From Academic Kids

Tokaji, meaning "of Tokaj" in Hungarian, is used to label wines from the wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary. A small quantity of wines from the Slovak wine region of Tokaj also use the Tokaj label, and are referred to as Tokajský/-á/-é, meaning "of Tokaj" in Slovak.


The Tokaji name

Tokaji wines have a long pedigree and history, which has unfortunately resulted in some abuse of the name:

  • Historically Tokaji was wine from the region of Tokaj in the Kingdom of Hungary. In English and French the spelling Tokay was commonly used. Prior to the phylloxera epidemic, wine was grown in Tokaj from various types of mainly white grape varieties. However many historical mentions of Tokaji wine referred to the sweet aszú dessert wine.
  • The name Tokay came to be used in the Alsace region of France for wines made with the Pinot Gris grape. In Italy the name Tocai came to refer to a variety of grape from the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region.
  • In 1918, a small portion of the Tokaj wine region (approx. 1.75 km²) became part of the newly-created state of Czechoslovakia, the remaining much bigger part became part of the newly-created Republic of Hungary.
  • Under Hungary's and Slovakia's accession treaty to the European Union, the Tokaj name (including other forms of spelling) is being given Protected Designation of Origin status. This means that wine producers in France and Italy will no longer be able to use the terms Tokay or Tocai after March 2007.
  • There has also been a long-running dispute between Hungary and Czechoslovakia (since 1993 Slovakia) over the right of the Slovakian wine region to use the name Tokaj. Negotiations between the two governments resulted in an agreement being signed in June 2004. Under this agreement, wine produced on 5.65 square kilometres of land in Slovakia will be able to use the Tokaj name. However, a number of practical issues remain. Slovakia has pledged to introduce the same standards enshrined in Hungarian wine laws since 1990, but it has not yet been decided who will monitor or enforce those laws.

Types of Tokaji wine

Nowadays, only four grape varieties are officially approved for use in wines bearing the Tokaj name: Furmint, Hárslevelü (Slovak: Lipovina), Yellow Muscat (Hungarian: Sárgamuskotály, Slovak: Žltý muškát) and Zéta, a crossing of Furmint and Bouvier. Of these, Furmint accounts for 70% of the area under vine and is by far the most important grape in the production of aszú wines. Nevertheless, an impressive range of different types and styles of wine is produced in the region, ranging from dry whites to the world's sweetest wine. The list below refers to types of wine produced in the Hungarian region of Tokaj-Hegyalja. For Slovakian Tokaj wines see Tokaj.

  • Dry Wines: It is often overlooked that the Tokaj wine region produces excellent dry wines. These wines, once referred to as ordinárium, are now named after their respective grape varieties: Tokaji Furmint, Tokaji Hárslevelu and Tokaji Sárgamuskotály.
  • Szamorodni: (Slovak:samorodné) This type of wine was initially known as főbor ("prime wine"), but since the 19th century the Polish word szamorodni ("the way it was grown") has been used. What sets Szamorodni apart from ordinary wine is that it is made from bunches which contain a considerable proportion of botrytised grapes. Because of this, szamorodni is typically higher in alcohol and extract than ordinary wine. Szamorodni often contains up to 100-120 g of residual sugar and thus is termed édes("sweet"). However when the bunches contain fewer botrytised grapes the residual sugar content is much lower resulting in a száraz ("dry") wine.
  • Aszú: (Slovak: výber) This is the wine which is made Tokaj world famous and is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem. The original meaning of the Hungarian word aszú was "dried", but it came to be associated with a type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. dried) grapes. According to legend the first aszú was made by Laczkó Máté Szepsi in 1630. However, mention of wine made from aszú grapes had already appeared in the Nomenklatura of Fabricius Balázs Sziksai which was completed in 1576. A recently discovered inventory of aszú predates this reference by five years. The process of making Aszú wine is as follows:
    • Aszú berries are individually picked out of the bunches, collected in huge vats and trampled into the consistency of paste (known as aszú dough).
    • Must is poured on the aszú dough and left for 24-48 hours.
    • After the aszú dough has soaked, the wine is racked off into wooden casks or vates where fermentation is completed and the aszú wine will be kept to mature.
The concentration of aszú was traditionally defined by the number of puttony ("hods", Slovak: putňa) of dough added to a Gönc cask (136 liter barrel) of must. Nowadays the puttony number is based on the content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Aszú ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos.
  • Eszencia: (Slovak: esencia) Also called nectar, this is often described as the most precious wine in the world, although technically it cannot even be called a wine because its enormous concentration of sugar means that its alcohol level never rises above 5-6 degrees. Eszencia is the juice of aszú berries which runs off naturally from the vats in which they are collected during harvesting. The sugar concentration of eszencia is typically between 500 g and 700 g per litre, although the year 2000 vintage produced eszencia exceeding 900 g per litre. Eszencia is traditionally added to aszú wines but is sometimes bottled pure.
  • Fordítás: (Slovak: fordítáš) Meaning "turning over" in Hungarian, this wine is made by pouring must on aszú dough which has already been used to make aszú wine.
  • Máslás: (Slovak: mášláš) Meaning "copy" in Hungarian, this wine is made by pouring must on the lees of aszú.
  • Other sweet wines: In the past few years reductive sweet wines have begun to appear in Tokaj. These are ready for release in a year to 18 months are harvest. They typically contain 50-180 g/l of residual sugar and a ratio of botrytised berries comparable to Aszú wines. They are usually labelled as kesői szüretelésú ("late harvest") wines.

Famous drinkers of Tokaji

Nothing better illustrates the pedigree of Tokaji wine than an account of some of its famous drinkers. In 1703, Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France numerous bottles from his Tokaj estate as a gift. Tokaji was then served at the Versailles Court, where it became known under the name of Tokay. Delighted with the precious beverage, Louis XIV entitled it the "Wine of Kings, King of Wines" ("Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum"). This famous refrain is used to this day as a marketing device for Tokaji wines.

Tokaji wine has received accolades from numerous great writers and composers including Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert and Goethe. Besides Louis XIV, several other European leaders are known to have been keen consumers of the wine. Louis XV and Frederick the Great tried to outdo one another in the excellence of the vintages they stocked when they treated Voltaire or Dumas to some Tokaji. Napoleon III, the last Emperor of France, ordered 30–40 barrels of Tokaji for the Court every year. Gustav III, King of Sweden, never had any other wine to drink. In Russia, customers included Peter the Great and Empress Elizabeth of Russia.

The papal devotion to Tokaji wine is even older. Pope Pius IV, after a sip of sweet wine from Tállya, exclaimed at the Council of Trent, "This wine is worthy of the Supreme Priest of God." When Benedict XIV received a gift of Tokaji from Empress Maria Theresa of Austria he famously opined, "Happy is the Queen who sent thee, happy is the soil that hath grown thee, and happy am I who drink thee."

References and external links

A number of English language books have been published in recent years about Hungarian wine all of which, naturally, include a section on Tokaj and its wine. However, the most comprehensive English-language text (which was the principal source for this article) is Tokaj - The Wine of Freedom (Laszló Alkonyi, Budapest 2000).

See also

ja:トカイワイン sv:Tokajer


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