8 Budget-Friendly Wine Tasting Destinations
Although overshadowed by its Czech neighbors in malt matters, Hungary leads the Eastern European region in wine, both in quantity and quality. The country is best known, perhaps, for the Tokaj region, which specializes in sweet wines. The grapes are often harvested as late as December, many having developed the condition of "noble rot," which serves to concentrate the fruit’s sweetness.
Elsewhere, many other varietals are grown, generally Hungarian grapes, and skewing toward whites, although several reds, such as the Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger), are known globally. Of interest is the kékfrankos grape, which is becoming quite popular in the country.
For travelers, the best place to start would be Budapest, which is fast emerging as a wine-tasting mecca of sorts, and is the center of all the transportation networks. Both buses and trains offer youth discounts, as well as competitive rates compared to Western Europe.
Private rooms in Budapest start at less than $15 a person, and hostel beds can be had for half of that, making it accessible for all budgets. Make sure you sample a glass at one of Budapest’s famous Ruinpubs, which are multistory bars built into abandoned Soviet-era apartment complexes. A glass at a bar will around $2 to $3, while quite decent bottles can be had from $5 to $6.
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Turks have a phrase for ultra-cheap wine: köpek öldüren, which translates as "dog-killing wine," so do yourself a favor here and don’t buy the cheapest bottle you can find. That said, travelers will find Turkey to be as climatically blessed as other Mediterranean wine powerhouses, producing quite
world-class bottles. Ephemerally, the country also contains at least two different claimants of "World’s Oldest Wine Region," and the fabled vineyards of Noah, which lends the grapes a venerable aura, to say the least. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/VideoVik)
Produced mainly on the Western coast, especially near Izmir, Turkish wine is quite evenly divided between European and Turkish grapes, most produced by the state-run vineyards, the first of which was establish by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In addition, the last 20 years have seen the establishment of many boutique wineries, many of whom have been quite well received internationally.
For sampling Turkish wines, expect to pay from $8 to $15 for a decent bottle, while a glass should be around $5 to $7 at a bar. For a room in Istanbul or other big cities, you might pay from $12 to $30 per person, with half that outside the city. To get close to the action, you might choose to travel to Izmir, which is known for its student-packed streets and liberal attitudes. Travel within the country’s extensive bus network is quite cheap: $5 for every 100km, while smaller towns and attractions are served by the Dolmuş (shared mini-bus) network.