This is not a joke. We really did drink it. Read on…
On the outskirts of the baroque town of Eger in North-Eastern Hungary lies The Valley of the Beautiful Women (Szépasszony-völgy in Hungarian). Skirting both sides of this valley are the cellars of many small Hungarian wine producers. The cellars are built into the hillside, mostly underground, with the name of each winery displayed out front. Inside each there is a bar for tasting and there are tables inside and out for drinking.
Hungary is better known for its wines than its beer. The Eger wine region produces many types of wine but is primarily known for its Bikaver wine, which translates as ‘Bull’s Blood’. It is a robust blended wine which varies considerably from cellar to cellar. Officially it must contain at least 3 of the 11 traditional grapes varieties from the region. Eger was the first Districtus Hungaricus Controllatus (DHC) in Hungary, an appellation control concept similar to France’s Appellation d’Originelée (AOC).
According to legend the name Bull’s Blood originates from the siege of Eger castle around 1552. The small group of soldier’s manning the castle were given red wine to boost their spirits. Among the Turks who laid siege to the castle it was rumoured that bull’s blood was mixed in to their wine, because the strength and resistance of the garrison and townspeople could not be explained. Believing they could not win, the Turks gave up.
There is a large cellar and cave system beneath the town of Eger, where many of the wines are produced. The Valley of the Beautiful Women appears to be more of a marketing spot for tasting and drinking and not so much a place for wine production or storage.
Even still, the Valley of the Beautiful Women is a phenomenon. People come from far and wide to taste the wines, or to sit inside or outside the cellars and drink. We were there in the early afternoon on a Monday, so things were pretty quiet. We were cautiously enjoying our first tasting (not that good) when we met a Czech businessman and his Hungarian wife. They were very friendly and recommended two cellars for us to visit. It turned out that they had been there ‘tasting’ since 10 AM and had purchased several cases of Bikaver to take with them. He admitted developing a strong taste for it during previous trips to the region. We visited the two cellars they suggested, tasted, and bought a nice bottle of Bikaver at each.
One of the best things about the Valley of the Beautiful Women is that, in addition to the better wines, they provide an option to purchase basic wine very cheaply. If you bring your own bottles, they will fill them for less than $2. The minimum purchase is 2 Litres, so people literally bring their used pop (‘soda’ for any Americans reading) bottles and fill ‘em up. To be part of the fun, we bought a 2 litre green glass bottle for about $2 and had it filled with red wine for less than the cost of the bottle!
We couldn’t resist going to this cellar because it shared the same name as our friend Wanda! We asked and ‘Wanda’ was the name of the owner.
I tried but couldn’t figure out why it is called ‘The Valley of the Beautiful Women’. Is it because the women hired to serve the wine and conduct tastings in the cellars are all beautiful? Perhaps. Or is it because, after an extended visit to the valley, every woman looks beautiful?