Monday, August 13, 2012

Hungary's Mythical Bull’s Blood Wine

Egri Bikavér, or “bull’s blood,” is a Hungarian red wine seeped in history and myth. The name of the red blend supposedly dates back to the 16th Century invasion of Suleiman the Magnificent. The invading Turks thought the hard-fighting Hungarians must’ve been getting some sort of strength from the dark red wine they drank. According to legend, the Turks suspected that this Hungarian wine was blended with the blood of bulls. No bulls are actually slaughtered in the making of Egri Bikavér, but it’s a dark, brooding and somewhat scary wine nonetheless.

According to Hungarian wine laws passed in the 1990s, Egri Bikavér must contain at least three of the following 13 grapes varieties: kadarka, blaufränkisch, blauer portugieser, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, menoire, pinot noir, syrah, turán, bíborkadarka and the modern Austrian hybrids blauburger and zweigelt. The blend that makes up bull’s blood has varied over the years, although it is rooted in the ancient kadarka variety. Kadarka is a tough grape to work with, and over the past few decades many vintners have replanted with the blaufränkisch variety, known as kékfrankos in Hungary.

I don’t drink much bull’s blood, mainly because these wines are difficult to find in the United States. But I pulled the cork on a bottle over the weekend and it piqued my interest again in this strange red wine. The wine I tasted is labeled simply “bull’s blood of Eger” and “Bottled by Vitavin Co.” The whole package seems a bit shady, and the label looks like some sort of combination of a Soviet propaganda poster and a Norwegian black metal album cover. 

I poured the wine into a decanter and drank it over the course of two days. The color reminds me of a farm-fresh cherry juice. The wine smells like cherry juice as well, with an herbal-toasty kick to it. On the palate, this wine shows high acid and astringent tannins. With time this wine became more balanced. Sour cherry fruit leads the way to a dusty and earthy flavor. This bull’s blood isn’t corked or faulty, but it’s definitely funky. It’s not just the name, but this wine really does have a meaty aspect to it. The taste and mouthfeel also remind me of fruit compote I used to drink when I lived in Ukraine. There’s also some herbal liqueur and some wild raspberry flavors that are interesting. By the second day the fruit started to taste creamier. A sweet and tangy flavor on the finish reminds me of southern style rhubarb pie. This wine is actually well-made, and because it’s fun and unique, I rated it 83 points.

To be honest, I don’t remember where I picked up this crazy red wine, or how much it cost. But I’m thinking I may need to track down some more Egri Bikavér for a proper tasting.

For some reason now I’m craving a big burger... medium-rare of course.

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