Opening a wine bar in Hungary has led me to some changes with my appreciation of wine. In my prior life, I would never add ice or soda to a glass of wine. Wine wasn’t some cocktail to be improved by tinkering. If you don’t like the wine, find another one. If you want it chilled, plan ahead and pop it in the fridge. Or grab an ice bucket. But here my stance is growing soft. Hungary has a tradition of making fröccs—adding soda to wine—which is silently eroding my boundaries. And it’s not some freak fad that’s going away tomorrow. While its history is a littly murky, apparently born out of adversity in the mid 20th century, the staying power of fröccs rivals that of successful family dynasties. Today it’s an integral drink of Hungarian social life and a quintessential part of our wine bar’s offerings.
A Fascinating History: A Drink Born with Political Implications
Its origins trace back to when Hungarian scientist-inventor-Benedictine priest Ányos Jedlik decided to soften his wine by adding soda water to it at a dinner party in 1842. Heightening the moment’s grandeur, Ányos had brought with him the world’s first soda siphon to make the drink possible. While not inventing soda water, he is credited with pioneering industrial scale carbonated water. With a great new drink in hand, the people at the party needed a name for it. Since German was the primary language of the nobility at the time, Ányos called the drink “spritzer”, meaning “sparkling water” in Austrian-German.
The invention’s influence far outgrew a simple thirst-quenching low alcohol trend; the dinner party’s guest list included famed poet Mihály Vörösmarty. He didn’t appreciate using German for such a great Hungarian invention so he renamed it “fröccs” after the Hungarian word “fröccsen”, “to splash”. It was, after all, an act of “splashing” soda water out of the siphon to make the drink. The Hungarian naming fit right in with the political landscape as the Hungarian language was evolving and becoming representative of a growing movement towards independence from Austria. In his ‘Fóti Dal’ poem, it’s said Vörösmarty symbolizes Hungary’s right to independence with the rising bubbles of fröccs.
Tough Times Legitimize Fröccs
The progressive history of fröccs was likely fueled by the tragic political devastation to Hungary’s wine industry under the communist regime. A century after its discovery, fröccs became a go-to answer for making the diminishing quality of wine bearable. When the communist government demanded quantity quotas be hit, the surge in production disconnected from all quality oriented philosophies. A captive wine-appreciating population with nowhere to go for better wine did what any sensible customer base would, they diluted till the juice became drinkable. It was no longer a drink pushing comfort zones to open up wine drinking to a broader public, it was a way to make a beloved product less bad.
“I used to drink wine only as wine. An occasional sangria or mulled wine was fine, but no other messing with its integrity. Now, yeah I’ll add soda. Or hell, I’ll even pop a few ice cubes into a glass of rosé”.
What Makes a Good Fröccs?
It’s important to understand that ultimately Fröccs is dilution of wine. Just like cocktails benefit from shaking the ingredients with ice, adding soda to wine softens the alcoholic edges and adds a touch of freshness. But since water is being added to wine, I recommend starting with a wine that has character. A thin or weak wine will only disappear into a murky soup without any clear motif for you to enjoy. Also, find a white wine or rosé with medium to high acidity. Sparkling wine relies on acidity to give it a backbone. Given that, drinkers can then benefit from the nuanced flavors and bubbly texture. In a similar way, Fröccs leans on acidity to make the pairing of soda and wine work. And if you really want to make a Fröccs with red wine then go for lighter, fruity reds with high acidity. In general, avoid wines with oak. Not to say that they can’t work, but usually these aromas will get lost, or will just distract from the simple and pleasing fruity notes. And tannins or bitterness don’t present well in Fröccs.
A Quintessential Part of Hungarian Social Life
Fröccs is everywhere. There is no discrimination for dinking one. From dive bars to fine dining, poolside to rooftop glamour bars, it’s always available. Even fine wine snobs will spring for it, though they will be more selective about the right place for it. It’s not common to see it accompanying dinners. Mind as well enjoy wine paired to your dishes if you’re eating out. But for lunch, when hydration and low alcohol matter more, it’s totally fine. For the younger alcohol-aged crowd, Fröccs is often drunk throughout the evening. It’s perhaps the safest choice amongst alcoholic drinks— steady hydration to pad your night out.
Hungary Wins, Wine Drinkers Win, Wine Bars Win
Fröccs is not diluting the integrity of wine culture nor diminishing the prestige of wine bars. Yes, it’s democratizing wine, making it more available to a larger audience. And yes the qualities of wine are muted a bit. Wine purists may take issues with this and we understand. But look at the upsides: Bringing more people into wine drinking is good for the overall industry. It’s a stepping stone to later appreciating fine wine. It also makes wine consumption safer and a good option in a greater array of scenarios. I’d much rather drink Fröccs on a hot terrace mid summer than wine with medium to high alcohol. Plus Fröccs is inherently playful, which opens up wine to other kinds of tweaks like adding fruit or liqueurs to your drink. The customer all of a sudden gets to explore a whole other side to wine. And from my perspective as a wine bar owner, it’s super easy to prepare. I love the margins on anything that includes soda water, and the lower abv keeps my customers behaving better. Fröccs continues to shine in the modern day setting so why not honor Hungarian history and enjoy a cold one.