Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Bull's Blood of Eger

For our last day in Hungary I had arranged a private trip out to the Eger wine region for Dayne, Brian, Anne and I thru Taste Hungary. Carolyn Bánfalvi, who is one of the founders, could not have been more helpful and arranged a very nice day trip for us, an especially tricky task as many of the wineries were still closed for the holidays and she herself was going to be out of town.

Our guide Dora arrived with a mini-van early in the morning. As we drove, she explained the area and the wines that we would be tasting. Eger is know for it's Bikaver or Bull's Blood wine which is a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch), and Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the years the wine has gotten a bit of a bad rap from communist efforts to dumb down quality resulting in a cheap wine. Now the winemakers of Eger (only the wine from this area can be called Bull's Blood) are focused on making quality wines and reshaping their history and reputation.

I'd like to tell you all about how pretty the drive through the Hungarian countryside was, but the fog was so thick we couldn't even tell if there were hills, trees, or towns outside. After a 2-hour drive east we reached our first stop in the town of Egerszalok, St Andrea, which is regarded as one of the best wineries in the region. This winery is just 10 years old and the wine maker here is one of only two in Hungary with a PhD in winemaking. We had a private tour through the cellars and then sat down for a tasting of their 8 current releases, starting with a very nice rose. The winery was open only to us and it was very informative, delicious and fun!

After purchasing a few bottles we loaded back in the mini-van and headed to Eger for lunch at Imola Wine Restaurant, which is the best restaurant in the town and constantly rated in the country's top lists. If you are in the area and don't have time for a lot of proper wine tastings, this is a great spot as their wine list is very impressive. They do modern adaptations of traditional Hungarian food.
After lunch we had just a short amount of time to walk through the quaint town. Along the cobblestones you'll find a few cute shops selling epicurean items, some tasting rooms offering wine, a handful of cafes, a pretty central square and various monuments as Eger has a long history of battles, sieges and rulers.
Our next stop, just a short drive away, was Nimrod Kovacs, named for the owner who spent a fair amount of time living in the US and is a partner in Starry Night Winery in California. Again we started with a private tour of the cellars, explanations on their wine making process and the effect on aging that the strange moss that grows on the walls, has on their wines.  The area that the winery is located in is one of the oldest neighborhoods consisting entirely of cellars in the area. It's quite interesting and again points to the long history of wine making in the region.
They had planned to have us taste in the caves but there was a strange and unpleasant odor that they hadn't been able to find the cause of, so we crammed in the owners office. We tasted through 6 of their current releases and although all good, I wasn't as fond of these as I was the St Andrea. 
Back in the van, we were off to our last stop of the day, the Valley of the Beautiful Women, just on the outskirts of Eger. This neighborhood is filled with dozens of wine cellars all lined up together, making it quite a tourist draw. Because of that there are a lot of "cheap and cheerful" wines being made but Taste Hungary had arranged for us to try the wines of Hagymasi Cellar at #19 which although still simple and inexpensive, was also well made and interesting. The real draw here is the area, all the wineries have these great caves built into the side of the hills, and it's a fun place to go with your friends for wine drinking. 
It was such a nice day of wine tasting, completely stress free thanks to the thoughtful itinerary provided for us along with our great guide Dora. We snoozed in the van on the dark drive home, still unsure of what the country side looks like!

Upon returning to Budapest and saying goodbye to Brian and Anne, Dayne and I had a light meal at the really excellent Borkonyha Winekitchen. Unfortunately neither of us were that hungry but the small dishes we had were excellent and I'd recommend making reservations for this gem.

The next morning we packed up and checked out of our lovely hotel. Next stop BratislavaThe next morning we packed up and checked out of our lovely hotel. Next stop Bratislava!

All pictures from our wine tasting day are here.

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