Hungary is home to 22 different wine regions, despite being a small country. I was wholly impressed with the quality of wines, one of the best kept secrets in the wine world. One can only imagine what they could do with aggressive marketing.
I wish I could say I properly planned my Budapest visit around the 20th Budapest International Wine Festival but basically I lucked into it during my pretrip research. Held on the Buda Castle Palace grounds atop the majestic Gellert/Castle Hill, the festival was a veritable plethura of orgasmic foodie gluttony. The most skilled winemakers come to this event to provide tastings, answer questions, and engage in wholehearted merriment. Oh, I do so feel at home at events like these and local markets!
The festival included roaming muscians, a 500 winemaker strong march representing the knights of the wine order, folk dances, and performances that cross almost all genres of music. The winemakers sample their wares in quaint little wooden houses and chef concoctions of the most amazing smells abound.
My first foray included food as it was 3pm and I had yet to eat anything during the day other than coffee and an apple. I chose a Pinot Noir from Vyvlan (winery of the year 2008) which was exceptional, paired with a roasted slab of bacon (half an inch thick with crusty chewy rind, mouthwatering fat, and smokey meat) and sous vide duck leg (with impossibly crunchy skin on the outside and the moistest fatty marble inside. Together these were enough pleasure on one plate to roll Anthony Bourdain’s eyes to the back of his head or cause a coronary, or both! It certainly exemplified the meaty, calorific culture of Hungary…and why I’m trying to only eat one meal a day here.
The next night the concierge at my hotel invited me to go with him. It was a richer experience with someone who speaks the language. We chatted with winemakers, shared different tastes of wine, and sampled foods I wouldn’t have known to order. In all, I must have tried at least a sip of more than 20 different Hungarian wines, and only found one I didn’t like.
Some of the many dishes I tried were:
Stropachka – a creamy sauce made from cottage cheese, flavored with bacon, and loaded with little potato dumplings
Some kind of latke – a large round of potato mixture fried and smeared with a tangy, cheesy sour cream mixture (sour cream here is different than in the US)
Name unknown!- like a Hungarian pizza, has thick bread on the bottom, topped with onion, tangy sour cream, bacon, cheeses, and other toppings. It’s cooked in large sheet pans in an outdoor wood burning oven and comes out bubbling
Scones made with pork cracklings or cottage cheese
Retes – strudel made with poppy seeds, apple, and walnut
Lemon basil cake – also made with cottage cheese which may sound strange, but utterly light, creamy, and delightful
The most wonderful morsel I put in my mouth was unexpected. It was thick, soft, chewy bread with tangy, oniony sour cream spread on thick, topped with aged thinly slice ham so savory and delicate it nearly melted in my mouth. The most simple dish I ate, yes, but also perfection on a plate.
Two night of amazing foods and wine aplenty was a slice of heaven I’ll never forget. If you come to Budapest, timing it around this festival would be advisable. Should you not have that opportunity, at least seek out Hungarian wines in your local market, they are a bargain for the exceptional quality. I suggest trying a bottle from the Villany region, which was my favorite, especially the cabernets and pinots.
Other very good wines I found:
Grand Cabernet from Balla Geza
Hungaria dry prosecco
Polgar Cuvee Barrique 2005
Admission is 2,500 HUF per day or 7,000 for five day pass and tasting tickets are 100 HUF (the average glass costs 400).