Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan—the duo of globetrotting wine writers behind Exotic Wine Travel—have announced their forthcoming book, Discover Hungarian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide … and we couldn’t be more excited! They’ve been criss-crossing the country researching wine regions (and have also been frequently popping into the Tasting Table to taste with our sommeliers). They are funding the book via a Kickstarter campaign, through which books can be pre-ordered (and you can also get other tasting adventures and goodies). So be sure to support them and get your advance (signed) copy, if you are interested in Hungarian wine. We look forward to reading the results of their labors!
We were curious about Matthew and Charine’s opinions about Hungarian wine, so we asked them some questions …
1. The most surprising thing you have learned about Hungarian wine:
Exotic Wine Travel: The stylistic diversity. We knew that the wines of Tokaj are among the world’s greatest wines. However, we weren’t expecting to find nearly every style of red—from big and bold, to perfumed and delicate. Prior to our trips to Hungary, we also didn’t know about the barrel-fermented, volcanic whites from Somló and Balato, which are home to quite possibly the best Olaszrizling (for our palates) in the world.
2. The wine that got you hooked on Hungary:
Exotic Wine Travel: In 2016 we attended two masterclasses back to back. The first class was 2010 Bordeaux (3rd-5th growths) and the second was Villányi Franc. We were impressed by how the Villányi Francs stood in comparison to the 2010 Bordeauxs. That line-up of Villányi Franc wines was what compelled us to deep dive into Hungarian wine.
3. Your favorite everyday table wine:
Matt: Believe it or not, I really enjoy drinking Bikavér from either Szekszárd or Eger. The wines always seem to have cherry, earth, and peppery flavors with acidic structure similar to my favorite everyday wine from outside of Hungary, Italian Sangiovese.
Charine: I like Bikavér as well, but if I’m in Hungary, I want drink the elusive dry Szamorodni every day. I cook on most days and the dishes I make tend to pack some heat. Szamorodni has enough intensity and complexity to complement those spicy Asian dishes.
4. Your favorite splurge for a big occasion:
Matt: I still lean towards a classic, well-made Chianti Classico or even a (gulp) Super Tuscan. Chianti Classicos offer so much value for money and they’re incredibly food friendly.
Charine: Tokaji Aszú! Especially if it’s a gift. A bottle of liquid gold that comes with a storied history, that’s a perfect party trick and a classic for any celebration. On that note: I was talking to a group of sommeliers in New York. One of them said something along the line of, “Everyone’s talking Tokaji Aszú, but no one is buying it for themselves.” All of us laughed because it’s kind of true. So I want to be the person who buys Tokaji Aszú for myself and for someone else as well.
5. The best wine to introduce first-timers to Hungarian wine:
Exotic Wine Travel: It depends on the type of consumer. For the casual wine drinker who likes reds, we’d offer a generous Villányi Franc (Cabernet Franc). For the wine geek, we’d go for Tokaji Aszú, a Somlói white, or a well-made Kadarka. For bubble lovers, then Kreinbacher Prestige Brut is the obvious choice.
6. The most surprising wine you’ve tasted:
Exotic Wine Travel: The late-harvest Jufark from Kősziklás. It has a little Vin Jaune style to it.
7. The wine you can’t get enough of:
Matt: In Hungary it is definitely Tokaji Aszú. I can drink it all day, every day.
Charine: Every time I’m in a wine shop in Hungary, the first wine I look for is Bikavér. True enough, I can’t get enough of it because no two Bikavérs are the same. Every bottle is a new experience. It’s like going on a first date over and over again.
8. The wine you really want to taste, but haven’t tasted yet:
Exotic Wine Travel: Szepsy’s Tokaji Eszencia. We’ll be visiting the cellar soon. So hopefully, that changes soon.
9. Your best winery experience:
Exotic Wine Travel: The visit to Holdvölgy was a memorable and interesting experience. For the tasting, we were given a map of the cellar and had to find our way through the cellar to taste each wine at a different station.
10. The wine you do not want to taste again:
Exotic Wine Travel: The cheap, mass-produced Egri Bikavér.
Note: See the below video for Exotic Wine Travel’s first ever foray into Hungarian wines, a mass-produced Bikavér.
11. Your dream flight of Hungarian wine:
Exotic Wine Travel: We’ve done so many interesting, high-quality wine flights in Hungary. But the real dream flight would be a large range of Tokaji Eszencia from the best producers. Has anyone done that?
12. The best wine and food pairing you’ve had in Hungary:
Matt: The most memorable one for me was a rooster stew with Kadarka at Takler.
Charine: This is tricky. The dining scene in Hungary is quite sophisticated, compared to neighboring countries; so there are many pairings that come to mind. Perhaps the most memorable one is still Tornai Pincészet Szürkebarát paired with my homemade ayam semur (Indonesian chicken stew). I wrote about this pairing here.
13. The wine names that you just cannot pronounce:
Exotic Wine Travel: We’re getting quite decent with Hungarian pronunciation, but the one wine which eludes us is the Jásdi, Siralomvágo Olaszrizling. It’s one of the best dry whites we’ve tasted in Hungary, but we always forget its name.
14. Your favorite Hungarian wine region to visit:
Exotic Wine Travel: Might be cliché to say this, but it’s always exciting to visit Tokaj. The region isn’t so far from Budapest, but it feels like a world away. It’s so serene, peaceful, and romantic there. There are also some beautiful spots in the North Transdanubia region like Etyek, Neszmély, and Mór. These regions sit on a plateau and offer fantastic panoramic views.
15. The two wines (one white and one red) that best personify Hungarian wine:
Exotic Wine Travel: A crisp Olaszrizling and a juicy Kékfrankos. Both grapes are among the most widely planted in Hungary. While both grapes are also cultivated in other countries, we’ve found the best examples of both varieties in Hungary.
16. One thing you think the world should know about Hungarian wine:
Exotic Wine Travel: Most people have heard about Tokaj, but few have tasted it. It’s a pity because tasting a well-made Tokaji Aszú is a transcendent experience. On top of that, people should know that there is so much more to Hungarian wine than just Tokaj. You can find every type of wine in Hungary. We’ve lived (for more than two months) in many cities around the world, and we both agree that our ‘daily wine life’ is the best in Budapest. It’s easy to drink well every day in Budapest because Hungarian wine offers diversity and great value for money.
17. Your favorite Hungarian foods:
Exotic Wine Travel: Gulyás, körözött, nokedli, kolbász, mákos rétes, and mangalica in all forms.
18. The best overall wine experience you’ve had in Hungary:
Matt: I hate to sound repetitive, but every time there’s a great Tokaji Aszú or Tokaji Eszencia, I get goosebumps. Another surprising experience was with the Ivan-Völgyi Bikavér from Sebestyen. Charine and I ordered it at a restaurant in Szekszárd and immediately talked about how it could pass for a high-level Village Burgundy. We also get real emotions when drinking good Szaraz (Dry) Szamorodni.
Charine: I’m genuinely not trying to flatter our friends but every visit to Tasting Table and KönyvBár is the best wine experience. To me, a great wine experience isn’t determined by merely the quality of the wines tasted. The element of surprise, learning, and—of course—the company mean the world.
19. The strangest Hungarian wine you’ve tasted:
Exotic Wine Travel: An attempt at making a sherry-style wine by Bencze. It was an okay effort but pretty unusual.
20. Why should wine lovers care about Hungarian wine?
Exotic Wine Travel: The Hungarian wine industry is dominated by small producers who care about what they put in the bottle. When wine lover’s choose to drink Hungarian wine, they ain’t merely choosing a sensory experience but also an opportunity to learn about a personal story and a crucial part of the history of the wine world. The hyper-fragmented Hungarian wine industry also translates to a never-ending discovery for wine lovers. There’s always a Hungarian wine producer that you haven’t heard of or tasted from. One of the strongest unique selling proposition of Hungarian wine is that there are many styles that are truly distinctive and not found anywhere else in the world—take the mineral-driven white wine from Somló and dry Szamorodni for example.