old Hungarian wine. The silky sweet desert wine, Tokaji and the mighty Bikavér, otherwise known as Bull’s Blood, have each earned a prominent place in the wine cellars of oenologists across the globe.

Arguably the elder and more treasured of the two famous wines, Tokaji dates back to the 1600s, when it was praised by Louis XIV as the “wine of kings and king of wines.” Hungarians are so proud of this regional dessert wine that it features in their national anthem. The most famous varietal, Tokaji Aszú, is produced using handpicked, botrytised grapes that have shrivelled on the vine, giving the wine an intensely sweet quality that’s impossible to resist.

Tokaj is Hungary’s most celebrated wine region, and thrives on the double economy of wine production and tourism. At less than two and a half hours’ drive from Budapest, the historical town of Tokaj is popular with visitors, and replete with many award-winning wineries for you to drink in the sights. Join local connoisseurs for an expert tour and tasting, or venture further afield into the rolling vineyards of the surrounding region. Visit the prestigious Royal Tokaji Winery, which exports its famous vintages across the globe, and don’t miss out on Tokaj’s annual summer festival Bor, mámor, Benye in neighbouring Erdőbénye, where you’ll be treated to a winning combination of local Hungarian wine and superlative gastronomy.

Wine Shelf © Valentyn Volkov
Tokaj Vineyard © Jerzy Kociatkiewicz

Hungary’s legendary Bull’s Blood, meanwhile, heralds from the northern region of Eger and goes by the name of Egri Bikavér (to distinguish it from the copycat Hungarian wine, Szekszárdi Bikavér in the south). Prominent as the country’s most famous red wine, it earned its name centuries ago when the invading Ottomans believed the Hungarians were fortifying themselves with bull’s blood instead of wine. The precise character of the wine itself varies wildly and is impossible to distinguish, though it is always composed of a blend of three or more grapes and is best served with beef, game, or a hearty Hungarian stew. One of the most popular restaurants to indulge is Onyx Restaurant in Budapest, where traditional cuisine meets a sleek and glamorous décor. Hearty menu staples include beef ribeye and cabbage, while the decadent wine list features many regional specialties from Tokaj and Eger.

Many of the region’s best wineries are located in villages outside the principal town of Eger, and cluster around the sprawling vineyards of Szépasszonyvölgy, dubbed “The Valley of the Beautiful Women” – perhaps another reason to visit? This world-famous region offers a string of wine cellars along its hillsides, where you can learn about the history of Bull’s Blood, its production, and of course, sample some high quality Hungarian wine for yourself.

For something a little closer to home, revel in a true sensory and cultural experience and sample some of the country’s most prestigious award-winning vintages at the fabulous Budapest Wine Festival (9th – 14th September).

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