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We have no knowledge of which people first started cultivating vines in the region. In the 13th century, charters begin mentioning vineyards around the town of Gyongyos, whose wine had attained such a reputation by the 15th century that the city council banned the sale of local wine unless its quality was first ascertained by an inspector. Later, during the Ottoman wars, the Ottoman invaders vied with the Hungarian lords themselves in imposing various taxes on the growers of Gyongyos, ultimately contributing to the recession of viticulture in the area.

The region gained independence from the Eger-Visonta region in the 20th century. In the 1940’s, it was still referred to as Gyongyos-Visonta; the present name Matraalja dates from 1959. The villages of Aldebro, Feldebro and Verpelet were annexed to the Eger wine region in 1997.

In former centuries, the region’s staple consisted of Kadarka-based red wines such as the Visontai Voros, praised as recently as in 1947 as potentially smoother and spicier than the reds of the neighboring Eger. The Kadarka grape was also vinified to make the noted Gyongyosi Siller. These days, white grapes have gained the upper hand, with Rizling-szilvani topping the list, followed by Chardonnay, Olaszrizling, Muscat Ottonel, and Szurkebarat and a dozen or two of less common varieties. The most widespread red wine grapes are Kekfrankos and Zweigelt. Direct producers have been cut back in recent years, but in the smaller farms they still represent a regrettably large portion of the crop. The villages of Abasar, Nagyrede and Markaz supply a significant part of the country’s grafts from their nurseries.

In addition to Olaszrizling, Rizlingszilvani, Leanyka, Harslevelu, Tramini, and Chardonnay, the Mátra also produces the largest quantity of, and potentially the best, Muscat Ottonel wines in Hungary. The region’s better-known dry whites include Olaszrizlings from Gyongyos-Visonta, Abasar, Gyongyos, and Atkar. High sugar degrees in exceptional years and from the best vineyards may result in wines with some residual sugar, such as the Domoszloi Muskotaly or the Kompolti Muskotaly.

While the peasant folk carved their cellars in loess, lesser noblemen and aristocrats had the resources to cope with andesite and rhyolite, rocks much harder than loess to work with. Some fine examples of the local cellar architecture can be found on the Castle Hill of Gyongyospata, where the press houses were built in a tiered arrangement. The region’s largest cellar is the Haller Cellar in Gyongyostarjan. Having been under construction since 1740, this cellar has grown from 271 to 750 meters in length, and 6 meters wide in places. The village of Abasar hides another huge cellar carved in rhyolite. Legend has it that the early Hungarian King Aba Samuel is buried somewhere in its passageways. The most frequented and possibly the most spectacular sight in the area is the Farkasmaly Promontorium near Gyongyos, consisting of 26 cellars arranged in three tiers one above the other. The construction of this cellar complex started in 1785, and continued well into the 19th century.

Beside Tokaj, the Mátra is the only region in Hungary where the noble mold called Cladosporium cellare thrives in the cellars. For an explanation, one could do worse than point to rhyolite tuff as the common substratum for this remarkable fungus.

Area: 7574 hectares.

Climate: sheltered from wind.

Vine varieties and wines: Italian Riesling – dry, fresh acidic. Rieslingszilvani – fragrant, light, soft. Leanyka – fine, full. Harslevelu – spicy, harmonious, elegant. Tramini – fine fragrance, full, aroma-rich. Muscat-Ottonel – high alcohol contents, fragrant, high sugar degree. Though red wine production has gone back, Kekfrankos and Zweigelt wines are still produced. Wines made with reductive method, fitting the western taste better, can be found here too, which are fresher and contain less alcohol. Kosher wine is made here too.

For more interesting information:
> Hungarian wines and wineregions (authors: Zoltán Benyák, Tibor Dékány)
> Terra Benedicta 2003: Tokaj and Beyond (authors: Rohály Gábor, Mészáros Gabriella, Nagymarosy András)