Eger is best known for its flagship “Bull’s Blood” blend. This wine has improved so much in recent years that some winemakers are even reluctant to label it “Bikavér” for fear that it would be associated with the Communist-era mass-produced wine. But these days Eger’s top winemakers, who take the traditional blend very seriously, are producing Bull’s Blood with nothing in common with those of the past. There’s more to Eger’s wines, however, than Bull’s Blood. The region is Hungary’s northernmost red-wine-producing region. Though better known for its reds, it also produces many whites with high minerality (including native varietals like leányka and kiralyleányka). The region has a fascinating system of cellars, some of which are still being discovered under the town. Many of Eger’s best wineries are located in villages outside of town, but the town of Eger itself has played an important role in Hungary’s history, and is worth taking some time to explore. In a 1552 battle, Eger’s residents (including women) fought the advancing Turks and managed to repel them. According to the legend, this is where the name Bull’s Blood originated. Supposedly, the soldiers were given red wine to help them fight, and the Turks mistook the wine for the blood of bulls. When the Turks returned in 1596, however, they occupied the town until 1687. Some architectural remnants of the Ottoman occupation still stand.
• Eger has played an important role in Hungarian history, and the pretty town holds many sights to explore, including: a 13th-century castle, architectural monuments from the 16th century Ottoman rule, the 16th century minaret (walk up the narrow, winding stairs for a good workout), and a neoclassical cathedral which is the country’s second largest .
• Like Tokaj, Eger is characterized by a wealth of interesting hundreds-of-year-old cellars which are uniquely carved into the stone under the ground. The town also holds several old cellar rows, which are still in use. An extensive labyrinth of wine cellars underneath the town (which is hundreds of kilometers in length) is currently being restored and can be toured.
• This region has an abundance of thermal mineral water. In Eger there is a restored Turkish bath, and in Egerszalók there is a vast thermal bathing complex built around travertine formations (one of only three in the world).
• Eger is all about cuvees, particularly the “Bull’s Blood” blend, and on a tour here you will taste plenty of different versions of this, as well as many of the single varietal wines that make up this region’s famous blend. Red grapes like kékfrankos, pinot noir, portugieser, merlot, cabernet franc, and kadarka are important here. But white wines—which include leányka, királyleányka, olaszrizling, tramini, and chardonnay—are also highly regarded.
• One of the country’s finest cheesemakers is located in Eger. His farm and workshop can be visited for a tasting.
• Walking in the vineyards to admire the rolling hills covered with vines.
• Thirty kilometers north of Eger, the Bükk hills and the Bükk National Park—which includes the Szalajka Valley and its waterfalls and Lillafüred and its caves and hiking trails—is worth a visit, if you are doing a multiple day tour.
• A region’s wine is closely intertwined with its food, and a tour in this region could include a meal at a winery, a winery-owned restaurant, or a restaurant that is one of the country’s finest.
Eger is 140 kilometers from Budapest (about a 1.5 hour drive), which makes it a perfect destination for a relaxed day trip.