Wine Tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women
Legend has it that István Dobó fortified his badly outnumbered soldiers (fewer than 2,000 versus 80,000) with red wine while they successfully defended Eger against the Turkish siege. When the Ottomans saw the red-stained beards, rumors circulated that the Hungarians were drinking bull's blood to attain their strength. Thus, the name of the region's most famous red wine, Egri Bikavér (Bull's Blood of Eger), came to be.
Another story tells of a strong red Hungarian wine that supposedly saved a clever Hungarian girl from her fate with a Turkish sultan. During the time of the Turkish occupation, it's said a young girl was summoned to become a member of the local sultan's harem. Not wanting this fate for his daughter, her father gave her a bottle of Egri Bikavér to take to the sultan. He told her to tell the ruler it was bull's blood, and would make him invincible. The sultan, being Muslim, was unaccustomed to alcohol, and proceeded to pass out, leaving the daughter unharmed. (…although I'm not sure what became of her after his hangover wore off)
Szépasszony-völgy, with some 200 cellars, has been connected with the fame of Eger wines for centuries. The name of the valley is lost to legend, but some ethnographers believe that "Szépasszony" (beautiful woman) was a goddess of a pre-historic religion, similar to Venus (the goddess of love). Sacrifices were offered to her at this location.
Farmers speak of a famously beautiful woman who used to sell Eger wine in one of the cellars. According to others, the valley was named after one of the beautiful ladies of a noble villa. The origin of the name, as well as the time the first cellars were initially constructed, cannot be determined by archives.
The gem of Szépasszony-völgy are really the hundreds-year-old cellars that have been carved into the several hundred-meter thick rolite tufa. This material can be formed perfectly, and can permanently maintain wine at a temperature of 10-15°C (50-59°F). Varying amounts of mosses and noble mold found in the cellars give each carved cave a unique atmosphere, and help the mellowing of the wine and the formation of its fragrance.
The valley is indeed a hotbed for tourism nowadays, but the amazing construction of the cellars, and the delicious wines contained within them, doesn't seem to suffer greatly for it. And although cellar staff spoke little to no English, we didn't have a difficult time getting free tastings of some fantastic wines.
People who bring their own containers (a plastic bottle for water served us nicely) can purchase wine directly out of the casks. Many varieties (of which there are at least a dozen shared between the vineyard families who individual cellars) start selling between 300–500 Hungarian forints (US$1.85–3.10) per liter. Considering most bottles of wine are 750ml (3/4 of a liter), that's a pretty damn decent deal for wine straight from the casks to your mouth.
An envious Aidric even weaseled his way into tasting a few wines—we were surprised (and entertained) to find the kid really enjoyed the drops of the sweet stuff we gave him. Likewise entertaining is how Aidric has really developed a sort of selective stranger anxiety. He consistently cries only when unattractive people talk or hold him, and always laughs and flirts with the pretty girls. What a stud.