Wine tasting in Hungary

White wines from vats and dinner in a Hungarian home. Hungary may not be your typical summer holiday, but we liked the look of an accommodation so we thought we'd try it out; and I'm happy to report it came up trumps.

Using one of my wife's favourite websites Unique Homestays we came across Pippins, a self catering property with a shared swimming pool and a lovely outdoor area for barbecues.

The week started with a real authentic twist when our hosts prepared us dinner for our first evening. Paprika based sauce with minced pork stuffed peppers followed by a bowl of freshly picked raspberries. Drinks wise we drank a bottle of local Mor Valley white wine, which was excellent and were then introduced to, and not for the first time, to a spirit called Palinka (more on this later).

The first meal was an excellent added extra that I will definitely consider doing again when staying in a self catering accommodation. It gave us a chance to look at the maps and get our bearings, plus it saved us having to do anything too hectic after a day of travelling on the first night.

Whilst looking through the information pack we spotted an option for a wine tasting evening at a local vineyard. Our hosts for the evening were a lovely couple and the proud owners of Biro Pince vineyard, and their grandson who would be our translator for the evening.

The grandson had travelled from a nearby city, Székesfehérvár, to practice his English so helped us as much as we helped him. He was also a great help in organising our itinerary as he gave us a couple of great suggestions; including going to a village called Tihany on Lake Balaton (see the chilli clad shop).

The evening started with a glass of Palinka for an aperitif - Palinka is a Grappa-esque spirit made by fermenting fresh fruits. I’m told the Palinkas we were drinking were made using grapes; this would make sense considering we were set in a vineyard. It’s a strong spirit that definitely gets your digestive juices flowing.

I calmly drank my glass in a few largish sips. My wife is not such a keen spirit drinker and found the going a bit tough. She had drank half of her glass when she whispered to me that she couldn’t drink anymore. At this point, whilst I had been distracted my glass had been refilled, I thanked our host with a nod and started drinking my second glass whilst whispering under my breath “Gem, you have to drink it, they may consider you impolite by not and the longer you take the more I will have to drink”. These words of encouragement worked and she managed to dispatch the rest of her glass.

Once my taste buds had reawakened from the onslaught of the Palinka I started to enjoy the subtle light white wines our host had started to serve.

The Mori wine region of Hungary exclusively grows white grape varieties. There are a number of smallish vineyards of which Biro Prince is one. The climate is good for growing grapes in the Mor valley as the winters are relatively mild and typically a summer’s day will be warm and sunny with breeze. We were told this breeze was important for the grapes, as it helped to fend off disease.

The Biro Pince vineyard is set on the side of a hill and grows five different grape varieties. The under house cellar was made up of two sections, a seated eating and drinking area and the wine cellar, with all the wine stored in large metal vats in the cellar. The wine was served straight from the vats with a glass jug being the intermediary between the vat and my glass. As far as I could work out none of the wine was bottled and I have to admit I left unsure how they took their wares to market. It was a shame none was bottled as I would have definitely purchased a couple of bottles.

The grandson was telling us how important the wine was to the local economy. He also noted that since 1989 (Hungary became a democratic republic) the wine growers had returned to growing local varieties and there was more of an emphasis on quality. In times of communism many of the more artisan grapes were replaced with high yielding less flavoursome types in order to increase the volume of wine produced.

Over the evening our host delved into his wine cellar, reappearing with his jug full of another of his wines. As we ate our dinner we tried five wines in total, each of them a single white grape variety:

  • Ezejerjo was our first wine to try; an indigenous Hungarian grape that had a clean crisp feel with a citrus touch.
  • Tramini was a light and fruity number that reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Rizlingszilvani, now I’m unsure whether this is a Riesling or a Riesling cross variety. Either way, it was a perfectly pleasant easy drinking white wine.
  • Zoldveltelini, by this time we were on to our main course of pork schnitzel; this wine with its nose of apples proved to be a perfect accompaniment.
  • Királyleányka, was our last wine of the evening, in truth it didn’t go particularly well with desert. I would liked to have tried it slightly more chilled with maybe a fillet of fish. Though I think I had more than one glass of this one as I was bordering on tipsy by this point and didn’t want to say ‘no’ to our generous hosts.

At one point Gem asked whether she could have a glass of water, this brought worry to our hosts’ faces. The grandmother asked whether she was okay, it was evidently customary not to drink water whilst guzzling wine in this household.

The food was authentic and tasty; first we ate peppers stuffed with a cream cheese. Peppers, as well as paprika chillies can be bought virtually everywhere in Hungary. Mostly they came in one colour, a kind of insipid green. Flavour wise they are similar to the darker green ones, possibly just slightly sweeter.

The main course was a tender pork schnitzel, which proved tasty enough to accept the seconds on offer. I sometimes wish in restaurants the waiter would pop out just as you’re finishing your main and say ‘chef’s got a few leftovers if you’re interested’. Amusingly there was a bit of a mix up with desert, we got served a kind of cabbage pie and a very similar looking blackcurrant pie at the same time. Now I understand no Hungarian, and I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they mixed up the pies and cabbage pie should have been served with the schnitzel. It was by the by, as I’m not really a cabbage lover so I had a small slice to be polite and then concentrated on the blackcurrant pie which was yum.

As we ate and drank the wines we could feel the two grandparents watching us making sure we were enjoying everything we ate. Some may find this slightly off putting but I found their desire to please a pleasure. I wish I could have communicated with our hosts in their language; luckily they had a grandson who jumped at every opportunity to practice his English.

If I could have this kind of eating experience every time I went on holiday, I would be a very happy person. Being welcomed into someone's home, especially when they have a vineyard in the back garden, is a special thing.