Wine Profile: Bull's Blood

As one might imagine, the centuries-old European vineyards have their fair share of haunting tales. Take the fascinating Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood, made only in the town of Eger, Hungary.  The gory name invokes a legendary and bloody siege in 1552, when the locals defeated a challenging Ottoman army after – so the story goes – days of feasting and drinking.

The town had a large population of winemakers, perhaps in no small part due to the law (just lifted about 30 years ago, actually) forbidding the presence of women in the wine cellars.

Fleeing Turks, shocked by red stains on the mouths and beards of their vanquishers, declared that that they must have mixed bull’s blood into the wine in order to achieve such strength.

Bull’s Blood achieved a zenith in the 70s before falling from style, but is now being re-imagined by a new group of winemakers who have replaced the legendarily heady, brash wine with a more elegant, easier drinking quoiff, though it is still potent and dry. With their inspiration, Bull’s Blood became the first quality wine in Hungary's ever to be produced in a specified region in 1997. Though historically the primary grape in Bull’s blood wines was Kékfrankos, now a blend of three of the following is acceptable:  Bíbor Kadarka, Blauburger, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Kékoportó, Menoire, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Turán or Zweigelt.

We celebrate these entrepreneurial young winemakers, who while rejuvenating these historic vines and vineyards, uncover and preserve the past as well. While Hungarian winemakers do now allow women in the cellar, there is still one tradition they keep. Upon opening a bottle they pour themselves the first draught, but rather than drinking, dump it to the ground.

Because the dead, they believe, should get the first taste.