Oenophiles in Hungary have many reasons to rejoice and revel this month!
September 12th marks the start of the 20th Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival (www.aborfesztival.hu) at Buda Castle (Vár, 1011 Budapest). If you are new to wine and want to learn more about wine in general and Hungarian wine history specifically, this is a great place to start. Organizers promise to deliver not only a wide selection of Hungarian wines, but have also chosen to feature Carpathian Basin vintners in general. They are keeping the names and national origins of invited special guests close to their vests, but divulge that several new wines will debut from abroad.
The Big Tasting of the best Hungarian Chardonnay wines takes place in the wine-chapel of Borkápolna, a historical wine-cellar 5 minutes from Heroes Square (above). For 2 weeks you can taste and vote for nearly 30 kinds of Chardonnay. Entrance: 2500 HUF, from which 2000 HUF can be used to purchase any of the tasted wines (H-1071 Budapest, Damjanich u. 52 +361 343 5258, +36 30 941 2838 www.borkapolna.hu firstname.lastname@example.org).
Another unique option, and a favourite among travelers, is the Faust Wine Cellar in Buda Castle (I. Hess András tér 1-3, Tel: +36 1 8896873). Reaching the cellar, a part of the labyrinth system under the castle itself, includes a bonus: visitors will see a restored Dominican monastery and cloister from the 13th century. A number of tasting packages are available, but reservations are required (www.budapest-tourist-guide.com) or via phone. With zero-tolerance alcohol laws here in Hungary, a relaxed bus tour for a day will allow the savvy to savour more and worry less. There are numerous tours available from a number of shops, clubs and travel agencies.
In the realm of wine-themed event planning and tours, however, the veritable king of resources has to be WineTime (II. Várfok u. 8, Tel: +36 17 869 161). Check their website to find regularly scheduled tours accepting reservations (www.winetime.hu), order a custom tour, or even organize a wine-soaked hen or stag party. If you are looking to socialize, they offer a wine club along with special one-off events and dinners.
Also returning will be the Maltese Charity Order of Hungary’s wine auction, this year benefitting the victims of the particularly devastating weather 2010 saw. If you had planned to take in the concurrent Jazz Festival, then fret not. Jazz is scheduled at the castle, and careful planning will allow connoisseurs to keep the music flowing with the wine.
If you miss the festival or simply want more tastings, then it is practically a requirement that you visit the preeminent experts at the Budapest Wine Society (I. Batthyány u. 59). Check in on Saturdays (Tel: 06 1 2120262) for occasional free samples at their tastings, which are scheduled to resume this month. Their Hungarian catalogue is exhaustive, to be sure. However, their international offerings also impress in breadth and quality whether one is a local seeking something adventurous or a traveler in search of the familiar to balm a bit of homesickness. Their website (www.bortarsasag.hu) features online ordering and delivery within the European Union with the very welcome added touch of a gift service.
Visitors in the wine business from abroad may also find their Business-to-Business services of interest as well. But WineTime is not the only player in this field. Longer tours of wine country are on offer at Special Tours (III, Orlo utca 26, ph 1 242-6558). Their tours, lasting as long as 8 days, integrate stops at wineries and cellars with educational programming and Hungarian cultural site visits.
More a travel agency than a wine tour company, they nonetheless seem to have specialized in the genre to great effect. Reservations can be made via phone or on their web site (www.specialtours.hu). The latter method allows one to choose the type of room and any other special arrangements to be made, such as vegetarian meals and bicycle rentals or extra nights in Budapest and transportation to and from the airport for international visitors. Egészségédre!