Through Taste Hungary—our wine tours, our educational wine tastings at The Tasting Table, and our wine shops in the EU and the US—we’ve had the pleasure of introducing so many people to Hungarian wine. One of the first things we try to do is to put Hungary in context with other winemaking countries of the world. We are always telling people that Hungary is a small winemaking country, and that our wines are hard to find outside of Hungary. But what does that actually mean? How small are we? How much wine do we actually export? Wine nerds love numbers, so for the sake of understanding Hungary’s place in the world of wine better, I’ve analyzed the latest data available to see where Hungary stands in the big picture.
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Note: The numbers in this article are based on the latest official data available from April 2020 from the OIV (World Organization of Wine and Vine) and Hungary’s HNT (Hegyköszség Nemzeti Tanácsa, the Hungarian Wine Region’s controlling board)
ha = hectare
1 ha = 2.5 acres
1 ha = 2 football fields
1 ha = 100 square meters
WINE PRODUCTION—AROUND THE WORLD AND IN HUNGARY
Humanity annually produces about 27,900 million liters of wine. That is enough to fill 37,200 million standard-sized 750 ml wine bottles. One should be able to fill a few wine cellars with that, right? However, only 65 percent of this wine gets bottled. The rest is sold in bulk.
Hungary produces around 300 million liters of wine annually. That means that Hungary produces around 1 percent of the world’s wine, making it the 14th biggest wine producer in the world, and Europe’s 7th biggest producer (surprisingly, Hungary falls just behind Russia). Hungary makes the same quantity of wine as Brazil. And Hungary produces more wine than heavy hitting wine countries like Austria, New Zealand, and Greece. Not that bad after all for a country which thinks of itself as tiny!
But, California’s E. & J. Gallo Winery produces more than twice the amount of wine as the whole country of Hungary does! Every year Gallo produces a humbling 900 million bottles, compared to Hungary’s 400 million bottles.
VINEYARD ACREAGE: WHERE DOES HUNGARY STAND?
The OIV also tracks grape production. This clearly is not the same as wine production since there are big grape producing countries which use their grapes mainly for other products (like raisins, jam, or juice) rather than wine. Countries like China (#2), Turkey (#5), Iran (#7), and Uzbekistan (#13) are big grape growers, but not so known (if at all) for their wines.
The country with the largest acreage of vineyards is Spain (967,000 hectares). Hungary stands modestly at 24th place with 65,000 hectares planted, right after Algeria (#22) and Egypt (#21). That’s a given that we are not wining by quantity!
Of Hungary’s 65,000 hectares of vineyards, 60,000 hectares are active and are producing grapes for winemaking. The other 5,000 are either new plantations (which are not productive yet) or planted with grapes that are not used for wine making.
To put it in perspective, all of Hungary’s land under vine can fit inside of Italy’s Chianti region. Chianti (75,000 hectares) is just one of the hundreds of Italian wine regions. France’s Bordeaux region has twice the acreage of Hungary (112,000 hectares).
HUNGARY’S WIDE-RANGING WINE REGIONS
Hungary has 22 wine producing regions. Kunság is the largest, with an impressive 20,000 hectares, and producing one-third of Hungarian wine. A true monster. But Kunság is about the same size as the Napa Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), which produces just 4 percent of California’s wine.
On the other end of Hungary’s size spectrum, there is Mór, Hungary’s smallest wine region (460 hectares). The Somló and Pécs regions closely follow, each with a bit more than 500 hectares. To put this in perspective, the Napa Valley AVA has 16 sub-AVAs (sub-regions). One of them, Los Carneros AVA, is the same size as the entire Mór region. Hungary is quite boutique, right?
As a country, Hungary drinks 240 million liters of wine annually. Sounds decent, right? The US drinks 3.26 billion liters in a year! The US leads in this category, followed by France, Italy and then Germany. Hungary is the 32nd biggest consumer of wine. Size matters here. Hungary is about the same size as the state of New York, so it’s hard to compete with giants like the US. Looking at it on a per capita basis, Hungarians drink 21.2 liters of wine per person every year. The French are way ahead at 43.7 liters per person, and Americans are behind at 11 liters per capita. The good (or bad?) news is that most of the wine which Hungary consumes is local. This means that there is not much left for the international market. Sorry! After all, we are the only ones who can understand (and read) our wine labels.
GRAPES GROWN IN HUNGARY
Seventy percent of Hungary’s vineyards (41,000 hectares) are planted with white grapes. The most planted variety is Bianca (4,800 hectares), an unknown grape that is not often used for winemaking. Why so many hectares of Bianca? It is easy to produce, not prone to vineyard diseases, and is very well adapted to Kunság’s soil (remember, that is our biggest region). Bianca is mostly used to produce bulk wine.
Next in the ranking is the difficult-to-pronounce Cserszegi Fűszeres, with 3,900 hectares of vines planted. This aromatic variety is a Hungarian crossing (a man-made grape using two varieties of the same species), which was created in the 1960s. The name means “the spicy one from Cserszeg,” and it was named after the town in which Professor Karóly Bakonyi created the variety, Cserszegtomaj on the northern coast of Lake Balaton.
The third most planted variety in Hungary is the beloved Furmint, with 3,700 hectares. Why do we love Furmint? It helps that it is easy to pronounce! It’s a versatile grape which can produce every type of white wine from bone-dry sparkling wine to lusciously sweet dessert wine. It also truly reflects the place where it was planted, or as the French call it, the terroir. Furmint is known for being Tokaj’s most important grape, and Tokaj is Hungary’s most important region. It is also planted near Lake Balaton and in the small but mighty Somló region.
The next variety in popularity used to be Hungary’s most planted variety (and most commonly seen on wine labels). Now, Olaszrizling has fallen to the 4th position in over-all plantings, with 3,300 hectares. As the saying goes: “for Hungarians, wine means Olaszrizling and Olaszrizling means wine.” It is easy in the vineyard (not prone to diseases), and easy in the cellar (it ferments in a reliable way and produces a balanced wine). It is the best grape to plant if you don’t want to worry too much about your vineyard. When made properly, it can produce remarkable wines, but when done without much attention, it makes a fröccs wine (meaning that it’s best with a splash of soda).
Coming in at number five in Hungary is the world’s princess, Chardonnay, with 2,150 hectares. The world loves Chardonnay because it is relatively easy to grow, ripens early (which is great for cool climate places like Hungary), it can produce different styles of wine (just like Furmint can), and people recognize it and buy it! Chardonnay has become the safe bet for wineries in Hungary. But as you can see from the rankings, we still prefer our native varieties. Hope it stays that way!
With 18,000 hectares of red grapes planted, about 30 percent of Hungarian wine is either red or rosé.
Kékfrankos is in the number one position, winning by knock-out, with 7,150 hectares planted. Kékfrankos is the reflection of the Hungarian wine profile: fresh, crisp, fruity, easy to drink, with great aging potential. In Austria, where the variety hails from, it is called Blaufränkisch, and there are just 3,000 hectares planted. This makes Hungary the country with the greatest acreage of Kékfrankos! Finally, we win at something!
In second, third and fifth place we have the Bordeaux BFFs: Cabernet Sauvignon (2,500 hectares), Merlot (1,900 hectares), and Cabernet Franc (1,300 hectares). Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon love to be together, and are meant to be together. The tannic and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon benefits from the fruity and softer Merlot, which is why they are usually blended. Despite Hungary being often too cold for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, it stands in a solid second place in Hungary’s red lineup. The more suitable Cabernet Franc (the pride of Villány region) is the 5th most planted red in Hungary, ripening 10 days earlier than its son (genetically speaking) Sauvignon. This makes Franc the better suited variety for the moderately warm southern regions of Villány and Szekszárd.
Zweigelt, another Austrian variety, is the 4th most planted red in Hungary, with 1,500 hectares. Zweigelt was created by the Austrian Professor Fritz Zweigelt in the 1920’s. It is well adapted to the colder climates of the northern Hungarian regions of Sopron, Eger, and Bükk, where it is among the most planted. It makes light and charming red wines with flavors of pomegranate and sour cherries. If you like Beaujolais, you are going to love Zweigelt!
Have you seen much Hungarian available wine outside of Hungary? Let me guess … not really. But, how much does Hungary really export?
Of the 300 million liters of wine that Hungary produces annually, 37 percent of it is exported (which is 110 million liters). Eighty percent of the exported wine is white. This is a much bigger number than anybody expected … so, why don’t we see much of it abroad?
Fifty four percent of the exported wine (or 60 million liters) is sold in bulk. That means all of that wine never saw bottles, and is sold in big containers—sometimes as big as trucks-full of wine. Only 25 percent of the exported wine (about 27.5 million liters) was sold in bottles smaller than two liters. This all means that only 9 percent of Hungarian wine production is exported in the kind of bottles that you would find in a wine shop or supermarket.
Slovakia is the biggest buyer of Hungarian wine, buying 30 percent of all Hungarian exports. Czech Republic, Germany, UK and Poland are the other top buyers. Out of the top five countries, the UK buys the highest amount of bottled wine, followed by Poland. Most of the wine that Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Germany buy is in bulk.
Sparkling wines account for only five percent (four million liters) of the exports. Romania, Estonia, and Sweden are the best markets for Hungarian sparkling wine, accounting for 60 percent of all Hungarian bubbly.
- Hungarian vineyard land fits inside of Italy’s Chianti region!
- Hungary makes one percent of the world’s wine, and is the 14th biggest wine producing country.
- E. & J. Gallo Winery in California produces twice as much wine as the country of Hungary does.
- More than half of Hungary’s wine exports are bulk.
- Only nine percent of Hungary’s exported wine is bottled wine (and it is mostly white).
- Hungary loves local white grapes: four of the top varieties are local grapes.
- Hungary loves international red varieties: two of the top five red varieties are Austrian and three are French
- Buy Hungarian wine whenever you see it … it is rare and delicious!
We are doing our part in making Hungarian wine more widely available! We are importers of Hungarian wine to the US. If you live in the US you can buy directly from our online shop. And we have an online shop that ships all over Europe!