by Caroline Gilby MW

There is probably more Hungarian wine sold in the UK than most consumers or trade are aware of. The country is outside the top ten suppliers to this market so data is not widely publicized and it’s expensive to buy. Hungarian government export data are simply wrong, according to one of Hungary’s biggest exporters. And one source who does have access to Nielsen data says that there are zero identifiably Hungarian sales reported in the last two years (to August 2016) in the grocery and impulse sectors.

I suspect the picture is confused by several factors. One successful brand with listings in the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s among others is I Heart. This is a multi-country brand, sourced from wherever wines deliver the right style and quality/price ratio. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are currently from Hungary, according to various supermarket websites and Sauvignon Blanc has also been sourced from Hungary.  Wines like these may not be picking up press ratings and medals but are delivering the kind of wine that many consumers want to drink at good-value prices.

Hungarians themselves may not always see it, but if consumers are choosing these wines based on the variety and then realise it’s from Hungary, it is helping to raise the country’s (limited) profile as a wine producer. Undoubtedly there is a lot of Italian-lookalike private label Pinot Grigio shipped into the UK, but it is almost certainly better than the Italian versions at the same price, so again helping create a category.

Consumers open to Hungarian wines may be persuaded to try some of the most interesting grapes and styles being produced and several multiple grocers now list a dry Tokaji or Tokaji Furmint.

Another confusing factor in the statistics may be that shipments to Europe-wide retailers like Lidl are almost certainly classified as exports to Germany. Lidl Hungary has become a major shipper of Hungarian wine in the last couple of years with press reports claiming exports of 4 million bottles in 2015. Some of this will have gone to countries such as Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia but a sizeable volume came to the UK where Lidl successfully listed wines like Tokaji Furmint, Irsai Oliver, Bikavér and even Juhfark.

So perhaps the UK consumer is more open to Hungarian wine than the trade thinks?