If you spend enough time exploring some of the more neglected corners of your local wine shop, you may run across this colorfully named wine from Hungary. Egri Bikaver, which translates as "bull's blood from Eger" (Eger is the region in Hungary where this wine originates), is a blend of several different grapes. As far as I can tell, the blending is not standardized, so this wine can potentially have a wide range of different styles and tastes. The grapes that are supposed to comprise the blend are Kadarka, Kekfrankos (known as Blaufrankish in Austria or Lemberger in Germany), Kekoporto (Portugieser in Austria and Germany), Cab Sauv., Cab Franc, Merlot, Kekmedoc (also known as Menoire), Pinot Noir, Blauberger and Zweigelt. Yikes!
From what I can gather, historically Kadarka was the primary grape used for this blend, but it is a finicky grower and many producers have reduced its role while promoting Kekfrankos to the forefront. Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson seem to think that this is a turn away from quality, but since I've never tasted "classic" Egri Bikaver, it's hard for me to say.
So what about that name? Legendary accounts have it that during a Turkish invasion, a group of soldiers in Eger were under siege in the Castle of Eger. To give them strength to repel the invasion (and, apparently, some liquid courage), they were given a banquet with a great deal of food and a whole lot of wine. They must have really tied it on during the feast, because when they showed up on the battlefield, their shirts were covered in the dark red wine. The Turks believed that the Hungarian defenders had been drinking bull's blood to give them strength in battle, and so they gave up.
So what does it taste like? I bought a bottle of Egervin's 2007 Bull's Blood for a whopping $7.99 to find out.
In the glass, it was a dark magenta color that was pretty solid out to the rim. It turned a little ruby at the edges. It wasn't as saturated as you might think something called Bull's Blood might be. It looked like a young, pretty well-extracted California Pinot Noir in the glass.
The nose was very juicy with a lot of red berry smells. Raspberry and light cherries were the predominant flavors. It wasn't a spectacular nose, but for $8, things were starting to look a little promising.
The wine was light to medium bodied, which was a big surprise. I've seen these bottles before and just assumed that there was a big tannic monster lurking in there. Not so, apparently. There were virtually no tannins in the wine at all and the fruit flavors were light cherry and some raspberry as well. The wine has a sky-high acidity and the finish turns a little musty and sour. This is certainly not a wine for contemplation or in-depth analysis; rather, it is a very food-friendly wine which would pair nicely with tomato based dishes or moderately heavy chicken and pork dishes. I'd probably stay away from steaks or roasts as it just doesn't have the tannin or heft to stand up to that kind of treatment.
It definitely reminded me of the few Lemberger's that I've had, in that it also reminded me somewhat of a pinot noir. It has the same kinds of ripe, light red berry fruits and low tannin that I associate with lower-tier California Pinot Noir. My guess would be that this is one of the Egri's that lean heavily on the Kekfrankos grape as opposed to the denser Kadarka. I will definitely keep my eyes open and try different brands if I see them around and will post updates below.