27 April 2022 / Sue Tolson Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Hungarian sparkling wine, or pezsgő, gyöngyöző and habzó by other names

Hungarian sparkling wine, or pezsgő, gyöngyöző and habzó by other names The world of sparkling wine is terribly confusing in the Hungarian language. While English only has the term sparkling wine, or maybe we’ll refer to it colloquially as bubbly or fizz, or use the name of the region or style, such as Cava, Prosecco or Champagne, Hungarian has three words for sparkling wine! I quickly got to grips with the difference between pezsgő and gyöngyöző – pezsgő is fully sparkling wine produced by the traditional method, like for instance Champagne or Cava, while gyöngyöző is semi-sparkling, or frizzante with artificially added CO2. Or so I thought. Then the third variant,n habzó, came into the picture!

Habzó is used to describe fizz that has had its bubbles injected artificially, what the French charmingly call the ’bicycle pump method’. So, I had it half right about pezsgő it seems, it means any wine whereby the bubbles have been created within the wine, so to speak, by the interaction of yeast and sugar, so this includes wines where the second fermentation took place either in the bottle (traditional method or transfer method) or in tank (Charmat method).

So now we’ve cleared up the Hungarian sparkling wine vocabulary, let’s take a look at the history of sparkling wine in Hungary, as it certainly has a sparkling one. At the start of the 20th century, Hungary was only surpassed by France in the production of sparkling wine, and Hungarian pezsgő was exported far and wide. Prior to World War I, Hungary had over 20 sparkling wine manufactories and around 6-8 million bottles were exported throughout Europe!

 

The first Hungarian sparkling

Sparkling wine has been produced in Hungary since the second half of the 19th century, with the main centres in Pozsony (Bratislava) and Budafok; the latter is still the centre of modern sparkling winemaking in Hungary. The late 19th century saw the establishment of two major sparkling wine producers, in particular Jözsef Törley, who moved his production in 1882 to Budafok from Reims, where he had previously worked for Roederer before founding his own business. He also bought vineyards in nearby Etyek when he saw the quality of the base wines he had sourced there for his Champagne House. Etyek-Buda has the climate and soils that most resemble those of Champagne of all the Hungarian wine districts. Moreover, the cellars carved out of limestone ensured the constant temperature needed to produce high-quality sparkling wine. The cellar was also equipped by French specialists and his cellar master, Louis François, was also French. A few years later, he too founded his own winery nearby. As Hungarian aristocrats already loved Champagne, his own local pezsgő quickly gained popularity with them and the burgeoning middle classes. Törley was an innovative company, introducing refrigerative disgorging into Hungary, and József Törley was knighted by Franz Joseph I.

The Törley Castle in Budafok

 

Late twentieth century

Due to nationalisation, no cellars remained in private hands after 1950, but sparkling wine was still produced in huge volumes by state-run Hungarovin and giant companies in Balatonboglár, focussing not on quality but uniformity and volume. After the system change, Hungarovin-Balatonboglár was bought by the German Henkell, who began to use the name Törley once again for sparkling wine, with their premium range named François Prestige after Törley’s former cellarmaster. Nowadays, a lot of sparkling wine in Hungary is still produced using the Charmat method, but traditional method is increasingly making headway again.

Renaissance of sparkling wine

The last few decades have seen growing numbers of wineries making high-quality bubbly all over Hungary, with many existing wineries adding a sparkling or semi-sparkling wine to their range. Törley Sparkling Wine Manufactory is still the market leader with over 50% of the market and a wide range of wines from cheap and cheerful to top-quality traditional method wines. You can visit their museum on the edge of Budafok to learn more about sparkling wine in Hungary, and sparkling wine in general.

Like elsewhere, the most popular varieties for sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are cultivated in Hungary, especially in the Etyek-Buda Wine District. However, Carpathian Basin varieties, like Furmint, Hárslevelű and Olaszrizling can all make good sparkling wine, due to their relative neutrality and good acidity.

 

Where does Hungarian sparkling wine come from and who’s making it?

The most significant traditions are in cool Etyek-Buda and Mór, but there are also excellent wines being produced in Tokaj (traditional method and generally from Furmint), Somló, Eger and on the southern shores of the Balaton.

The modern version of József Törley is perhaps József Kreinbacher, who founded the Kreinbacher Estate in the volcanic Nagy-Somló Wine District in 2002, with their first pezsgő launched in 2014. Their “pezsgő”-s have won numerous awards and always feature at the top of any Top lists, in part thanks to their consultant winemaker from Champagne, cellarmaster Christian Forget. Their wines are made primarily from Furmint grown on basalt soils, showing you don’t need limestone, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay to make fantastic sparkling wine.

Tasting at Kreinbacher Estate

 

In Tokaj, producers such as Gróf Degenfeld Wine Estate, Dereszla Winery, Pelle Cellar, Sauska Tokay Winery and many others are crafting their own pezsgő from both Tokaj and Champagne varieties. Along the southern shore of the Balaton, traditional producer Garamvari Estate produces a wide range of fizz, and the Bujdosó Winery produces both gyöngyöző and pezsgő, while in Eger, St Andrea Vineyards and Winery also craft some elegant bubbly.

Let’s not forget the trendy

Many producers, generally those following a more natural or organic approach, are also experimenting with the ancient technology of pét-nat. One of the first was Attila Pálffy of Pálffy Winery in Köveskál, who stormed Hungary with his ABNORMAL and P.A.N.K labels, while others such as Zoli Heimann in Szekszárd, the Wassmann in Villány and the Bussay Winery in Zala are all trying their hand at it too! Watch out for others getting in on the game.

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