Author: Kristian Kielmayer, Ágnes Herczeg
There are many legends and stories surrounding Egri Bikavér. One of the best known is certainly connected to the besiegement of the castle of Eger during Ottoman times, when Captain Dobó and those defending the castle were emboldened by red wine. The attackers were frightened by the Hungarians drinking bull’s blood, which was why they could fight against the superior force with such courage; thus, they ended up losing the battle. There are numerous versions of this story. According to the official version, the first mention of the connection between Bikavér and Eger wines was in a book of proverbs in 1851, which states: “Bikavér is the name given to strong red wine, such as that from Eger.” Jenő Gröber first wrote down the recipe for Bikavér in 1912 and is therefore considered its father. At that time, the blend consisted of Kékfrankos, Portugieser (Oportó) and Menoir (Medoc Noir). He is also credited with the spread of the Medoc Noir variety in Eger, which yields a unique aromatic style with notes of Muscat. Three types of Bikavér wines are made in Eger: Classic, Superior and Grand Superior. The organoleptic evaluation required to market these wines is carried out by the local wine district’s judging committee. Egri Bikavér has been listed as a ‘Hungarikum’ since 2017.
The Eger wine district is located between the Mátra and the Bükk Mountains and is part of the Upper Hungary wine region. There are around 5,618 hectares under vine. The vineyards encircle the city of Eger. The region is typified by extremely diverse soils with varied compositions, including limestone, sand, loess, rhyolite tuff, dacite and other volcanic soils as well as class, slate and erubase soil. The highest vineyard in Hungary can also be found here. In general, this region has a cool climate, which results in fresh, tight wines.
The three different styles (Classic, Superior and Grand Superior) differ according to their own specific product specification, which includes ripeness, ageing and date of release. It is a Kékfrankos-based blend which is dominated by fruit and spicy aromas. As well as the restrained complexity afforded by oak ageing, the Superior and Grand Superior wines also boast a kind of distinctive minerality, with freshness and a complementary tightly wound structure playing a leading role throughout.
Egri Bikavér is a Kékfankos-based blend characterised by notes of spice and fruit. Winemakers have quite a lot of freedom in selecting the varieties and deciding on the assemblage of the blend, so there may be noticeable differences between Egri Bikavér wines. In general, Egri Bikavér can be made in three main styles. Classic wines represent a light, everyday style and are very food-friendly. They are appreciated throughout the year. Superior and Grand Superior wines are mouth-filling and full-bodied with greater minerality and new oak influence. These wines are characterised by longer ageing and greater potential for development. They would benefit from being laid down for a further 5-10 years. Bikavér pairs well with tomato dishes, pasta, pizza, grilled vegetables, meat casseroles, Hungarian-style soups, liver dishes, roast meat, meatloaf and stews. Always store in a cool place, at a constant temperature, away from direct sunlight and heat, to best preserve its aromas. Serve just below room temperature at 14-16°C in a large tulip-shaped red wine glass. Ingredients that best match the flavour and texture of Bikavér wines include root vegetables, Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, beetroot, aubergines, tomatoes, mature cheeses, goose, duck, game birds and offal as well as pork, veal and lamb dishes.