I recently had a Hungarian gastronomy magazine in my hands, which contained a a very tasteful publication from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which paired dishes with a selection of wines. I looked at the choice of wines and the following question arose: From what perspective are we considering a wine to be Hungarian? And what makes it Hungarian?
I read a list of 17 Furmints published in Decanter magazine, written by Caroline Gilby MW. There are names on the list that I hold in esteem and have often respected, such as Frigyes Bott, Géza Balla and Oszkár Maurer. The author does not refer to them as Hungarian producers, but the Hungarian press is clearly celebrating them as part of the success of Hungarian Furmint, just as Carassia or Géza Balla repeatedly appear on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ list.
I’d like to point out again that I hold these producers in esteem. I like, respect and recognise their wines. However, do these wines represent Hungary? I know that for many Hungarians, this question sounds like blasphemy. But let’s just think about it for a moment.
These wines are not produced in Hungary, nor in a Hungarian wine region, nor according to Hungarian law. However, yes, I am contradicting myself, since these are all historical Hungarian wine regions, and I myself brandish 19th-century wine region maps, as is the fashion in Hungary nowadays.
Okay, then the prerequisite for a wine to be Hungarian is that it is made from grapes produced in a historical Hungarian wine region. Wherever that wine region might belong today. I am starting to understand. And then another question arises. Would that prerequisite enough? Let’s stay with Oszkár Maurer, who (also) harvests grapes from vines in Srem, and as you know, Srem, or Széremség as it is called in Hungarian, was Hungary’s most famous royal wine region up until the times before the Turkish invasions, i.e. the 1520s! In that case, we could also say that the Bikicki and Baša wineries should also feature on the ministry’s list, as they work with Oszkár, also have Furmint and believe in reviving the true Srem wines. So, do they also make Hungarian wines?
I know that this is not the case, because these producers are not Hungarians. Neither the winemakers nor the winery owners are Hungarian, so it can’t be Hungarian wine.
Let’s add another prerequisite to the system! The rule is that the wine comes from a historical wine region and the producer is of Hungarian origin. I think I understand once again.
Until a little devil pops up again and starts purring in my ear. What about the Villány wines made by Horst Hummel, the Heumanns and the Wassmanns. Are Pajzos Tokaj, Disznókő and Royal Tokaji Hungarian wine? One of the prerequisites is very wrong...
Let’s not go any further along the path that a winemaker is Hungarian due to their genes or their resolve! The Pécsi Borozó team and I recently tasted Hungarian and Austrian Kékfrankos aka Blaufränkisch, and it was difficult to decide which producer came from within the Hungarian border and which from beyond, indeed most of the names seemed to be strongly Germanic. But let’s not dig too deep into anyone who professes to be Hungarian. Let everyone be Hungarian and then it will be okay.
However, what about the above? In the case where the winemakers or owners are not Hungarian, but the wine is produced in Hungary, on Hungarian soil and from Hungarian grapes.
I’m going to try to understand once more, so a wine is Hungarian if it was grown in a historical Hungarian wine region, whether it be within or beyond the current border. If the wine is made beyond the border, the prerequisite is that a person professing to be of Hungarian origin should be behind it, while within the border, anyone can make it, it simply has to be made from Hungarian grapes.
The system of prerequisites is something like this. I understand.
And perhaps it’s just a fly in the ointment that, say, Oszkár Maurer features regularly on lists of the best Serbian wines, he could even be included in a wine selection by the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then Hungarian and Serbian diplomats can taste each other’s Oszkár Maurer wines at a gala dinner. Which, after all, we can partly be doubly happy about, although on the other hand, it is a somewhat strange grimace of history, the processing of historical misfortune, belonging and status. (Although, I personally like the idea! – the editor-in-chief)
However, I have never seen wine produced in Hungary included in another country’s national selection elsewhere.
Zoltán Horváth, owner of Planina Borház in Mohács (Hungary), may well play authentic Croatian folk music on the tambourine more beautifully than any Croatian winemaker, make lovely wines, be proud of his Šokci traditions and demonstrate the Šokci past and future in his wines. However, all this is in vain; he will never be selected as among the best Croatian wines and can’t be winemaker of the year in Croatia, and it won’t be his wines that the Croatian president pours when he receives Joe Biden, should that ever happen.
Nor do the Slovenians list the Italian Collio and Carso winemakers, most of whom are of Slovenia descent, as Slovenes. Ye they also have a national saying that Slovenes live within and beyond Slovenia’s national borders. They have also experienced numerous traumas, which we Hungarians don’t even know about or understand and don’t care about either.
In spirit, I also understand and feel with them. We are partners in history, culture and nation. We might say that borders cannot separate us, but this is currently only true in spiritual terms.
And in Hungary, we do understand what makes something Hungarian, but if we present our best Hungarian wines to foreigners, while the words made in Serbia, Romania or Slovakia feature on the label, the best they can do is give a nice but frost smile and politely avoid the subject. And the wine will already have been forgotten.
It is not an easy question, and there is probably no solution to it that would suit everyone.