One of Hungary's most famous wines, Bull's Blood, or Egri Bikaver, is internationally known and connected to an exciting legend from Hungary's past. Indulge in Bull's Blood, made in Eger, when you visit Hungary—drink it with a hearty bowl of stew or a cut of game meat. Or if you're serious about wine, visit Eger yourself to sample Bull's Blood from the source.
Origins of Bull's Blood
The name of the wine originates from an event that happened in Eger, the town and region where the wine is produced, in the 16th century. During a Turkish siege of the city, the Hungarian troops, under command of the favorite hero of Eger today, Istvan Dobo, were fed local food and wine, and that included the red wine from nearby vineyards. Rumor spread that this dark red wine was mixed with bulls' blood to give the 2,000 soldiers strength. In fact, this small band of defenders successfully fought back a much larger Turkish army, and Eger was temporarily saved from sacking.
Variations of the legend exist, and it's possible the name Bull's Blood didn't begin to be used until much later. However, the story emphasizes the enduring tradition of Egri Bikaver and its importance to the region.
Egri Bikaver's Characteristics
Bull's Blood of Eger varies in its quality and makeup, so generalizing the wine's characteristics can be difficult. Bull's Blood is a blended red wine made of three or more grapes, with the kekfrankos grape acting as the backbone to the other flavors of the wine. Previously, the kadarka grape was the mainstay of the blend, but a phylloxera epidemic seriously damaged kadarka vines, and it was replaced by kekfrankos as the anchor of the wine blend. Kadarka mostly disappeared from Egri Bikaver blends during the 1970s and '80s, but in the '90s, vines were replanted, and Egri Bikaver now generally includes kadarka and has returned to its original, richer taste. There are various levels of quality of Egri Bikaver, so if you're trying it out on your own, it's worth it to invest in a better bottle.
Those who are looking for the highest-quality Egri Bikaver should look for the Superior label. At least five grape varieties are used in its production, and the wine must be aged before being sold.
Eger, little known outside of Hungary, is a beautiful city graced with Baroque architecture, Turkish baths, wineries, museums, and its fortress—the castle where Istvan Dobo and his troops defended Egeras—as well as a minaret left over from a demolished mosque. Eger is easy to get to from Budapest, too—trains and buses leave the capital city regularly and can get you to Eger in less than three hours.
Wine cellars in the Valley of the Beautiful Women welcome visitors to Eger. Here you can learn about Bull's Blood and its production.
However, you don't have to travel to Eger to sample Bull's Blood. Wine is a central part of the culture in Budapest, and Bull's Blood is served at many restaurants. If you ask for wine suggestions, it's likely your server will recommend Bull's Blood since it is a jewel in the crown of Hungary's wine production.