No doubt, the highlight of an Eger trip is the winery visits: You get to meet passionate winemakers and taste excellent wines. I included below a list and a short profile of my favorites. This list reflects my own impressions based on visits and tastings. You'll find both sizable and smaller operations; either way, I’m partial to wineries that convey a special sense of place.
A few things to keep in mind
Try booking a tasting as far in advance as possible. Note that not all wineries offer a tasting, or not year-round.
If you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about wines and curious to learn more, convey in your email that you’d love the head winemaker to lead the tasting (with family wineries this is often the default case).
A tasting usually costs around €10-15 per person. Hungarian visitors often end up buying several bottles afterward. For foreigners, logistics can complicate things, so consider leaving a generous tip if you don’t end up purchasing any wine.
Tastings usually go for an hour, but they can last much longer than that. It’s prudent not to schedule more than two, maximum three, winery visits per day.
If you’re driving, or simply don’t feel like getting loaded at midday, use the spittoons provided. By smelling and swooshing the wine around your mouth, you’ll still be able to get a sense even without swallowing it.
Not all winemakers speak flawless English but most of them are conversational.
The wineries & winemakers
Perhaps the best-known winery in all of Eger, St. Andrea is a true success story. With the support of outside investors, winemaker György Lőrincz’s ever-expanding empire puts out some of the top wines in Hungary, both red and white blends. This year, Decanter magazine chose their 2017 Bull’s Blood superior from the Nagy-Eged vineyard as one of the best wines in the world. The Lőrincz family is deeply religious, which explains why the wines bear names like “Blessing” and “Mary” and “Agape.” In addition to the winery, St. Andrea also operates a high-end restaurant and a rooftop bar in Budapest.
In 1984, the late Vilmos Thummerer started making wine in a small cellar outside the village of Noszvaj, hidden from all signs of civilization. Since then, his family winery has ballooned into one of the biggest and technologically most advanced in Hungary, producing more than half a million bottles a year and collecting myriad awards including the best winery of the country. Today, Vilmos’s children and grandchildren are in charge of the operation, which makes both easygoing whites and roses and deeply layered, long-aged, beautiful wines like the Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) from the Nagy-Eged vineyard.
Besides St. Andrea and Thummerer, Tibor Gál’s winery is the most recognizable in Eger across the premium segment. Tibor’s father laid the foundations of the winery, but after his tragic 2005 death in a car accident, Tibor took over the reins at the age of nineteen. He’s become so firm a believer in blends, the Bikavér (red) and the Egri csillagok (white), that he prefers not even to discuss their individual grape components. “Given Eger’s unique climate, it can make both wonderful reds and whites.” These two now account for the vast majority of the more than 150,000 bottles they sell each year. The tastings take place in Fuzio, the company’s chic wine bar.
Zoltán Tarnóczi is a modest but headstrong winemaker with strong convictions about the wine region and an aversion to contemporary wine trends. For example, he refuses to make Eger’s blends, Bull’s Blood and Egri Csillag, because he finds the official criteria too limiting. Together with his wife, Orsolya Turcsek, he’s been experimenting with different grapes for more than two decades, finding kadarka, olaszrizling, furmint, and sangiovese the best fits for Eger’s soil and climate. He tends to harvest late, working with intensely flavorful, fully ripe grapes. The small family winery produces less than 15,000 bottles annually and his varietal kadarka is a must-try.
Csutorás & Almagyar-Érseki Szőlőbirtok (location; 8 hectares / 20 acres; [email protected]; +36 70 616 7750): Ferenc Csutorás is more than a winemaker; he’s an expert of the wine region and an avid researcher who enjoys perusing archival documents (he has contributed to a book about the history of Bikavér). He is experimenting with the native Hungarian kadarka grape, which was once the most prevalent in Eger, using five different clones to find the most resistant and flavorful variety. A couple of years ago, Csutorás and two friends bought and replanted the vineyard on Almagyar-Hill that once belonged to Eger’s bishop but had been reclaimed by nature. Today, there’s a scenic tasting room up there and a couple of modern bungalows for those who’d like to wake up surrounded by nature.
More than two decades ago, János Bolyki purchased the remains of an abandoned medieval stone quarry on the outskirts of Eger and gradually turned it into an impossibly atmospheric venue complete with concert venues and a modern winery (those two oversized rocks perched at the center landed there after an accidental rock slide). János makes both red and white blends, ranging from the wallet-friendly Indián nyár to the complex and layered Bull’s Blood superiors. His wines are also known for their playful and hip design labels, which are in perfect harmony with the winery’s ethos.
Gergő and Bogi Böjt took over the winery in 2014 from their parents, giving the decades-old family operation a healthy boost. Gergő believes that Eger’s cool climate is best suited to white wines, although in warmer years the Bull’s Bloods also turn out wonderful. His clear and focused thinking translates into a streamlined wine portfolio: there are only four kinds of Böjt wines, a white blend (Egri Csillagok) and a red blend (Bull’s Blood), each with a superior and a grand superior line. Using his experience with pet nats, he’s planning to make champagne-style sparkling wines next year.
Flanked by vineyards and a bucolic landscape as far as the eye can see, Marcell Bukolyi’s charming family winery hides outside Eger, at the foot of Nagy Eged-Hill. For now, Marcell is the only winemaker in Eger who practices fully organic farming, using no chemical pesticides for example. His focused and fruity and elegant Kisfiam Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) is based on kékfrankos, with syrah, pinot noir, and cabernet franc playing side roles. He and his wife, Lilla, have many plans to expand the domain (buffalos! accommodation!) and I came away hoping that their journey is just at the beginning.
Nimród Kovács (location; 26 hectares / 65 acres; [email protected]; +36 70 452 2626): In 1971, at the age of twenty two, Nimród Kovács fled from Communist Hungary to the United States where he became a big time advertising and telecommunications executive. A few decades later he returned to Hungary and continued his business success. He launched the Eger winery after his retirement in 2009, but it’s become a lot more than a side project. He owns some of the best vineyards of the wine region, including 10 hectares in the Nagy-Eged Hill. “Hungary’s Burgundy and northern Rhone” is how Kovács views Eger, given that its latitude is nearly identical to those two. This is also why his new-barrel-aged wines are made with pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah grapes, in addition to kékfrankos and furmint.
Tamás Nyolcas has been making wine since the early ‘80s but it wasn’t until the last decade that he started selling them outside of his circle of friends and family (soon his wines appeared in a Michelin-starred Budapest restaurant). Nyolcas believes in low-intervention winemaking: he uses no chemical fertilizers and relies on naturally occurring yeasts for fermentation. Almost alone among the premium producers, Nyolcas also makes leányka wines, a traditional white grape variety of Eger but one that has gone out of fashion. “If you give it the care it needs and don’t overload the vines, it makes beautiful wines,” said Nyolcas.