Hungarian wine has come a long way in the past few years. Where once it was a mass produced wine produced in large volumes and exported to other countries in Eastern Europe, it is now of a high enough standard to be exported to leading European Union markets such as Germany and the UK.
Where only ten years ago wine exports outside of Eastern Europe were almost unheard of, now exports outside of the region account for 20 per cent of the annual 4.5 million hecolitres of wine produced in the country. With Hungary now an EU member state, industry experts believe that Hungary could be poised to become a major contender to New World wine producers in the EU market.
But Hungary's National Council of Winemakers this week announced that it is expecting wine exports to fall this year, mainly on account of the fact that marketing budgets have been seriously curtailed. In 2002 890,000 hecolitres of wine were exported out of Hungary, but by 2003 this figure was 743,000 hecolitires and this year, despite the prospect of a good harvest, only 700,000 litres of Hungarian wine is expected to reach the export market.
Csaba Horváth cites two main reasons for the dwindling exports. Firstly, alongside France, Hungary is the only EU country to levy taxes on wine exports, often overpricing it against the competition. But perhaps more telling is the pitiful budget allocated by the government towards the promotion of Hungarian wines, which at around €800,000 pales when compared the budgets of other major wine exporting nations.
Of the 17 main wine growing districts in Hungary it is the Tokaj region that is best known. Producing some of the country's finest wines, it has built up a particularly strong reputation in the UK - a market known for its openness to new wines. Main of the wineries in this region export up to 50 per cent of the wine they produce.
But Tokaj wines are the exception. The other regions, though still producing good quality wines, are little known outside of Hungary - testimony to the claims that the country's wines are being under sold.