The Little-Known Hungarian Town With the Best Cellar Crawl
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
There may be no dragons here, but Villány, Hungary, offers up world-class wines and a Tolkien-esque vibe.
When it comes to Hungary, almost everyone thinks of goulash. But it’s also a country of great wine. If you want to sip some of the best, bypass Budapest and head for the shadow of Villány Mountains — which happens to resemble J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain. You won’t find dragons and orcs here, but you will find world-class vino.
Imagine a town where everything is about wine. Villány (population 2,500), which is roughly 130 miles from Budapest, is one the oldest wine regions in Eastern Europe. But a half-century of communism, which nationalized the local cellars and estates, turned the town into a wine factory, leading to a decline in quality. After 1990, the town and its winemaking industry were reborn thanks to efforts by longtime vintners, says Zoltán Győrffy, a local wine expert. Today, several of those vintners — like Bock and Gere — have gained international recognition.
With its remarkable “cellar density” of more than 50 cellars — most of which line the main street — Villány is a great place for a cellar crawl. As Villány vintner Tamás Günzer puts it: “Nowhere else can you sample the selection of dozens of great wineries in a few steps’ distance from each other and sip a cup of wine while chatting with the cellar’s host.”
Perhaps the best-known cellar in Villány, the Bock Cellar, owned by József Bock and family, is also one of the oldest. Calling it a cellar is an understatement — it’s a series of long tunnels filled with huge wine barrels. Villány’s most famous wine, the cabernet franc, is one of Bock’s specialties. The Villány Mountains’ volcanic soil is ideal for full-bodied red wines, says Győrffy, and it’s one of the most sought-after Hungarian vintages. Bock Cellar is open to the public, and wine-tastings, which take place in a gorgeous circular cellar known as the Villány Bock Chapel, can be arranged.
Near the town center, the Agancsos winery, owned by Kovács Zoltán and family, offers a more old-school experience. Entering into the renovated press-house feels like stepping into the good old days, before the two world wars. The Kovács family was one of the pioneers of Villány’s renaissance, starting its enterprise right after the fall of communism. The winery’s name (agancsos means “antlered” in Hungarian) reflects another of Zoltán’s passions: hunting. The popular portugieser, a “fruity and jauntier” wine, according to Győrffy, is the backbone of Villány’s wine production because it can be produced in large quantities.
Tamás Günzer’s little “wine empire,” as he calls it, began in 1991 and specializes in white wines — for me, sipping the Mont Blanc evokes the feeling of standing in a mountain meadow in a cool breeze — but also produces reds and rosés. Günzer says he inherited his love of winemaking from his father, but had to create everything else from scratch. He started with a tiny 0.3-acre piece of land; today, the plantation is 45 acres. The 200-year-old cellar is open to the public, and tours of the plantation (accompanied by a few glasses of wine, of course) can also be arranged.
In Villány, there are still more wines and places to discover. “There are always new experiences. Villány is continually evolving and transforming,” say Győrffy. Here are a few more to add to your crawl.