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The Geography of Hungarian Wine

I have an interest in social hierarchical systems, and did some research into Hinduism and society.

General Geography

Hungary lies in central Europe and is bordered by 7 countries, some of which have had strong influences on the development of wine and trade in the country. Additionally, with the large Danube and Tisza rivers dividing the country into 3 main sections, as shown on the map in Figure 1. The Danube can be seen as the thin blue line running down the centre of the country and its capital, Budapest. The Tisza is a smaller river and lies in the eastern section of Hungary. This division may have had some influence on the different types of wine produced in each region, however it mainly stems from each region’s local landscape and climatic characteristics. The eastern part of the country lies in the Carpathian Basin, which is situated within two different climate zones; a mainly humid and oceanic one with slightly varying temperatures, and a less humid continental climate with more extreme temperatures (Mezösi, 2017). Hungary does have a slightly warmer disposition than other countries at the same latitude, with the annual mean temperature being 2.5°C higher than others. This is due to the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea’s climates mixing and causing the positive temperature anomaly as a result (Mezösi, 2017), this mixing together with the flat landscape of the basin is also usually the cause of large areas of fog in eastern and central Hungary. There is no real pattern to the dispersal of Hungary’s most famous wine regions; Tokaj, Eger, Villány, Balaton, and Nagy Somló. Out of the 22 recognised Hungarian wine regions this study will focus on 6 of them so that they are examined in more detail, and each region is situated in a different part of Hungary. Tokaj and Eger exist in Northern Hungary, Hajas is in the Great Plain between the Danube and Tisza rivers, and the rest are all located in the Trans Danube (Schlesier et al, 2009). These regions are identified as the most famous by their high amounts of tourism and popularity of wines, with perhaps Tokaj being the most famous.

Figure 1: Hungarian Wine Regions

the-geography-of-hungarian-wine

Northern Hungary

Tokaj

This region lies in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, specifically the Zemplén Mountains, in the North East of Hungary, with a small part of its most northeasterly section extending into Slovakia. It is also the ‘birthplace of the oldest and … best natural sweet wine in the world’ (Tokaj Wine Region, 2018) and therefore holds a special place among the world’s most famous wine regions. This area is ‘characterised by high geodiversity due to complex volcanic settings and specialised viticultural land use of the cultural landscape’ (Szepesi et. al, 2016). Unsurprisingly, this area is a very popular tourist destination, with tours even being organised from and advertised in Budapest. UNESCO defines this area as a ‘historic cultural landscape’ and that its ‘entire landscape, its organisation and its character are specially shaped in interaction with the millennial and still living tradition of wine production’ (UNESCO, 2018). This cultural landscape can clearly be identified by the ‘vineyard terraces with retaining walls showing a close interaction between nature and human beings,’ (Incze and Novák, 2016) which furthers the image of this area being of high historical, viticultural and aesthetic value. The towns of Mad, Tokaj, and Tarcal are the regions’ primary centres of wine production and each boast their own unique blend of wine.


Tokaj is home to Hungary’s most famous wine, the sweet Tokaji aszu. In terms of wine production, the this region provides a ‘special microclimatic condition in the eroded volcanic slopes and the surrounding wetlands that gives an ideal place to cultivate various grapes, primarily furmint’ (Szepesi et al, 2016). This special microclimate and increased time on the vines for the grapes allows for the growth of noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). This is a type of fungus that, although causing wine grapes to ‘shrivel and decay,’ intensifies their sweetness and adds flavours like ‘honey and ginger’ while sometimes increasing the alcohol content as well (Wine Folly, 2018). The fungus grows best in cold and wet areas, and is encouraged in the extensive wine cellars of the Tokaj region, appearing as a black mould over the bottles. However, utilisation of this fungus can easily go wrong, as the grapes need to be in a hot and dry environment once infected so that they shrivel and increase their sugar concentration. If they are exposed to wet weather when infected the grapes swell and have no viticultural benefits (Plumpton College, 2018), potentially wasting an entire harvest. It is this fungus which has brought fame to Tokaj for its contribution in the production of its ‘botrytized dessert wines,’ described by many as ‘nectar-like.’


Eger

The Eger wine region lies in the northeastern part of the country, in close proximity to the Tokaj region. This is home to Hungary’s most famous red wine, Bikavér, also known as ‘Bull’s Blood’ due to its deep purple-crimson colour, middleweight body and plummy aromatics (Wine Searcher, 2014). The Eger region lies slightly south west of Tokaj and is nestled between the Bükk and Mátra hills, which protect the area from the strongest and coldest winds from the Carpathian Mountains. This sheltered area means that the summers are particularly hot with average temperatures of 28°C, and the winters very cold. Measures such as Frost Fans can be put in place to stop the vines and grapes being damaged during particularly harsh winters, and wind machines are used to draw down the warmer air to mix with the cold to in an attempt to stop stratification. These conditions together with the latitude do not allow for the body of the red wines in southern Europe, but make them similar to Burgundy in their elegance and complexity (Go to Hungary, 2018).

Trans Danube

Villány

Villany, an area of roughly 1800 hectares (About Hungarian Wine, 2018), is located in the southernmost part of Hungary and has a cooler and more temperate sub-mediterranean climate than the rest of the country. These cooler temperatures could be attributed to an 18km long, 400m high limestone ridge within the region (Wine Searcher, 2018b), however the summers are known to be considerably long and hot. In addition to this, the longest durations of sunshine occur in this area, however they are significantly less than other areas at the same latitude out-with Hungary due to the terrain’s relief. This limestone ridge is part of the ‘Villány Mountains’ where most of the vineyards are located, such as Bock. This part of Hungary was the first in which small wine producers bottled their wines, attracted foreign investors and in promoting the massively tannic red style (About Hungarian Wine, 2018). This region is most widely known for its reds and rosés, with the majority of Hungary’s award winning wines being produced here in addition to it being where the country’s first wine route can be found. Additionally, many tourists enjoy the thermal baths in Harkány and Pécs after attending wine tours in Villány’s many wineries (Visit Budapest, 2018).


Balaton

This wine region is focused around the large Lake Balaton shown in figure 1 and is one of the biggest and shallowest European lakes, spreading across the Pannonian plain. This area is also a very popular recreational hotspot for tourists and Hungarians alike, due to the extensive beaches. A few hills are dotted around the lake, some of which are extinct volcanoes such as Somló hill. Additionally, the geology of the area has provided many caves and other rare landforms. Wine tourism is only recently popular in this region due to the high amount of recreational activities, however it has rapidly flourished. Most vineyards are located on the northern shore of the lake, whilst the resort towns populate the southern. The lake plays an important factor in the regions precipitation, which receives more than the rest of Hungary and results in a slightly more humid microclimate when combined with the mediterranean weather.

Nagy Somló

This is Hungary’s smallest wine region, being only 300 hectares in size. It is famous for its location on an extinct volcano butte named ‘Somlo mountain,’ with basaltic bedrock underlying the areas soil (Bochanis, 2016). Most vineyards are situated on the east and south east facing slopes due to the increased sunshine duration. Somlo is north of lake Balaton and is therefore situated in Hungary’s North West and may have some Austrian influences. One of the most popular wineries around this mountain is the family run Tornai Winery. This is one of the more recent wineries having only started in 1946, and has 54 acres of vineyard. It is a good example of a modern winery aimed at enotourism rather than solely wine production, as its locality in one of Hungary’s historic wine regions and immersion in such rich viniculture draws many visitors from around the world.

Figure 2: Nagy Somlo

Great Plains

Hajas

This region, also called ‘Hajos-Baja’ is situated in the South West of Hungary’s Great Plain, also called ‘Alföld,’ and experiences warm summers with little rainfall. The Hajas region is known for ‘producing large quantities of average quality wine, little of which is exported’ (Wine Searcher, 2014). This may be due to the fact that the very flat and open landscape would contribute to a corresponding lack in terroir variation, leaving little room for regionally characteristic wine tastes or types. One of the main towns of the region, Baja, was also a major trading centre for southern Hungary, further establishing this region as more of an industrial wine -producing one compared to the speciality wines found in Tokaj or Eger.

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