Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
Home Page About Us:Write Us:Back Issues:Advertising:Index 
Events Polls Serving Wine EnoForum EnoGames Wine Places Aquavitae Wine Guide


 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 46, November 2006   
Tokaj - TokayTokaj - Tokay  Contents 
Issue 45, October 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 47, December 2006

Tokaj - Tokay

The most important wine area in Eastern Europe is the homeland of one of the most ancient and prestigious sweet wines, Tokaji Aszú, a jewel taking its origins from the noble mold Botrytis Cinerea

 For centuries pronouncing the name Tokaj - or Tokay, in its most frequent written form - implicitly meant referring to one of the greatest sweet wines known in the course of the history of wine making. Elected wine destined only to few lucky ones - generally noble and rich people - Tokaji Aszú, this is its name, has a long and prestigious story which is alive still today. The merit goes to a bizarre fungus, or better to say a mold - Botrytis Cinerea - which in particular and favorable conditions gives real nectars, but in adverse conditions becomes a real scourge for the grapes when it becomes gray rot which causes grapes to get rotten, while losing its noble character and becoming completely ignoble. Tokaj-Hegyalja, the region of Eastern Hungary in which it is found the city of Tokaj, despite it is mainly famous for its sweet wine, also makes interesting white dry wines, however the fame and prestige of its renowned sweet wine is such as to make all the other wines almost unknown.


The wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja
The wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja

 The wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja boasts a wine record few people would think of. Today, just like in the past, the so called botrytized wines were considered the élite among wine lovers, always looked for, appreciated and, in particular, expensive. Despite the association with wines form Sauternes and Barsac is frequent when wines produced with grapes affected by the Botrytis Cinerea come to mind, indeed this style of wines have their origin from Hungary, more precisely from the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. As it frequently happens, great things, the ones which can truly surprise, born at a chance and when they are not expected to come. It was by chance, or better to say, because of lucky circumstances, the great Tokaji wine was born, when the discouragement of seeing the grapes affected by the mold - today defined as noble - was transformed in one of the greatest triumphs, giving the noble courts in Europe an unique nectar.

 There are no reliable information about the beginning of the production of wines in the Tokaj region, however the vine is present in these lands since many centuries. There are many hypothesis about the presence of the vine in this region. Some believe the first vineyards were planted in Tokaj at the beginning of the twelfth century, other believe the vine was present in this territory before the times Magyars arrived in these lands, that is before the ninth century. Others support the hypothesis the first forms of viticulture are dated back to the times of Celts, a theory which seems to be confirmed by some fossil archaeological findings. The origin of Tokaj name is not clear as well. It is believed it comes from the Slav word stokaj, that is “confluence”, as in the city of Tokaj there is the confluence of Bodrog and Tisza rivers. Another hypothesis suggests it comes from an Armenian word, whose meaning is grape. Famous is the dispute about the use of this name - now over - with the homonymous grape from Friuli Venezia Giulia, Tocai Friulano, which from the 31st of March 2007 will be forced to change its name and, it should be remembered, has nothing in common with any Hungarian grape.


 

 Among reliable information about viticulture in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region, it is known in medieval times came Italian and Vallon viticulturists, coming from south Belgium, invited by king Bela II and then by king Bela IV, who established near the city of Tokaj. There are other reliable information that since the twelfth century, viticulture was practiced in these lands. The wines of the region were known later, between the end of fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Singular and curious is the story of Tokaji Aszú production which, despite it represents only the 10% of total production in the region, it is the wine which mainly identifies Tokaj. Its “discovery” is dated back to 1650 in the estates which were, at those times, property of Zssuzsanna Lorántfly. Máté Szepsi Laczkó, priest of the estate, was also in charge for the production of wine and vineyards care. Because of a sudden attack of the Turk army, he was forced - because there was no working force as all men were called to the arms - to delay harvesting.

 Grapes were then affected by the so called “noble mold” Botrytis Cinerea which altered both the aspect and the organoleptic qualities. Harvesting was done at the end of the attack, when the grapes were showing evident and “preoccupying” signs of the effects of the mold. The priest did not get discouraged and however proceeded with harvesting and decided to make wine from those grapes. The result was tasted for the first time in occasion of the following Easter holidays. What they drank from the glasses was so good and special which surprised everyone: the story of a great wine was just born and with it the prestige and fate of Tokaj enology. From that lucky event, in short time the sweet wine of Tokaj become the preferred wine of the noble class all over Europe, found in the table of few elected ones and, in particular, of rich people. Among famous supporters of Tokaji Aszú, is mentioned king Louis XIV, who received a gift in 1703 of a bottle of this wine from the prince of Transylvania Francis II Rákóczi, and defined it as Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum, that is king of wines, wine of kings. A definition which strongly contributed to the spreading and prestige of the refined sweet wine of Tokaj.

 Wines from Tokaj reached their highest moment of splendor in the eighteenth century, when noble classes in Poland and Russia became the main consumers of Tokaji Aszú. The Czar of Russia, in order to ensure a continuous supply of Tokaji Aszú to his court, established a colony of guards in Hungarian territory. The splendor of Tokaji Aszú was interrupted by the subdivision of Poland in 1795 and by the subsequent import taxes. In later times, phylloxera, just like in other area in Europe, was responsible of severe damages to vineyards and, finally, the subdivision of Hungary, ratified by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, limited the trading of this wine. During the communist regime, there was another lowering in quality, which drastically compromised the reputation of this historical and prestigious wine. It will be necessary to wait for the 1990s to see a renewed walk of Tokaji Aszú towards quality, when it happened what it is now considered as the Tokaj Renaissance, also thanks to the huge investments of foreign subjects in local wineries: the history and prestige of Tokaj Aszú goes on.

 

Classification of Tokaj

 Vineyards in the Tokaj area, destined to the production of sweet wines, have been the first ones in the world to be classified according to quality criteria. In 1700, 155 years before the famous classification of Bordeaux, prince Rákóczi issued a royal decree which classified Tokaj vineyards in first, second and third class. The classification made use of Latin terms primae classis (first class), secundae classis (second class) and tertius classis (third class). The decree also defined the special classification pro mensa caesaris primus (first quality destined to the royal table) uniquely reserved to the vineyards of Csarfas and Mézes Mály. In the royal decree of 1700 were classified 173 quality vineyards, whereas the remaining ones were mentioned as “non classified”. This classification system remained in force until the beginning of the communist regime, period in which the quality of Tokaji Aszú was drastically compromised: the bad cultivation of vineyards made the system useless and with no sense. The path for quality was resumed in Tokaj only in the 1990s, when the main wineries of the area founded the Tokaj Renaissance association with the explicit goal of giving back the ancient classification system its dignity.

 

Production Areas

 Wines from Tokaj are produced in the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, literally meaning the Tokaj hill. Tokaj, name with which is identified the homonymous Hungarian city, is written in English and in other western countries as Tokay. The same term is used for translating Tokaji, whose literal meaning is of Tokaj, from Tokaj. The Tokaj-Hegyalja region is found at about 200 kilometers north-east from Budapest (about 130 miles), near the borders with the Slovak Republic. The region includes twentyeight villages located in the hill's slopes, in the ruins of ancient volcanoes. In the region are being produced both dry and sweet wines, however the most renowned wine certainly is Tokaji Aszú, the famous wine produced with grapes affected by Botrytis Cinerea and which represents about 10% of total production. The most important grape in Tokaj is Furmint, with which are produced both dry and sweet wines. The other grapes of the area, all being used for the production of Tokaji Aszú, are Hárslevelü, Muscat Lunel (name with which it is called Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) and Orémus, an extremely sensitive grape to the attacks of noble mold Botrytis Cinerea.

 

Tokaji Aszú

 Tokaji Aszú is the result of particular and positive environmental and enological conditions allowing the making of a great wine. First of all the environmental condition, with an absolutely suited climate for the proper development of Botrytis Cinerea, even though not in all the years the phenomena takes place in the right way for the production of Tokaji Aszú. The Carpathians shield the Tokaj-Hegyalja region from the cold winds blowing from east, north and west, therefore allowing a pretty mild temperature also in autumn. The hilly position, in particular the composition of soil of volcanic origin, the presence of the Bodrog and Tisza rivers, are all factors ensuring the essential alternation between humidity and warm in order to favor the development of Botrytis Cinerea without degenerating in gray rot. Of course, these conditions are not enough in order to make a great botrytized wine. An important role is in fact played by the typical white berried grapes cultivated in the region and with which it is being produced the renowned Tokaji Aszú.

 The quality of Tokaj grapes ensures a very good balance between sweetness and acidity, first of all the Furmint, having a thick skin and very good acidity and, of course, sensitive to the effects of Botrytis Cinerea. It then comes, in order of importance, Hárslevelü which, despite it is less sensitive to noble mold, it is pretty acid and aromatic. The aromas of Tokaji Aszú are then completed by Muscat Lunel, known in France as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. From 1993 on, in the production of Tokaji Aszú is also permitted Orémus, a very sensitive grape to the effects of Botrytis Cinerea and with a high content of sugar. The production of this renowned wine is pretty laborious. During harvesting, each berry is being picked from the grapes affected by noble mold and, after having slightly crushed, it is obtained a “paste”. The rest of the grapes, that is the sane ones and not affected by Botrytis Cinerea, are harvested, crushed and used for the production of a base wine. To this base wine is then added the Aszú “paste” (this is the name used in Tokaj to refer to botrytized grapes) and the quantity will determine sweetness.

 The quantity of Aszú paste added to the base wine is measured in puttonyos, from 1 to 6. The puttonyo is the basket used for harvesting and contains about 20-25 kilograms of grapes, corresponding to about 20 liters of Aszú paste. The adding is done in the gönci, a barrel containing about 140 liters. A wine having in the label the 3 puttonyos mention means it was produced with 60 liters of Aszú paste and 80 liters of base wine. After a variable period from eight hours to three days, the wine undergoes to a second and slow fermentation in the humid underground caves covered with mold. According to the law, Tokaji Aszú must be aged for at least 2 years in cask and for one in the bottle before being commercialized. Tokaji is also produced in the Eszencia style, exclusively produced with the must obtained by the crushing of grapes under their own weight. The concentration of sugar is so high, more than 45%, that fermentation occours very slowly - a process which can also last many years, when it happens - with an alcohol by volume of about 2-5%. The result is a thick and rich syrup, not only in sweetness, but also in aromas: a real rarity capable of aging even for centuries.

 

The Other Wines of Tokaj

 Despite the Tokaj-Hegyalja is famous in the world for its renowned Aszú, here are also produced other styles of wine, both dry or sweet and demi-sec. The most famous dry wine of Tokaj is produced with the Furmint grape - now pretty easy to find outside the borders of Hungary - a wine characterized by a pretty high acidity. Also the Hárslevelü grape is used for the production of dry wines, usually smoother and more aromatic than the ones produced with Furmint. Both grapes are also used for the production of late harvests. Another famous wine from Tokaj is the Szamorodni - literally as it comes - produced with grapes non sufficiently affected by Botrytis Cinerea and therefore not used for the Aszú. Szamorodni is produced in the Száraz (dry) and Édes (sweet) styles. The Édes style is produced by stopping the fermentation of the must therefore leaving residual sugar in the wine. According to the law, Szamorodni must be aged in cask for at least two years. Most of the times, casks are not completely filled, therefore favoring a slight oxidation of the wine, a characteristic giving dry and toasted fruit aromas, similar to the ones found in Sherry (Jerez).

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 46, November 2006   
Tokaj - TokayTokaj - Tokay  Contents 
DiWineTaste Polls
What is the most pleasing aspect in wine tasting?


Result   Other Polls

 Share this poll   Share on Google+ 
In what moment of the day do you usually drink wine?


Result   Other Polls

 Share this poll   Share on Google+ 
What kind of wine do you like having in January?


Result   Other Polls

 Share this poll   Share on Google+ 


Events Polls Serving Wine EnoForum EnoGames Wine Places Aquavitae Wine Guide
Home Page About Us:Write Us:Back Issues:Advertising:Index 

Privacy Policy

Download your free DiWineTaste Card  :  Test your Blood Alcohol Content  :  Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on Twitter

Download DiWineTaste
Copyright © 2002-2019 Antonello Biancalana, DiWineTaste - All rights reserved
All rights reserved under international copyright conventions. No part of this publication and of this WEB site may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from DiWineTaste.