Natural wines in Hungary: an exciting new world of wine

Natural wine is a phrase that is popping up more and more often in the hip wine bars and restaurants of the world. What’s the craze about, is it just hype, and is there a natural wine movement in Hungary?

Isn’t all wine natural?

Basically, yes, but there are many modern techniques, additives and procedures in the winemaking process that make the winery’s life easier, but might impact the wine in negative ways and result in more generic flavors. In general, natural, raw, low-intervention and similar terms all describe wines that are made without the use of any modern techniques and additives during the winemaking process, though there is no official definition of the term.

This means the grapes are crushed and fermented without the use of high-tech machinery or artificial yeasts, and the wine is allowed to develop without the winemaker intervening in any way, like using additives, controlling the temperature of the fermentation or filtering or fining the wine. This also means minimal or no use of sulfites, which is conventionally used to halt the fermentation and preserve the wine by killing off yeast and other organisms in the wine. Most natural winemakers use only organic grapes and focus on old local grape varieties instead of international ones.

Just like the craft beer trend led to lots of new high-quality beers, but also a lot of strange and experimental stuff, the natural wine scene is also full of both balanced and fascinating wines, but also unusual ones that need time getting used to.

When done right, these wines have a structure and layers of flavors unlike what can be achieved with conventional winemaking. They are also often more ‘honest’, with a true sense of place, reflecting of the weather and climate of the vintage and the soils they are grown in. But due to their uncontrolled nature, natural wines can also be strange, with wild and funky flavors or unappetizing notes, and some winemakers unfortunately hide behind this title when their wines don’t turn out as expected.

Natural Wines in Hungary

In many tradtional winemaking countries like France or Italy, the appearance of natural winemaking has created a rift between conventional and natural winemakers. In Hungary, the situation is slightly different, both due to the country’s history as well as its geography and climate.

First of all, due to forty years of communist rule, large-scale industrial wine production evokes many bad memories, and winemakers have been moving towards smaller yields and a reduction in industrial techniques ever since the 1990s. Even the larger, more established wineries are converting to organic growing and less intervention in their winemaking.

Second, since Hungarian wineries are often tiny compared to their international counterparts, they can only really earn a living by producing high-quality wines that reflect their origins. This is only possible by using artisanal techniques, without any shortcuts or tricks. Also, as the wine regions get hotter, a more close-to-nature approach is inevitable to protect the grapes from new diseases and pests. Whole wine regions have realized this and started acting: the Somló region, for example, will soon become the first wine region in Hungary to convert completely to organic growing.

What we think

While we are big fans of handmade, small-scale, minimal-intervention wines, we are uncomfortable with the hype and movement surrounding natural wine, probably because of the different background it has in Hungary. Many of the winemakers in our selection have been making pure, clean and honest wines with minimal intervention for years or decades, but they have done this due to their convictions and desire to make the best wines possible, and have never advertised their wines as such. Also, their wines are often similar in style to traditional wines, and they are left out of the hype because of this.

On the other hand, the trend has brought us some fascinating new wines and has given us a brand new perspective of the possibilities of some wine regions and grape varieties. We will occasionally be adding some more unconventional wines to our selection, but no matter how it’s made, the basis of how we select each wine remains the same: we believe that, in the end, wine is made to be enjoyed.