When I think Hungary, I don’t typically think wine, but they have some of the best wine that I’ve ever had (and I drink a lot of wine, so I’m basically a professional).
One day I decided to book a tour to Eytek, a city that produces lots of wine and is only about a 30 minute bus ride away.
The tour instructions I received in my email were very strict: have the voucher ready with your info, if you aren’t at your hotel at the exact time, we will leave without you, you have to confirm who you are to claim your spot, etc.
I watched a bus roll up to my hotel that said something about wine on the side of it, and I asked the guy if I was in the right place.
“Are you looking for a van to take you on a wine tour?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, scrambling for my ticket.
“Then go ahead and join us in the van.”
No questions. Didn’t even ask my name.
It sounds like a great way to abduct an adult—instead of bribing me with candy like a child to get in a van, there was the promise of wine.
But I hopped on board with no hesitation and joined a group of about 15 people.
We headed to three wineries, while I sat at a table with a couple from Texas listening to the husband talk about how he preferred bourbon as he poured the wine he didn’t like into his wife’s glass, and her talk about which bottles of what we were tasting that he needed to buy for her.
True love, really.
The tour guide was funny, telling us all about how Hungary produces a lot of wine, but essentially is quite capable of drinking all of the wine they produce as well, so they don’t really bother to ship it out anywhere.
As we ventured into the cellar of the second winery, a guy in his late twenties came in and introduced himself by telling us how when his dad told him he would have to start doing these tastings and speaking to people he thought about killing himself because it sounded so stressful but it was all a part of the plan for world domination for their tiny winery. I figured this was the husband I’ve been looking for.
He talked about how everybody wants to own a winery and say they own a winery until it’s time to pick the grapes, and then everyone conveniently has plans or is sick or comes up with some excuse because it is such hard work.
I wondered if I wasn’t cut out for the winery business after all. But maybe I’d be better at promoting it or something, but really I would end up drinking all of the profits away.
I said goodbye to my husband, knowing I’d have to think about whether it was worth it to pick grapes and do that much manual labor to join a wine family before I could make a commitment.
We ventured to the last vineyard where we were getting a home cooked meal from the man who owned it as well as the quaint little restaurant overlooking it. He told us he was making a beef paprika stew with potatoes, rolls his grandmother taught him to make, and then some chocolate cake with blueberry compote for dessert.
All of this while tasting different wines. I was pretty much in my happy place.
The town was tiny and friendly. It was close enough to the city that it wouldn’t be difficult to get there, yet secluded and quiet which was a nice change of pace.
I inhaled the beef stew, which was delicious and sopped the juices up with the white bread the chef put on the table just for that purpose.
He came over to my table directly and asked me if I needed more.
“No, but it was delicious. Thank you,” I replied.
“The highest compliment you can pay a Hungarian chef is to clean your plate.”
“Well you guys must love me here then, because the food is amazing, and I don’t leave anything behind,” I joked.
“I can see. I won’t even need to put yours in the dishwasher.”
I died, both with laughter, and a little on the inside.
But hey, a compliment is a compliment. If all I have to do is eat the food in front of me, it was not going to be an issue to fit in.
And I found that cleaning a plate did in fact tend to be a high compliment in Hungarian culture. Which genuinely wasn’t a hard thing to do, and I impressed many a waiter with my ability to throw back a delicious meal with some Hungarian wine while in the city.
I had figured I was entering the land of goulash and sausage, but I had more amazing and varied meals there than I could have imagined. I genuinely don’t know how people don’t speak more highly of the food, yet somehow I didn’t know anything about Budapest before going in the first place, so I suppose it’s sort of like the best kept secret of Europe.
After dessert we took the van back to the city. I was a little sad that there wasn’t a way to spend more time at the wineries. Or that I hadn’t packed a suitcase specifically for wine transportation purposes like the wife of the Texas couple told me she had done on every trip she’s ever taken.
Maybe one day I would find my eastern European winery husband and live the dream, eating delicious food and peddling wine all day long to tourists. But until then, I would just have to savor the moment and enjoy the experience that I had.