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Egri Bikavér ("Bull's Blood of Eger") is Hungary's most famous red wine. It comes from the Eger wine region of northern Hungary; the Szekszárd region produces a similar wine with similar name (Szekszárdi Bikavér) but with different character.
Egri Bikavér is a blend that has varied over the years, although the blend is anchored by the ancient Kadarka variety. Kadarka is believed to have arrived during the Turkish invasion of the 16th century, either by the Turks themselves or by Serbs displaced by them. It is a difficult grape to vinify, and has increasingly been replaced by Blaufränkisch, known locally as Kékfrankos.
Officially Egri Bikavér must contain at least three of the following 13 grapes: Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Blauer Portugieser (Kékoportó), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Menoire (known as Kékmedoc, or Médoc noir before), Pinot noir, Syrah, Turán, Bíborkadarka and the modern Austrian crossings, Blauburger and Zweigelt.
Origin of the name
According to legend, the name originates from the invasion of Suleiman the Magnificent around 1552.
"To motivate and support the small group of soldiers during the Siege of Eger castle they were served delicious food and a lot of red wine. Among the Turkish soldiers it was rumored that bull's blood was mixed into the red wine, as otherwise the strength and firm resistance of the town and castle of Eger could not be explained. Finally the enemy gave up."
It has been suggested that the term Bikavér was coined by poet János Garay in 1846.
Under the Turks, the Hungarians' traditional white grapes were replaced by Kadarka and its relatives. In the 18th century German immigrants brought with them the Blauer Portugieser. Hungary did not escape the effects of the phylloxera epidemic in 1882, after which Blaufränkisch and small amounts of the Bordeaux varieties were introduced. At this time the different varieties were often grown together as field blends in the vineyard, and vinified together; towards the end of the 19th century they began to be processed separately into wine and then blended.
Under Communism, Kadarka was largely replaced by the Bordeaux varieties and in particular the easy-to-grow Zweigelt. This and the industrialisation of production saw Egri Bikavér become a much lighter, simpler wine during the 1970s and 1980s.
Following the fall of Communism, much Kadarka has been planted and since the mid-1990s there has been a return to a more traditional, much darker style of wine. In order to eliminate some quality problems, a stricter regulation was planned in the mid 90s. The regulation was introduced in 1997, thus Hungary's first Districtus Hungaricus Controllatus - DHC was created (similar to the French Appellation d'Origine Controllée (AOC) or more like the Austrian Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) system), enacting the rule specifying that Egri Bikavér must contain 3 out of 11 traditional grape varieties.
Egri Bikavér Superior
In 2004 a new level, Egri Bikavér Superior was introduced. In this case, at least 5 out of the 13 recommended varieties must be used and also a lower yield must be applied (maximum 60 hl/ha). It needs to age at least 12 months in wooden cask and 6 months in bottle before releasing on the market. Regulations on the composition of the blend, the wine making technology and minimum alcohol level also differs from normal Egri Bikavér. All those regulations are aiming for an overall higher quality wine.
Despite considerable investment in vineyards and wineries, Egri Bikavér is still quite variable. The difference in quality between good ones and the cheap mass-market versions can be immense. High-quality Egri Bikavér requires two or three years of oak aging, and is best with game, beef, or other spicy food. Egri Bikavér should be served at 16-18°C.
- Joseph, Darrel (2000)The Revival of Hungary's Bull's Blood Wine Spectator - behind paywall