In early 2008 Hungarian wine critic Péter Uj took criticism to an extreme in the national newspaper Népszabadság – decrying the poor quality of much Hungarian wine and going so far as to describe the produce of one of the major State owned wine traders (Tokaj Kereskedőház) as “shit”.
Tokaj Kereskedőház took offence at this and sued Mr Uj, with the Budapest district court convicting him of defamation in June 2009. An appeal followed to the Budapest Regional Court who changed the verdict to libel in Novermber 2009, and a further appeal to the Hungarian Supreme Court failed in May 2010. While this may sound somewhat surprising (a critic being convicted for being critical, shock..horror!) the verdict was apparently on the grounds that describing the wine as ‘shit’ was unnecessarily insulting and affected the wine producer’s good reputation.
Luckily for Uj Hungary is now part of the European Union and he took his appeal higher still, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg who overturned the conviction last week, as reported on the Politics.Hu website. Uj was also awarded costs of over €3500 to be paid for by the Hungarian State (although there is scope for a retaliatory appeal over the next 3 months). Unsurprisingly the news has made the Wine media, with Decanter reporting on it last Friday and US wine blog Vinography a day later – both are well worth a read.
As a half-Hungarian wine lover I can only shake my head at the absurdity of this going as far as Strasbourg – Hungary has been out from under the communist thumb for long enough to realise the importance of freedom of speech, especially in the EU, and its courts should have known better than to uphold the convictions for a mere journalistic rant.
As Alder Yarrow states on the Vinography blog Hungary makes some great wines; from the sweet Tokaji Aszú (Marks & Spencer do a tasty 5 Puttonyos by Hilltop for about £17) to some superb dry Furmint (Waitrose and Carruthers & Kent both have the Patricius, Richard Granger do the Disznókö – all for around the £9-10 mark), so we shouldn’t need to endure the oxidised shit that Uj was complaining about!