The above lines are the beginning of a poetic fairy tale known and loved by everyone in Hungary, which continues like this: ...on the edge of the village, there lives my old aunt. Warm-hearted, hard-working and brave, I know this tale from her. We have nothing more to say on this subject, except to tell you a little about the Mátra, its wines and its winemakers, its sights and restaurants, as is our usual practice. Happy reading!

Speaking about the Mátra wine region itself is also difficult, because the region is still trying to find an identity for itself. In any case, as regards Hungary as a whole and its vineyards, we can say that it perhaps has too many wine regions in relationship to its size, so it’s no wonder that the characteristics of only a few of them is clearly defined enough for international markets. Tokaj, Villány and perhaps around the Balaton. The latter has clearly cast its vote for collaboration (at the moment, the territory around the lake is divided into five wine regions). 

The Mátra however is not one of them. So, ten years ago, people started thinking about what kind of varieties could also work here. Mátra is accordingly the home of light, aromatic varieties and wines. Undoubtedly, we taste, can taste numerous aromatic and fresh white wines and lovely rosés from the region. However, at the time the decision was made, the first attempts were already being made; those wineries which Hungarians associate nowadays with the Mátra had already entered the market. And they did not head in this direction! The first serious Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Hárslevelű appeared, and they started to communicate about their towns and vineyards. This dichotomy of mainstream and innovative small estates in opposition - if not necessarily on the surface – still continues to this day. If we don’t examine the whole region, but just one or two towns, then Gyöngyöspata and Gyöngyöstarján stand out. If however, we look at how many people are bottling wine in each town, the latter is clearly the current centre of the wine region, even if this is not yet manifest in any form, neither in communication or any other way. Therefore, we decided not to spread ourselves too thin on our short visit and to focus solely on Gyöngyöstarján.

A bit of geography

The Mátra is a mountain range of volcanic origin belonging to the Carpathian’s inner zone. Its main rock mass is composed of pyroxene andesite, andesite tuff and agglomerate. Nineteen million years ago, the rhyolite lava flows occurred during active stratum volcanic activity and then tuff dispersion ended the process. The volcanic rocks of the crust were broken up due to tectonic movements, the mountains are characterised by fractured shapes. Later, loess, clay and limestone were deposited onto the volcanic rocks; nevertheless, the mountains’ soils are typically poor in lime. Gyöngyöstarján’s currently most well-know vineyards are Diós, Barnatanya, Fáy-domb and Paskom, which you can also come across on the labels of the bottles. Also notable is the Epres (formerly Epreskert), located on the outskirts of the town, but already belonging to the neighbouring village.

Getting to the wine region

If you arrive in Budapest by plane and pick up a hire car at Liszt Ferenc International Airport, you can be in the town within an hour, without having to even set foot in the nearby capital. En route, Gyöngyöstarján’s neighbouring town, Gyöngyös, conceals the most important sights. The main church is interesting in itself and the Mátra Museum is more than just a small rural museum, a source of true relaxation for anyone. The Mátra narrow gauge railway departs from here in both directions: at one terminus (in Mátrafüred), there is a lookout tower which offers visitors a beautiful view over Gyöngyös, whereas the other line takes hiking-booted tourists longing for a good walk to Szalajkaház. (If you want a good lunch in Gyöngyösön, I would definitely recommend Bori Mami with its modern bistro cuisine and cosy interior. The only drawback is that there is absolutely no Mátra wine on the wine list, which is unfortunately a common problem in Hungary.) By the way, hikers, Hungary’s highest point can be found in the Mátra, the 1014m-high Kékestető, and marked tourist tracks in turn criss-cross the mountains. It is ideal trekking terrain. For those interested in doing a longer walk, I’d recommend the National Blue Route (which at 1118km long, is Hungary’s longest hiking trail), or at least the Mátra section. (For hikers, I’d recommend the tourist guide published by Cartographia - available in large bookshops - , which as well as its route descriptions also has very useful maps.) If you’re looking for some more interesting things to do, we recommend that you visit the Gyöngyöspata church, built in the twelfth century, which houses a Jesse tree altar, unique in Europe, dating back to 1653.

Some history

The wine region’s vineyard register lists an area of 33,000 hectares, but in reality only 6,600 hectares are under vine. The region already played an important role in early Hungarian history; the third Hungarian king, Aba Sámuel (1041-1044), is buried, according to tradition, in the monastery he founded in Abasár near Gyöngyös. Documents from Gyöngyöstarján relating to wine dating back to 1493 have also been preserved. In 1664, the famous Turkish traveller, Evlya Celebi also praised the region’s wine when he wrote: “Sweet in taste and plenty of it, there are seventeen types of grapes and among them seven types of Muscat. It has no match, neither in Arabia nor in Persia, only the Tenedos islands have anything like it. There are pink wines, white wines and yellow wines similar to a sapphire.” (The island of Tenedos is now called Bozcaada and belongs to Turkey. It is an island of volcanic origin whose wines were already famous in ancient times.) From the 1700s onwards, the landed gentry began to establish vineyard estates. The area’s largest cellar was also created at that time (271m long and 6m wide), established in Gyöngyöstarjánat at the behest of Count Zsigmond Haller. Records show that the today’s international varieties, such as Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay had already appeared in the wine region in 1816, mainly thanks to Baron Joseph Bruder, who planted them by way of experiment on his Gyöngyöstarján estate. There was terrible devastation at the end of the century due to phylloxera. The 8,500 hectares of vines (of which about 3,100 hectares were in Gyöngyös) were completely destroyed; from 1885 on, there were no more harvest festivals in Gyöngyös since there were no more vines at all in the area! After replanting, the area quickly found itself again; King Edward VII of England, for example, particularly liked the red wine from Apc (at that time, based on Kadarka) and often ordered it. The first and second world wars followed, and then the communist takeover and the Russian forces’ long occupation halted progress. During the communist planned economy, the aromatic varieties also spread so much that they still dominate today, as I pointed out at the beginning of the article.


Today Gyöngyöstarján is a town of 2,500 inhabitants. It doesn’t boast any serious sightseeing, there aren’t any particularly good restaurants (for those who have already had lunch at Bori Mami, which I mentioned earlier, I’d recommend the Fenyves Fogadó in Szurdokpüspöki as an alternative) and there is also a dearth of accommodation. However, there is no shortage of wine! One of Hungary’s star winemakers from the nineties, Mátyás Szőke, is also flourishing here, but there are also many young up-and-coming winemakers coming onto the scene too  – Benedek Pince, Centurio, Attila Kiss, Attila Gábor Németh.  It is worth visiting them, to taste and talk. Benedek Pince also has lodgings on offer, which can comfortably accomodate 4-5 people. If you’d like to take a book with you for the journey (a book recommendation is already a habit here on WineSofa), then we’d recommend Magda Szabó’s novel ‘The Door’ (translated by Len Rix), or maybe György Dragomán’s ‘The White King’. Both are them are however difficult to put down when the wine-tasting is about to begin..