Eger has long been known for its blends, principally red Bikavér, aka Bull’s Blood. However, since 2010, the Eger Vintners’ Association has been attempting to breathe new life into the whites of the region by creating a white partner for the red Bikavér. This white blend, like Bikavér, is named after historic events in the region. Egri Csillag, which can be translated as ‘Star of Eger’, is named for the lights emanating from the watchmen’s huts which stood on the northeastern borders of the city during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries. These lookouts marked the trade route leading north from the Great Plain to the Bükk Hills. The watchmen lit torches at night to help travelers find their way, thus guaranteeing safe passage through these dangerous lands. Word soon spread about these ‘stars of Eger’.
Incidentally, there is also a book entitled ‘Stars of Eger’, written by Géza Gárdonyi in 1899 (translated into English as ‘Eclipse of the Crescent Moon), as well as two successful films in 1923 and 1968, which chronicle the feats of Captain István Dobó and his troops in successfully defending the Eger fortress and Northern Hungary against the Ottomans in 1552. Every Hungarian knows this story. The city, unfortunately, later fell to the Ottomans and you can see evidence of their rule in the minaret which still stands in the beautifully restored city center today.
Although Eger is nowadays more commonly associated with red wine, the region was in fact dominated by white varieties until the 16th century, and one of its historic styles is the white Debrői Hárslevelű, produced in the Debrő district of the region. Blue grapes were mainly introduced over time by Serbs fleeing north and seeking refuge from the Ottomans.
Although there are some who consider the introduction of the white blend a marketing stunt, it makes perfect commercial sense. Approximately 50 percent of the region’s vineyards are planted with white grapes and as no one variety dominates, it was logical to make Egri Csillag a blend, in keeping with the region’s traditions. So, what is Egri Csillag, and what makes it peculiarly Hungarian? It’s a complicated and potentially very variable blend based on Carpathian-basin varieties, such as Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, Leanyka, Királyleányka, Zengő, Zenit and some Hungarian crossings. A minimum of four of these varieties have to be included and make up at least 50 percent of the blend and each must represent a minimum of 5 percent. Then the blend may also include up to 30 percent of fragrant Muscat varieties, such as Cserszegi Füszeres, Zefír, Irsai Oliver, Tramini and Muscat Ottonel. Confused yet? Well there’s more to come. Winemakers can also include non-Carpathian varieties in the balance, should they wish, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Riesling, and Müller Thurgau.
As you can see, there is no clear recipe, and although the wines should aim to conform to a relatively uniform style, they will also demonstrate the unique personality of the winery in their style and combination of varieties. However, they should be fruity and floral, but not too aromatic, with no single variety dominating. The fruit and terroir should be their essence. To complicate things further, Egri Csillag can come in three quality levels: Classicus, which should be a dry, crisp fruity wine; Superior and Grand Superior, which are made from more concentrated grapes from lower-yielding vines and have some ageing in oak and bottle, so should be markedly riper, more intense and complex dry white wines with some development. They will be less fruit forward than the fresher Classicus and will often have fine minerality too as well as notes of vanilla and spice from the oak aging. The Grand Superior version should have greater fullness and length.
Despite its critics, Egri Csillag has proved very successful. Only eight wineries made the blend in 2010 but the following year, three times as many introduced their own versions and the first Grand Superior wine appeared in 2012. Now, the new Egri Csillag wines are presented together on 15 March at the annual ‘Opening of the Stars’ event in Eger. The fresh fruity wines are launched just as spring is on its way and we can all imagine sitting down and enjoying a chilled glass of Eger’s new star. Egri Csillag is perfect simply as an aperitif or you could take it along on a picnic. It also works well with light appetizers, fish or vegetarian dishes. Try the more structured Superior or Grand Superior versions with smoked fish or poultry dishes.
Want to taste Hungarian wine straight from the source? Taste Hungary has daily small-group wine tours featuring the Tokaj, Villány, Balaton & Somló, and Eger regions. We also offer daily private tours to all regions.