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The land of incomparably delicious wines: the Tokaj Wine Region

The Swabian wine cellars
Hercegkút
Tokaj and Nyíregyháza

Tokaj is a unique example of unparalleled natural gifts, the cooperation of grapes and man. No wonder, then, that this World Heritage wine region gave birth to the ‘wine of kings’.

Sloping vineyard in Tokaj Hill

The History of Tokaj: from Gesta Hungarorum to UNESCO

Today, the Tokaj wine region is internationally famous, but its history begins centuries ago. The earliest mention of Tokaj can be found in Anonymous’ chronicle, Gesta Hungarorum (The Deeds of the Hungarians). The author of this (probably) 12th century work notes that when the conquering Hungarians visited this region, they drank ‘magnum aldumas’, that is, a great blessing. Documents of King Béla IV from 1252 contain a specific allusion to the grapes of Hegyalja, and in 1502, they mention the oldest known vineyard – Hétszőlő – by name. The next turning point in the life of the wine region would be in the 16th century, partly because at the time, they were already producing the famous Aszú wines, and partly because grape and wine experts began to relocate to the region around that time. The first written reference to the Tokaji Aszú wine came soon after, in 1571.

 

After that, having struggled through a variety of difficulties and obstacles, the development and continued popularity of the world’s first closed wine region – the Tokaj Wine Region – was largely unbroken, to the extent that in 2002, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO), added the region to its list of World Heritage sites. This was an extremely significant award, as only sites representing the most exceptional and valuable cultural and natural treasures are ever included on the list. A site’s inclusion is effectively acknowledgement that it bears great significance for all of humanity. And that is certainly true of the Tokaj Wine Region.

Five reasons why you should definitely go to an Aszú wine tasting in Tokaj

Hungary has a well-deserved reputation for excellent wines throughout all of Europe. As the Hungarian saying goes: “no one who loves wine can be evil”. In other words, perhaps there’s no need to find a reason to give excellent wines a taste. Nevertheless, we can certainly provide a few for Tokaji Aszú.

 

  • It is said that King Louis XV called the Aszú wine from Tokaj-Hegyalja the king of wines and the wine of kings.
  • Mozart and Goethe also had excellent taste in wines, and were extremely partial to Tokaji Aszú.
  • The grapes for this Aszú wine are grown in an environment with entirely unique natural characteristics, and the wine itself is produced in the inimitable atmosphere of centuries-old wine cellars.
  • It is one of the most unique sweet wines in the world. We can safely say, with no exaggeration, that it is a miracle of nature.
  • Tokaji Aszú is one of the most amazing exemplars of Hungary’s image.
Deep-amber colour Tokaji Aszú

A geography lesson: what’s in a good wine?

Why is the Tokaj wine region so conducive to producing exceptional wines? It’s no secret that beyond the conscientious work of professionals, the unique natural characteristics of the region also contribute to the unparalleled taste.

The Tokaj wine region includes Tokaj and its surrounding 26 settlements. It is located within a triangle drawn in the north-eastern part of Hungary, between Sátor Mountain in Sátoraljaújhely, Sátor Mountain in Abaújszántó, and Kopasz Mountain in Tokaj. 11,149 hectares of the wine region are amenable to producing grapes (currently, 5,813 hectares are actually being utilised for that purpose).

Here are the natural characteristics that make the wonderful Tokaji Aszú possible:

 

  • the wetlands by the Tisza and Bodrog rivers,
  • the local climate of the Zemplén Mountains, caused by its protected status, which allows for the proliferation of noble rot,
  • the noble rot itself, assisted in its growth by the great quantities of water vapour produced in autumn
  • the concentration of sugar and other important elements within the grapes, thanks to the autumn sunshine
  • and the many colourful vineyards situated on volcanic rock, a result of vigorous volcanic activity 9 million years ago.

 

In a nutshell, these are the factors promoting the incomparable complexity and exquisite taste of wines from this region. We should, of course, note that there are wines here even for those without much of a sweet tooth: the dry, exceptionally full-bodied wines of the Tokaj wine region are rapidly growing in popularity. The two main varieties of wine in Tokaj are Furmint and Hárslevelű, but Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Sárgamuskotály), Kabar, Zéta and Kövérszőlő are also extremely tasty wines produced here.

We hope that we have inspired you to go and explore the wines of Tokaj a little. If it sounds like something you would be interested in, you can start by mapping out the wineries in advance, right here!

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