My next and final stop on my first (but not last!) Hungarian wine holiday was Eger, home of the famous Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood, wine.
There are a number of legends surrounding the name Bikavér. The one I’ve heard the most refers to the 1552 invasion of the Turks. During a pause in the battle, the Eger cellars were opened so the Hungarian soldiers could quench their thirst. In short, the wine stained their beards (clearly this was not a sipping crowd), and the Turks ran away intimidated, assuming the enemy was drinking bull’s blood.
For those outside of Hungary who know of Eger at all, it’s probably because of Bikavér. The wine is a blend of grapes with regulations as to its production, including guidelines related to grape selection, cultivation, maceration, and more. I’ve had some excellent versions and some not-so-good versions.
However, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the Eger wine region was dominated by whites. In 2010, Eger wine makers got together and decided they needed to have a white wine blend for the region. Csillag, or Star, was created. Similar to its red sibling, Csillag has rules for its production.
And just like Bikavér, Csillag is linked to a legend. Its story relates to the torches of watchman’s huts that illuminated a path for travelers. People were told to follow the stars of Eger as they passed through the area.
I enjoyed my introduction to Eger’s Star and tasted a range of white and red wines during my visit. I had cellar tours and full tastings at Gál Tibor led by Tibor himself and XY Demeter led by the wine maker. Among many other things, I learned about the cellars’ histories and all that they need to do to the bottles when exporting the wine to China. Note that the emphasis is on the bottle (such as a really deep dimple at the bottom), not the wine, for the Chinese market. Fascinating! The wines were excellent. Fortunately, many are for sale in Budapest. I also walked to Szépasszonyvölgy, or the Valley of the Beautiful Women, to check out the cellars there.
Before my trip, many people had spoken excitedly about Szépasszonyvölgy. It’s also mentioned in guidebooks. As a result, I had pictured a bucolic valley with rolling hills and cellars carved into a natural landscape. Not true. The Szépasszonyvölgy is a horseshoe-shaped cluster of wineries with some restaurants at the entrance. If you want quick and easy access to a lot of wineries or just want to get drunk, it’s a good place to go. I’ve heard it can be quite the party in the summer months. Personally, it was a bit of a let down.
I ventured into Hagymási, which was recommended by a friend. I ordered the three Bikavérs on the wine list and conducted my own side-by-side tasting. The owner, seeing that I was a serious taster and not there to gulp the wine down, treated me to a fourth wine—his best. It was a lovely and thoughtful surprise.
If you can believe it, wine was just part of my Eger experience. I found great food and beautiful views there as well.