The quest to pop open a bottle of something new, interesting and different may be a noble one when it comes to wine, but the journey is never without its pitfalls. After all, going too far afield may lead you to remember exactly why a certain area or grape has been obscure for so long—and why, perhaps, it should stay that way.
Hungarian dry whites, however, are right in the sweet spot of “discovery wine.”
Virtually unknown stateside, the groundwork for their unearthing has long been laid. Hungary has a couple of thousand years under its belt in terms of wine production, though the upheavals and Soviet occupation of the 20th century stopped progress in its tracks, and even set it back.
The last decade, though, has seen a major uptick in good imports from the country. The dry whites that come into the United States are spicy, floral, savory and not at all sugary.
You’ll see the Furmint grape turn up most frequently, with Hárslevelu and Sargamuskotaly (yellow muscat) as the runners-up; though don’t be surprised if you see all three of these grapes in blends, too.
Most of the best bottles available on U.S. shelves hail from the Tokaj region, an area famous for its unctuous, golden dessert wine (Hapsburg kings were given a taste on their death bed to send them sweetly into eternity)—and a locale that offers more versatility than you may have previously heard.
As a whole, however, Hungarian wines offer a very distinctive flavor profile. “If you’re drinking Loire whites from France or southern Italian whites, these might be for you,” says Stetson Robbins, of the Hungarian wine importer Blue Danube. “They tend to have more acidity than other whites.” Their specific minerality and crispness also make them the perfect match for shellfish and anything with spice, Robbins adds.
No matter what, the following eight finds will keep you busy exploring as summer draws to a close.