Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meeting Hungarian Food and Wine Experts Carolyn and Gabor Banfalvi in Budapest, Hungary

Picture: Carolyn and Gabor Bánfalvi at Drop Shop in Budapest

We recently traveled from Sopron in the West of Hungary, near Lake Neusiedl, to Villany, in the South – via Somlo and Budapest. In Budapest, we run into Wink Lorch and Brett Jones, who I knew from the European Wine Bloggers Conference 2010 in Vienna, at the Drop Shop Wine Bar. Wink and Brett were having dinner with Carolyn and Gabor Bánfalvi. We joined them from drinks after dinner. So, I had a chance to meet Carolyn Banfalvi , author of the award-winning culinary guidebooks Food Wine Budapest (Little Bookroom) and the Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary: With Budapest Restaurants and Trips to the Wine Country (Park kiadó), and her husband Gabor Banfalvi, who together operate the boutique tour company, Taste Hungary.

This posting is part of a little Hungary series following my trip to Hungary during the summer of 2010. I have already posted on The Wines of Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg in Somlo, Hungary , Dining and Wining at the Josef Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany, Hungary,Drop Shop Wine Bar in Budapest, Hungary. and Visiting Attila and Andrea Gere, and the Attila Gere Winery in Villany, Hungary. More postings to come. For other, earlier postings, related to Hungary, see the list below.

Wine in Hungary Over the Centuries

Wine was introduced to Hungary a long time ago, by the Romans. During the Turkish occupation beginning in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger, which was the basis for the red wine blend that later became known as Bull's Blood. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaji region became known for dessert wines. After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Portugieser (Kékoportó). From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard. The 2oth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt. Under Communism quality was neglected in favor of industrial production. Since 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, there has been a lot of new investment and renewed interest in the traditional varieties. In general, red grapes have been on the rise, although Somlo is known for its white wines.

Picture: Christian G. E. Schiller with Wink Lorch from WineTravelGuides, Brett Jones (The Wine Maestro), Carolyn Bánfalvi from Taste Hungary (left).

Hungary’s Wine Regions

Hungary has 22 designated wine regions, in all 4 corners of the country. Many people consider the red wines from Szekszárd and Villány in southern Hungary to be the cream of the crop. Around Lake Balaton, you will find the Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonboglár, and Badacsony regions. Further to the North, the Somló hill and Sopron region also offer fine wine. The vineyards of the Tokaji region were classified long before Bordeaux, already in the 1700s, with vineyards grouped into 3 categories depending on the soil, sun exposure and potential to develop noble rot. Noble-sweet Tokaji has been Hungary’s crowning glory for hundreds of years. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, noble-sweet Tokaji was a cherished wine enjoyed by the European Courts. Winemakers in Tokaji are struggling now to adjust to new market conditions.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Hungary

Carolyn and Gabor Bánfalvi

Carolyn Bánfalvi is from the Washington DC area in the USA. She met Gabor in Washington DC and moved with him to Budapest in 1999, shortly after earning a journalism degree. She is a freelance journalist and the author of the award-winning culinary guidebooks Food Wine Budapest (Little Bookroom) and the Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary: With Budapest Restaurants and Trips to the Wine Country (Park kiadó). She has written for dozens of international magazines and newspapers including Saveur, Gourmet.com, Gastronomica, Olive, and The Globe & Mail.

Picture: Annette Schiller with Carolyn Bánfalvi and Gabor Bánfalvi and Brett Jones in the back

Gábor Bánfalvi grew up in a food-obsessed family in a village in northwestern Hungary, learning how to cook from his mother. But it wasn’t until he spent a few years living outside of Hungary—which included time exploring France, studying in Spain, working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and tending bar and waiting on tables in the USA —that he realized how spectacular and underrated his native Hungarian cuisine is. Gábor holds a Master’s Degree in Spanish linguistics and literature and has extensive translating and interpreting experience. He holds an advanced level certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

Taste Hungary

Gabor and Carolyn operate the boutique tour company, Taste Hungary, which specializes in food and wine tours in Budapest and Hungary. Carolyn said: “We try to show people that there is so much more to Hungarian cuisine than goulash and paprika. Local contacts and inside knowledge, which we have been gathering over the years in Hungary, are key to good travel experiences. We have made it our mission to introduce travelers to Hungary’s authentic flavors and tastes. Our guests all count their food and wine experiences among the highlights of their trips to Hungary.”

Two Books: Food Wine Budapest and the Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary: With Budapest Restaurants and Trips to the Wine Country

Carolyn explained that “The books include restaurant reviews and tips on everything from what to order and how to read the menu to shopping at specialty food and wine shops and visiting the markets. They are practical guides that contain the vocabulary you’ll need to dig into Hungarian food and discover all of the good things hidden behind the difficult Magyar language.”

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Tokaji: Depressing and Encouraging News from Hungary

A Rich Selection of Hungarian Wines at the Hungarian Embassy in the US

Wine Bar: The Wine Bar by Bazilika, Budapest, Hungary

Blue Danube Wine Company - A Good Source for Quality Eastern and Central European Wines in the US

Dining and Wining at the Josef Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany, Hungary

The Wines of Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg in Somlo, Hungary

Drop Shop Wine Bar in Budapest, Hungary

Visiting Attila and Andrea Gere, and the Attila Gere Winery in Villany, Hungary

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