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Lake Balaton, Tokaj, and Eger: These 3 Hungary wine regions are the hidden gems of Eastern Europe

May 23, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Hungarian wine is steeped in lore, from red wine so potent it turns men into bloodthirsty warriors to sweet elixirs so good they’re sung about in the national anthem. While Hungarian wine was once the stuff of legend throughout Europe, it was perilously close to disappearing altogether in the modern era. The past few decades have seen a massive resurgence of Hungarian wine, with winemakers working hard to preserve its legacy and continue its story. As a result, Hungary is home to some of the best wines coming out of Europe right now—even if much of it still feels like an insider secret.

When you join us on one of our Hungary tours, you can taste these almost mythical wines and their contemporary siblings in the enchanting wine regions of Lake Balaton, Tokaj, and Eger. Read on for everything you need to know about Hungarian wine and three regions where the legacy of its legendary libation thrives.

Hungarian wine at a glance

How many wine regions does Hungary have?
There are 22 total wine regions in Hungary, and many of them are broken down into sub-regions.

What are the most widely planted grape varietals in Hungary?
Hundreds of varietals of wine grapes are grown in Hungary, but some of the most common include kékfrankos, olaszrizling, and furmint, and imported grapes, like cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, and merlot.

What are some common ways to drink Hungarian wine?
Hungarian wine is often served on its own or paired with meals. In the summer, Hungarians enjoy white wine in spritzers known as fröccs. In the winter, they sip forralt bor, which is red wine warmed with mulling spices. It’s not unlike German Glühwein—which happens to be our favorite beverage to enjoy while browsing for gifts on our Christmas Markets of Budapest, Vienna & Prague tour.

How is Hungarian wine aged?
Some Hungarian wines are rested in steel casks, while others are aged in oak. Most oak-aged Hungarian wines use Hungarian oak barrels sourced from either the Zemplén forest, which surrounds the Tokaj region, or the Mecsek forest surrounding the Szekszárd and Villány regions.

Hungarian wine words to know:

  • Bor: Wine
  • Borbár: Wine bar
  • Vörösbor: Red wine
  • Fehérbor: White wine
  • Pezsgő: Sparkling wine
  • Palack: Bottle
  • Pohár bor: Glass of wine
  • Száraz: Dry
  • Édes: Sweet
  • Dűlő: Cru or vineyard (on a wine label, this indicates that the wine comes from a single high-quality vineyard or group of linked vineyards).
  • Hordó: Barrel (sometimes you’ll see this on the label of oak-aged wine).
Taste Hungarian wine on tour

A short history of Hungarian winemaking

Hungary is one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world, but the region’s wine industry nearly went extinct after a series of unfortunate events in the 1800s and 1900s. Winemaking in Hungary can be traced as far back as the Romans, who introduced grape vines to the area as early as the first century A.D. The industry thrived in the Middle Ages, as did Hungary’s winemaking reputation, and Hungarian wine was exported throughout Europe. Unfortunately, phylloxera, an aphid-like pest, wiped out approximately 40% of the world’s wine grapes in the late-19th century, including many across Hungary. Following that, two world wars and decades of communist policies dissolved many traditional family-run vineyards and led to a “quantity over quality” approach to Hungarian wine.

In the years since the early 1990s, modern winemakers have been working to bring back Hungary’s wine industry. They’ve worked hard to resuscitate traditional wines, like the sweet golden nectar from the Tokaj region, while cultivating forward-thinking wines more suitable to today’s palates and climate.

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3 Hungarian wine regions you can visit on tour

Below are some of our favorite regions you can visit when you join us on a tour of Hungary. If you’re interested in creating your own Hungarian wine tour, get in touch with us to chat about creating a Customized Tour of these hidden-gem regions.

1. Lake Balaton

When it comes to Hungarian wine, the Lake Balaton region still feels like a local secret. It doesn’t yet have the global reputation of areas like Tokaj, but the region is producing some of the best wine Hungary has to offer.

Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe, and its surrounding Balaton wine region comprises six different sub-regions, all with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) standing. Many of the sub-regions have their own soil types and microclimates, resulting in a variety of different wines made within the Balaton region. Below are our favorite Lake Balaton wine regions to visit on a tour of Hungary.

Wine sub-regions to visit near Lake Balaton

  • The Balatonfüred-Csopak region (pronounced bah-la-ton-foo-red choh-pahk). It lies along the northeastern shore of Lake Balaton and is a popular resort destination as well as one of the best wine regions in Hungary. The sun’s light and heat reflect off the lake’s surface, providing ideal conditions for vineyards planted on hillsides along the shore. The area boasts a mild Mediterranean climate and produces elegant, crisp, refreshing, and aromatic white wines that are soft, smooth, and complex. Admire the peaceful, rolling hills and lake views of Balatonfüred-Csopak when you join us on the Lake Balaton Wine Tasting & Lunch excursion offered on our brand-new Eastern Europe for Solo Travelers: Budapest to Prague tour.
  • The Badacsony region (bah-da-chon-ee). Badacsony is located in an area known as the Tapolca Basin on the north shore of Lake Balaton. The landscape is dominated by the imposing Badacsony Hill, which is all that remains of an ancient volcano that helped shape the landscape and created the mineral-rich volcanic soil that feeds the local grape vines. Badacsony’s sub-Mediterranean climate and volcanic soil make it ideal for producing mineral-rich, full-bodied white wines. Seek them out on our Lake Balaton Wine Tasting & Lunch excursion offered on our Eastern Europe for Solo Travelers: Budapest to Prague tour, or use your free time to take a day trip to Badacsony from Budapest on one of our tours of Hungary.

What to do around Lake Balaton

  • Visit Tihany Abbey. When you join our Lake Balaton Wine Tasting & Lunch excursion, you’ll begin your journey at the hilltop Bénédictine monastery overlooking the resort village of Tihany. The abbey was originally founded in 1055 A.D. but had to be almost entirely rebuilt in the 1700s after a series of wars left it in disrepair. Explore the red-roofed building’s Baroque architecture and colorful frescoes and enjoy soaring views of the surrounding wine country when you visit on our Eastern Europe for Solo Travelers: Budapest to Prague tour.
  • Relax in the spa town of Balatonfüred. Hungary is renowned for its abundance of thermal baths and spa facilities, thanks to its numerous natural hot springs. In fact, taking a dip in a thermal bath is one of our favorite reasons to visit Budapest in the winter—or any time of year, for that matter. While Budapest may be known as the City of Baths, Balatonfüred has its own collection of spa facilities. Even if you don’t feel up for a soak, we recommend exploring the town and soaking up the relaxing vibes when you visit on our Lake Balaton Wine Tasting & Lunch excursion on our Eastern Europe for Solo Travelers: Budapest to Prague tour.
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2. Tokaj (toe-kay)

Tokaj, Hungary’s most famous wine region, is located in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains in the northeastern portion of the country. The entire area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its vineyards and commitment to traditional wine production. Tokaj’s hilly landscape lies at the convergence of a pair of rivers, giving the area its own unique microclimate suitable for making some of the best sweet wines in the world (they even mention the grape fields of Tokaj in the Hungarian national anthem). Contemporary winemakers are also experimenting with crisp, dry whites. Visit Tokaj on our A Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest tour to explore the area’s legendary vineyards and wine cellars.

Common Tokaj grape varietals: furmint, hárslevelű (harsh-leh-veh-loo), and sárga muskotály (shar-ga mus-koh-tye).

Wines to try in Tokaj

  • Tokaji Aszú (toe-kye ahs-szu). This golden wine is one of the world’s oldest sweet wines, and is very high in both sugar and acid, which prevents it from being cloying. It’s made from botrytized grapes, a process also known as noble rot, in which grapes shrivel on the vine and become very high in sugar. The weather has to be perfect for botrytis to occur, and while Tokaj’s microclimate is ideal for this, Tokaji Aszú can still only be made in years with perfect conditions. It’s truly a labor of love, as each shriveled grape, or “aszú berry,” must be hand-harvested, which is why many consider Tokaji Aszú to be the best wine in Hungary. It’s a luscious and velvety golden wine with notes of stone fruit, honey, and orange peel.
  • Tokaji Essencia. This indulgent elixir is the world’s sweetest wine. It’s only made from the best free-run juice (juice collected before the grapes are crushed) of aszú berries and is so intense—and expensive—that it’s typically served on an ornate crystal spoon rather than in a glass. The wine is known for its concentrated honey, caramel, and tropical fruit flavors and an almost syrupy mouthfeel. A visit to Tokaj on our A Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest tour is the perfect opportunity to taste this once-in-a-lifetime sip.
  • Furmint. The public’s changing tastes, as well as the effects of climate change, have encouraged winemakers in Tokaj to produce more dry wines, and the dry furmint from the region has become especially popular. It’s floral and complex with bright acidity and the body of a chardonnay or off-dry riesling.

What to do in Tokaj

  • Tour a wine cellar. Many of Tokaj’s centuries-old wine cellars feature underground tunnels that were hand-carved out of the area’s limestone and volcanic rock. The tunnels are used to store wines at their optimal temperature, and some of them stretch for several miles. Don’t be alarmed if you see mold along the walls of the tunnels and wine cellars—the same mold that causes noble rot and creates the famous sweet Tokaji wines is often present in the area’s cellars.
  • Enjoy lunch at a winery. After you tour a winery and wine cellar in Tokaj on our A Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest tour, you’ll be treated to a lunch of Hungarian specialties and a tasting in the winery. “I can’t rate the lunch at the winery highly enough nor the wine tasting itself,” said traveler Abby of the experience. “OMG, I’ve been craving that meal ever since I got back.”
Explore Hungary’s most famous wine region

3. Eger

East of Budapest in northern Hungary lies Eger, a wine region characterized by its volcanic and limestone soils, hilly terrain, and moderate climate. The charming vineyards and quaint towns of Eger are the perfect distance for a free-time day trip on one of our Budapest tours. The area is especially known for its drinkable blends, and if you’re creating your own personal Hungary wine tour, Eger is the place to try the famous Bull’s Blood wine Hungary is known for.

Common Eger grape varietals: kékfrankos (cake-frahn-kosh), zenit (zen-eet), furmint, hárslevelű, and leányka (lay-anka).

Wines to try in Eger

  • Egri bikavér. Also known as “Bull’s Blood,” bikavér is a Hungarian red wine blend, and while its components may differ depending on the region, it always starts with a foundation of kékfrankos grapes. According to legend, Hungarian troops had been drinking the red wine when the Ottomans seized Eger. Their red-stained beards and brazen courage led the Turks to believe that they had been drinking the blood of a bull, giving the libation its name. It’s a spicy, rustic, and full-bodied wine that can’t be missed on your tour of Hungary. “There were so many highlights during our stay, and eating authentic food was a big one,” said traveler Marissa after tracing her family heritage in Budapest on tour. “We even enjoyed drinking a special Hungarian wine called Bull’s Blood together.”
  • Egri csillag. Known as “the star of Eger,” this white blend is bikavér’s graceful companion. It’s a delightful and approachable white wine made from blends of hárslevelű, leányka, zenit, and even sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes (blends vary depending on individual producers). The wine is refreshing and zippy, with notes of almond, tropical fruit, and white flowers.
  • Kékfrankos. Kékfrankos is the most widely grown grape in Hungary. You’ll find single-vineyard wines made purely from kékfrankos in several regions, including Eger. If you’re a fan of German and Austrian wine, you might recognize the grape by its German name, blaufränkisch. Kékfrankos is often aged in Hungarian oak and is full of earthiness, red and dark fruit notes, and berry flavors.

What to do in Eger

  • Visit Eger Castle. Remember that story of the Hungarian soldiers with the wine-stained beards? This is where it all began. This imposing fortification is the site where Hungarian forces were able to repel the Ottoman Empire’s attacks during the Siege of Eger despite being vastly outnumbered. If you’re planning on using free time to take a day trip to Eger during your tour of Budapest, pay a visit to this local symbol of Hungarian bravery.
  • Revel in Hungarian wine lore. Learning about Hungarian wine is a must on our list of things to do in 48 hours in Budapest, though there’s no better place than Eger to learn about the history and lore behind Hungarian wine. Sipping Bull’s Blood in the shadow of Eger Castle is a truly memorable experience. However, if you can’t make it to Eger during your free time, we recommend joining our Wine Cellar Dinner & Unicum Liqueur Tasting excursion offered in Budapest on our tours of Hungary. You’ll taste and learn about some of Hungary’s most famous wines, including those from Eger, and sample Unicum, a local herbal liqueur that’s been made by the same family for centuries.
Visit Eger’s charming vineyards

Discover the lore and charm of Hungary’s hidden gem-wine regions when you join us on a trip to Hungary!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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Lake Balaton, Tokaj, and Eger: These 3 Hungary wine regions are the hidden gems of Eastern Europe