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Hungary has a very old wine-growing tradition, wines from Sopron and Eger were already well-known in the 13th century. The Greeks, coming from the southeast and travelling up the Danube, and up ist tributary the Theiß, brought viticulture to Hungary, while at roughly the same time the Romans, travelled from the west across the Pannonian plain to Lake Balaton. In spite of numerous attacks by Vandals, Goths, Tartars and Turks over a period of many centuries, viticulture was maintained at all times. Even the Turks, who occupied the major part of the country for 180 years, banned wine consumption for their own people, but did not ban viticulture, being quite happy to collect taxes, although the development of viticulture during this period was certainly impeded. It is claimed that Charlemagne was so enthusiastic about the „Avarian wine” that he took along some vines to Germany. It is reported about the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (14401490), who resided in Vienna for the last five years of his life, that he wanted everybody to have wine, and that wine growers should be held in the highest esteem. As in most other countries, the church played a leading role in Hungarian viticulture in medieval times. A central role in Hungarian wine history is played by the famous wine of Tokaj. King Béla IV. (12351270) invited Italians to settle in his country, and they introduced the Furmint grape. Following the phylloxera disaster and two World Wars, production was concentrated on low-quality mass production wines. Since the political changes of 1989, and the re-establishment of the viticultural association, viticulture in Austria has again been making rapid strides forward.
Hungary has a Central European, continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. In geographical terms, it is located at around the same latitude as Burgundy in France, providing conditions for the production of aromatic white wines. However, around 2.000 hours of sunshine annually also provide conditions for the production of red wine. The Danube flows through the country from north to south, dividing it into two halves of roughly equal size. The wine law of 1997 defined a total of 22 wine-growing regions, located in three major regions. In the west lies Transdanubia, which stretches from the borders with Austria, Slovenia anc Croatia in the west to the Danube. In the centre is Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe, with a total area of 591 km². Together with Lake Neusiedel and the Danube this has a very positive effect on viticulture. There are 15 wine-growing regions in this huge area, they are Ászár-Neszmély, Badacsony, Balatonboglár, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonfelvidék (formerly Balaton-Mellék), Balatonmelléke (formerly Zala), Etyek-Buda, Mecsekalja, Mór, Pannonhalma-Sokoróalja, Somló, Sopron, Szekszárd, Tolna and Villány-Siklós. The Pannonian lowlands are located in the southeast, between the Danube and Theiß rivers, this area has sandy, semi-savanna-type soils known as Alföld in Hungarian. Here, the vineyards help to stabilise the soils. Drought occurs frequently in summer, threatening the crop, while there is frost in winter. The wine-growing regions are Csongrád, Hajós-Baja (formerly Hajos-Vaskút) and Kunság (formerly Kiskunság). The North massif lies to the north, in the foothills of the Matra mountains close to the border with Slovakia. The wine-growing regions are Bükkalja, Eger with its famous Bulls Blood wine, Mátraalja and Tokaj-Hegyalja, where the famous Tokaj wine is produced.
Hungary is basically a white wine-producing country, these make up two thirds of the total production. In 2000, some 91.000 hectares of vineyards produced around three million hectolitres of wine. Olaszrizling (Welschriesling) is the most widely planted white grape variety, this produces excellent wines particularly in the area around Lake Balaton. The tart Furmint, the aromatic Hárslevelü, the full-bodied Kéknyelü (Blaustengler), the spicy Sargamuskotály (Gelber Muskateller yellow muscat) and Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) are the other well-known white varieties. The most important red variety is Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch). Other red varieties include Kadarka, Kékoporto (Blauer Portugieser), Nagyburgundi (Pinot Noir), Médoc Noir (Merlot) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Among the largest producers are the huge Hungarovin winery in Budapest, Gia in Eger and Balatonboglári RT in Balatonboglár. The information on the label is usually short and precise. In most cases, the town or place name has an „i” appended at the end (simliar to „-er” in Germany) and is followed by the grape variety, for example Soproni Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch from Sopron). Féherbor = white wine, Vörösbor = red wine, Pezsgö = sparkling wine, száraz = dry, félszáraz = off-dry, édes = sweet, félédes = semi-sweet. The quality lefvels for wine are:
Asztali bor: A table wine with a minimum alcohol content of 8% vol, no varieties are stated.
Pecsenye bor: This „roast meat wine” has an alcohol content of up to 12%, the growing region and the grape varieties are stated on the label. It corresponds to a country wine.
Minöségi bor: A quality wine with a minimum alcohol content of 10% vol. The label shows the grape variety, vintage, bottler, alcohol content as well as the date and time of picking.
Különleges minöségi bor: High-quality wine bearing the state control seal „Állami Ellenörzöjegy”. Made from fully ripe or botrytised grapes, it has a minimum alcohol content of 13% vol, and a minimum must sugar weight of 190 g/l. Additional designation are the predicates Spätlese (Late Harvest, minimum 190 g/l), Auslese ( Special Late Harvest, 205 g/l), Ausbruch (220 g/l) and Trockenbeerenauslese (Noble Late Harvest, made from overripe mostly botrytised grapes with a maximum alcohol content of 16,5% vol).