Unless you already dabble in the world of viticulture or viniculture, Hungary isn’t commonly associated with wine. Here’s why it should be.
Hungary was once lauded by monarchs and artists from around the world for its unusual grape varieties, and its multifaceted history in the world of wine make it a fascinating place to learn more about it, alongside a glass or two.
Louis XIV referred to the aszú wines of Tokaj as “the wine of Kings, and the King of wines” but the country’s wine reputation began to diminish following World War II, when the Soviets stepped in without much care for good-quality wine, marking a seismic shift in the history of Hungarian wine for decades to come. The fall of Communism in the 90s spurred a modern age for the industry, born from German settlers and a new generation of oenologists.
Blessed with 22 wine (or bor in Hungarian) regions, this captivating country is in the process of reintroducing its star winemakers and regions to the world – many just a short drive from the capital. Here’s how to see the city and its surrounds, with wine as a focus.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Built in 1906, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace is an Art Nouveau masterpiece that came out of the Secession movement. Though parts of the building were damaged during the war, various art nouveau motifs were restored in 2004 following a 110 million dollar restoration, including of the tall, vaulted ceilings found throughout the 179 refined and elegant guest rooms.
The hotel’s lobby bar is a must-visit for the buzzy ambience as much as the live music and super-sleek cocktails; glassware enthusiasts will be dazzled by the slim-stemmed cocktail glasses and the dinky negroni glasses which come in pairs. The cocktail menu here is impressively detailed, providing poetic descriptions for each, and playful personality-type adjectives such as ‘pink, tiki, delightful’.
Budapest is a city of spas and the Four Seasons offering shouldn’t be missed during your stay: the spa area here takes up the entire top floor of the hotel. Choose from a comprehensive list of rejuvenating treatments – some that have been uniquely curated to include local, Hungarian ingredients such as lavender, grape seed oil and Hungarian moor mud by Omorovicza. We recommend the two-hour long Touch of the Earth treatment which includes a scrub and wrap, plus a traditional face and body massage.
Conveniently located in the city centre, this is a wonderful location from which to explore the city – and its wine bars – on foot.
WHERE TO TASTE WINE
Head to DiVino for direct views of St. Stephen’s Basilica and a chalkboard menu of unfamiliar Hungarian wines. This is a bar in which the wine list has been carefully considered down to the very last detail, covering a wide variety sourced from leading Hungarian wineries. Though located in a bit of a touristy hotspot, a glass or bottle of the Pannonhalmi Sauvignon Blanc makes it worthwhile. An ideal time to visit is a Sunday evening when it’s quiet enough to get on with a good read, but lively enough to soak in the atmosphere.
In the heart of the Jewish Quarter, Dobló is the wine bar of choice for an intimate tête-à-tête. A menu of 180 Hungarian wines is served alongside a wide selection of champagne and shots of pálinka, a traditional Hungarian spirit. Unsure what to order? Chat to the staff for their recommendations and an opportunity to sample a few wines before making a decision.
This lively wine bar is named after a popular red grape variety native to Hungary and the bar remains a favourite among locals for its no-nonsense menu. It’s an establishment that adamantly veers away from a type of pomposity that can often be associated with wine, instead serving more than a hundred reliable Hungarian labels from across the country’s 22 wine regions.
Best for a romantic rendez-vous, Tabla is in the heart of Budapest’s trendy Jewish Quarter in the 7th district. This natural-wine focused bar has a menu full of obscure Hungarian wines crafted by young and experimental winemakers you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Choose from a list of wonderful specials scrawled across a chalkboard, or take away a bottle from the bar-shop. The design of the restaurant is made to feel like a traditional Hungarian family home, complete with cold cuts and plenty of Hungarian craft beers.
Visit Etyeki Kuria winery
Just a 30-minute drive from Budapest’s city centre, Etyek Kuria offers immersive tours and tastings recounting Etyek’s unique history, starting with its origins and subsequent revival in the 1990s. The tasting starts with a refreshing sparkling Sauvignon Blanc followed by a variety of cold and hot appetisers. An acute enthusiasm for the region is apparent throughout the tasting as Anna Gézárt, the Export Manager, explains the reasoning behind each pairing and the technicalities that go into producing a Pinot Noir, one of the winery’s bestsellers thanks to its limestone soil. The Merlot here cuts right through the rich chocolate cake dessert also offered, providing a balanced sensation.
Located in the Jewish Quarter, the ruin bars of Budapest are a collection of abandoned warehouses steeped in history. Szimpla Kert is the first of its kind, a maze-like building brimming with various rooms and quirky bar areas with mismatched furniture. Most visitors flock here by night, but it’s just as cool to see during the day – especially on a Sunday, during the farmer’s market. Settle in over a glass of fröccs, made up of wine and soda.
A city break in Budapest isn’t complete without a cruise down the Danube. It’s particularly atmospheric when various heritage buildings become illuminated along the river at night. Adrenaline junkie? Opt for the James Bond experience, a speedy cruise with sharp twists and turns and an exhilarating finale. If you’re staying with the Four Seasons Budapest, they can also arrange a private Venetian-style speedboat, complete with a glass of sparkling wine.
Dine at Kollazs restaurant
The Marché dining concept at Kollazs restaurant in the Four Seasons is worth checking out for a sophisticated lunch option overlooking the Danube River. The concept here puts forward the best in fresh Hungarian and French produce under the direction of Executive Chef, Árpád Győrffy. Choose from an ensemble of cold gourmet dishes alongside an exceptional wine pairing curated by head-sommelier, Gábor Becker. Highlights include the selection of squishy and hard Hungarian cheeses, don’t miss the creamy paprika spread.
The National Gallery’s focus on Hungarian artwork makes it a wonderful pitstop in Budapest year-round, while the Museum of Fine Arts houses some of the world’s most prestigious international paintings and sculptures including El Greco’s Penitent Magdalene and Barent van Orley’s Portrait of Charles V. Some smaller museums have a singular focus, portraying the lives of well-known Hungarians such as Ferenc Liszt, Béla Bartók, and Imre Makovecz.