Visiting French wine regions? Tons of books are out there to help you. What if you are about to explore the uncovered part of the wine world, like Croatia or Hungary? Here is a helping hand: let me introduce you Exotic Wine Travel and the latest addition to their Visitor-Friendly Guide series, “Discover Hungarian Wine”. I caught up with Matthew Horkey, one of the two authors, to learn about the book and the motivation behind it.
Matthew, who are you, how did this whole story get started?
I was born in Korea but adopted by farming family in Michigan (USA) with central European roots (hence the family name Horkey). Wine played ZERO part in my upbringing, in fact my family doesn’t drink. During my university days, I went to the premiere of the film “Sideways” and was amazed by the intellectual side of wine. From that point, I decided that I wanted to get into wine.
It wasn’t until graduate school until I had my “aha” wine moment. During a backpacking trip through Europe, my friends and I ordered a liter of house wine (Sangiovese) in Lucca, Tuscany. I was so amazed by how the wine smelled, I sniffed the carafe over and over, my friends thought I was a little crazy.
After that I experimented with wine but didn’t get into it seriously until I moved to Singapore after receiving my doctorate degree. There I met Charine, who was already a serious wine-o. We tasted together everyday and were at wine pairing dinners and events weekly.
My partner Charine Tan and I make up Exotic Wine Travel. We travel around the world full-time, writing, speaking, and producing videos about unique and exciting wines. During the course of a year, we usually taste between 4-5,000 bottled wines. It can get tiring but it’s always exciting.
I left my business and Charine Tan left her corporate career in the Spring of 2015. We set off to travel around the world. It became apparent in the first few months that we were spending all of our time and money visiting wineries and tasting wine. By the time we started traveling through Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia, we found there was a lack of information on the wines of these countries (since then the popularity of Georgian wines has exploded).
Charine has always been a Burgundy drinker while I’ve been a big fan of Italian wines. However, we had no name in the business and couldn’t jump in to writing about these wines with bigger reputations. From that point, we decided to start writing about the wines from obscure and exotic countries through books and our website Exotic Wine Travel.
Our first wine book was Uncorking The Caucasus: Wines from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. It was a humble first effort while our third book Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide won a Gourmand Award for 2nd place among ‘Best Wine and Spirits Tourism Book’ in the world. It was also a finalist for ‘Best European Wine Book of the Year’.
We hope that Discover Hungarian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide will be even better.
How did you got into Hungarian Wine?
The moment we first got excited about Hungarian wine was thanks to Győrffy Zoltán. In 2016 we attended two masterclasses back to back. The first was 2010 Bordeaux (3rd-5th growths) and the second was Villányi Franc by Zoltán. We were immediately impressed by how the Villányi Francs stood in comparison to the 2010 Bordeauxs. At that point, we made a vow to explore the wines of Hungary more in depth.
In the Fall of 2017, we came to explore the wines of Hungary in-depth. It was after the release of our third wine book and we were scouting out what areas to cover next. As we started visiting producers, we knew in our hearts that we would do a Hungarian wine book. During those six weeks we visited the regions and producers in Villány, Szekszárd, Egér, Tokaj, Balaton, Somló, and Neszmély. The quality of the wines really blew our minds.
Over the next two years, we would come back to Hungary whenever we could. We started collecting tasting notes and experiences over those years in preparation for our Hungarian book. We would explore more producers in places like Etyek, Mór, Kunság, and Hajós-Baja.
Our excitement over Hungarian wine continued to grow but so did our fear. There are so many small, hidden producers in Hungary and the language was a big barrier. We didn’t know if we would have the full scope of knowledge to produce the kind of book that we really wanted to do.
As more and more Hungarian articles were released on our website, we kept receiving emails from sommeliers and other wine professionals wanted to know more about Hungary. We had several people reach out to us and say, “when I was in Hungary, I looked at the wine list and felt confused”.
After several of those emails and comments, we decided to go into the project full steam.
What do you think about Hungarian wine quality?
We truly believe that Hungary is producing some of the most exciting wines in central and eastern Europe. Most wine geeks know about Tokaj conceptually, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people that have never tasted one of the wines. And if people have tasted a Tokaji, so many of them have never tasted a Hungarian wine from other regions.
What is so interesting about Hungary is the vast number of styles. From the Bikavérs from Szekszárd and Egér to the barrel-fermented whites of Somló, there are wines of real substance in Hungary. The high levels of acidity and drinkability also make Hungarian wines so appealing, especially as the wine world moves forward that style.
Charine and I are crazy about Tokaji Szamorodni Száraz in addition to well-made Somlói wines. She also loves rich, structured Villányi Franc while I like to go for a well made Bikavér, both Egri and Szekszárdi. The local white grapes like Furmint, Hárslevelú, and Juhfark are fantastic but I’m still high on Olaszrizling. We taste Olaszrizlings from all the surrounding countries all the time and some of my most memorable examples have been Hungarian.
Let me know a bit about the new book, “Discover Hungarian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide”.
We want this book to be intended for wine enthusiasts and professionals of all levels that want to visit Hungary or learn more about the wines. Our books have also struck a chord with people with roots from the countries we write about. It helps them feel more connected to their heritage.
The book will practical with breakdowns of all 22 districts and wine recommendations from each. It will also feature contributions from local Hungarian writers like Ercsey Dániel, Győrffy Zoltàn, Cartwright Éva and more. It was also have opinions from foreign experts like John Szabo, Masters of Wine Elizabeth Gabay and Caroline Gilby too.
We are not getting funding from the government. All of our capital will come from Kickstarter, so we can write an honest, unbiased book about Hungarian wines without compromise.
Find out more about the book on Kickstarer.