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Taste Hungary Wine Club: From Hungarian Vineyards, to American Doorsteps

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We just launched our latest project—an online wine shop and Hungarian Wine Club in the US. It has been a long time coming. But if I trace it back, it was my first visit to Hungarian vineyards that sparked the inspiration for this.

As a business school student, a group of friends and I regularly spent weekends exploring the newly exciting Hungarian wine regions. At that time—more than two decades ago, these regions truly were “undiscovered” and “off-the-beaten-track.” The first of these trips was a winter weekend in Villány, during which we indulged in (or, more accurately, over-indulged) in rich red wines, popped into charming wine taverns, ate a spectacular meal of roasted suckling pig, and toured the subterranean cellars with winemakers. They generously shared their stories about re-planting vineyards, building wineries from nothing, and figuring out what direction that not only they (but the whole region and country) should go in. This was the late-1990s, not long after the whole Hungarian wine industry began to rebuild after Communism ended.

These wine-fueled weekend wine country visits were not especially about delving into all of the details of wine production, or asking the questions about tannins, residual sugar, or acidity that I might ask today. But those weekend wine explorations continued, and with greater frequency. Little did I know then that I would end up building a business and career around Hungarian wine. And what I seriously never imagined is that almost exactly two decades after that first wine trip, I would be a wine importer, bringing some of these beauties from Hungary (including Villány) to the United States.

What grabbed me on those early wine trips was the hospitality and generosity (with both time and wine) that the winemakers and their families showed us. They personally spent hours with us, showing us their cellars and vineyards, and then patiently guiding us on tastings through their portfolios. It was a revelation listening to them talk about their lives, which revolved around one thing: their vineyards. The harmony I found in talking to these producers, and that I felt in their barrel-filled aging cellars, stuck with me forever. These winery visits were inspiring—not for my business studies, but for educating myself about wine, the soil, and the history of the places where my favorite wines come from. As the list of my favorite wines grew each year, I kept studying and tasting until I came to the know what is now see as so obvious: wine is intricately connected to just about everything. The best (and surely the most enjoyable) way to learn about anything from geology, history, culture, nature, and people is through wine.

The inspiration that was sparked in me in these vineyards hasn’t changed over the past decades: I’m as inspired as ever to learn and to share what I learn and taste. This is what inspired us to create both Taste Hungary and the Tasting Table. These vineyards were also clearly the inspiration for our latest project of bringing small-batch Hungarian wines to the US. When we started Taste Hungary in 2008, we never planned to be in the wine importing business. But it makes perfect sense now. Making these wine available in America is a great added service for our many American guests. We see it as a way for us to be able to stay in touch with them once they return home, and to allow them to continue experimenting with and enjoying the Hungarian wine that they (hopefully) fell in love with during their vacations in Hungary.

Getting this wine import/retail business off the ground has taken even longer than it took to renovate The Tasting Table (our 150 year old tasting cellar in Budapest, which had no sewage, electricity, or water when we started the project). Setting up a US wine import business, figuring out logistics of how the wine will get from Europe to the US, and knowing what legal and practical steps need to be taken at what point along the process has been like watching a seemingly never-ending soap opera in slow motion. And sometimes the soap opera randomly rewound itself to the beginning just before getting to the end of the last season. Nevertheless, we plowed through the bureaucracy, the paperwork, and the spreadsheets. Now we have a warehouse in Washington DC filled with wines made by some of our favorite Hungarian winemakers.

So, what is so special about our wines? First of all, every one of them is delicious, and has a unique character and personality that will be remembered long after the bottle is gone. We selected producers who we’ve known for years, and whose wine we’ve been tasting for even longer. We’ve visited them at their cellars, and invited them to host dinners at the Tasting Table. These wineries are all small family-owned businesses, which pay string attention to both quality and local traditions. The smallest of them only owns about two acres of vineyards.

We’ll be importing small batches at a time, just a few hundred bottles from each label, so in some cases by the time the wines make it to your home in the US, they will not even be available at the cellars in Hungary anymore. In America all of these wines are only available on our website. We are excited to be able to make this connection between our wine tours, wine tastings, and wine communication activities in Hungary, with our wine-loving friends and guests in America. After we signed the papers in Washington DC to start this new company a little over two years ago, we are now so excited to be finally able to share these wines!

I hope the inspiration and harmony that I feel when I visit these vineyards will come through in the wines when you taste them. We have two collections available so far (we are selling them in mixed 6-packs). And we sincerely hope you will consider joining our Wine Club, through which you’ll receive a mixed 6-pack of Hungarian wine shipped to you every three months. We have some amazing Furmints from Tokaj, a Bulls’s Blood from Eger, Kékfrankos in several styles, a few beautiful Cabernet Francs, among others. We are looking forward to future of this new venture—the first direct-to-consumer wine import business focusing solely on Hungarian wines. We can’t wait for you to taste the wines, and we’d love to hear your feedback after you do so. (Also, stay tuned for the launch of our Taste Hungary Wine Club for EU residents!)