Big news! In case you haven’t heard, we’re hosting our first-ever Wine Trip. Our destination? Hungary! While not typically thought of as a must-visit wine destination, Hungary has a rich winemaking culture that goes back thousands of years. We are so excited to be teaming up with Taste Hungary, a culinary tourism company based right in Washington, D.C., to take a group of wine enthusiasts to this under-the-radar region that’s making some of the best wine on the planet.
We recently hosted a special event in our tasting room with Carolyn and Gábor Bánfalvi, founders of Taste Hungary, to showcase some amazing Hungarian wines. But if you missed out, not to worry! We caught up with Gábor to chat about what makes this region so special, what he’s most looking forward to on the Hungary trip, and more!
When did you first begin traveling through Hungary? How much time do you spend there?
We’ve been traveling to Hungary for more than two decades now, in search of good food and great wine. Taste Hungary is a ten-year culinary tourism company owned by myself and my wife, Carolyn. She is an American with a journalism background — a D.C. native and a published author of culinary guidebooks to Hungary — and I am a native Hungarian with a teaching and hospitality background.
I grew up in Hungary while Carolyn has spent more than 15 years there. Right now, we share our time between the two countries and our company. Taste Hungary and our wine tasting cellar, The Tasting Table, are based in Budapest. We have a great team of managers, sommeliers, and guides who help us. We spend entire summers there, and I am the one who spends more time in Budapest. For me, it comes down to about six months in Hungary and six months in D.C.
What makes Hungarian wine unique?
Hungary has a wine tradition that goes back more than 2000 years. That makes it one of the oldest wine cultures in the world, so there is a lot of history. The old traditions make it very exciting. We have hundreds of local grape varietals that are barely seen anywhere else in the world. Some of them have names that are easy to pronounce like furmint or kadarka, while others are more difficult for non-Hungarian speakers like kékfrankos or hárslevelű. The local wine scene is very colorful, with mostly white wines (about 70 percent), but we’ll also visit a few red wine regions where they produce nice cabernet francs, red blends, and our most dominant red, the kékfrankos. And, most importantly, we have Tokaj, where we sip some of the best dessert wines in the world.
Are there any family-run wineries that you work with and would like to highlight?
We work with a lot of really nice people who make a lot of really nice wine so it’s hard to pick. Wine is a national passion, and many of the wineries are small, one-man show kind of operations. It might even be unfair to pick just one or two. I’m really impressed with the brother and sister operated Erzsébet cellar in the heart of Tokaj. They cover almost the whole range of Tokaj styles at their winery — from dry muscat to single vineyard furmints — and produce some of the best aszús I’ve tasted. Sipping wine on their terrace overlooking the town of Tokaj is a memorable experience. And to mention a red wine producer, there is the Heumann family in the south of the country in the Villány region. It’s a Swiss-German couple, and their cabernet francs and kékfrankos are some of the best reds I’ve ever had.
What do you most enjoy about sharing Hungarian wine and wine culture with travelers?
Of course, I love the wines and the food that we share! I also really enjoy educating people about a sort of obscure culture through its food and wine. I think it’s the best way to travel, meet people, and learn about a new country. People are a bit intimidated by the language at first, and by the facts that the country is off the beaten track and that Hungarian wine is not widely available outside the country. But after trying a few great wines with us, I can see that people are really curious, happy, and excited to go on this journey.
What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming trip with DCanter?
This is our first partnership in the D.C. area. Since Carolyn is from here and since this is our home in the U.S., it is very special that we’re now arranging this trip. I’ll be very happy to work with Michael and Michelle and to introduce DCanter clients to my country’s wines. I’ve never guided a trip with another wine guy like Mike, so I’m sure there will be a lot of wine talk between the two of us. I’m excited to hear his take on the wines and wineries I’m going to show. I think the group will benefit from the two wine geeks — we’ll both be able to share our perspectives on what we’re tasting and put things in context with American and international wines.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven't asked?
Hungary is a perfect wine destination. It’s a small country with Budapest in the center. Budapest is a destination on its own with its architecture, baths, concert halls, bridges, and restaurants. We have good roads in the countryside, and everything is an easy day trip from the capital. We’re trying to make this trip comprehensive to show guests as many wines, dishes, and places as possible.
And then there is the Tokaj region, our crown jewel, producing dry whites and some of the best and most complex sweet wines on this planet. We’ll be walking in cellars that are over 500 years old and sipping wine with winemakers in their gardens or at their dinner tables. I can't wait to get going.
Ready to join in on the Hungarian fun? Learn more about our Hungary Wine Trip here. Don’t forget: Space is limited, so sign up soon!