JUST after the end of the Second World War, the Hungarian writer Béla Hamvas began his book The Philosophy of Wine. “I decided to write a prayer book for the atheists. . . I am aware of the difficulty of my task. . . I know that I cannot utter the word ‘God’. I must speak of him by using all sorts of other names such as kiss, or intoxication, or cooked ham. I chose wine as the most important name. Hence the title of the book The Philosophy of Wine and hence its motto: after all, two will remain, God and the wine.” Thus begins one of the most remarkable introductions to the wines of Hungary.
I can remember when I first started drinking wine that Hungary was represented here by just two wines: Pécs Riesling, which was not a real Riesling, and Egri Bikavér Bulls Blood. The country has now got its act together, and is producing exciting wines, ranging from the everyday quaffing white to arguably the greatest sweet wines in the world.
A good place to look for value-for-money wines from Hungary is Lidl. On occasion, they have small parcels of top-level wines: particularly around Christmas, they tend to feature a great Tokay. They more regularly, however, have available a Hungarian Pinot Grigio at £3.69, although, because of the minimum pricing regulations for alcohol, this costs rather more in Scotland and Wales. I have also recommended in the past their Late Harvest Tokaji, which, if you enjoy sweet wines, is a snip at £5.99 for a 50cl. bottle.
Tesco have a dry wine made from the Furmint grape, from the village of Mad, in the heart of the Tokay region. This is Kardos 2018, at £10.99.
On Amazon, they have some very interesting red wines from Eger on sale. These include Bolyki Egri Merlot 2015 (£17.95), and, from perhaps the country’s most renowned winemaker, Gál Tibor, the Síkhegy Grand Superior Bull’s Blood 2015 (£33.29). More down to earth is the same grower’s Pinot Noir 2018 (£16.49).
For a long time, the wines with the greatest reputation have been the Aszú 5 Puttonyos sweet wines from Tokay, made from grapes that have had much of their water content consumed by noble rot, so that the juice becomes incredibly sweet. Once quite rare, these are becoming more readily available, and appear in a 50cl. bottle. Tanners of Shrewsbury have the Tokay Classic 2013 for £19.50; Averys the Royal Tokaji 2016 for £22.40; and Amazon has Torly St. Stephen’s for £15.
To be absolutely certain of converting Richard Dawkins and other confirmed atheists, however, you should offer them a Tokay Essencia wine. Only minute quantities of this are made from the free-run juice of rot-affected grapes. Averys can offer you a half-bottle of this of the 2008 vintage from the Royal Tokaji Company for £390. Select those whom you hope to convert with extreme care, as they had only five bottles left.