Hungary: Tokay, king of wine and wine of kings

Avatar photo

Tokaj or Tokay is a Hungarian wine produced in the greater Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region. Louis XIV called it the king of wines and the wine of kings (“vinum regum, rex vinorum”) and it is so legendary that it is even celebrated in the Hungarian national anthem.

It was the Romans who planted the first vines and introduced the science of oenology to the Danube region, a fertile territory then included in ancient Pannonia, a Roman province at the time of Emperor Tiberius. The Magyars, the population from which the country takes its name, found at the time of their invasion (9th century) numerous and luxuriant vineyards, which were then destroyed by the Mongols then replanted by King Béla IV who granted numerous privileges in favor of from the land of winegrowers.

Legend attributes the introduction of tokaji winemaking in the Olaszliszka region to the Italians (olasz in Hungarian means Italian). In fact, Hungary was once one of the most important wine-growing regions in Europe, before the vines were destroyed by phylloxera, a scourge that struck the Tokaji region in the years 1889 – 1892, completely destroying the vineyards which were then replanted with the three classic local grape varieties: furmint, hárslevelü and sárgamuskotály.

The division of Hungary sanctioned by the Treaty of Trianon (signed on June 4, 1920 at the Grand Trianon of Versailles following the Treaty of Versailles in order to formalize the dislocation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of 1918) further limited the marketing of tokaji. But the decisive blow was dealt by the collectivization imposed by the communist regime which compromised the reputation of this historic wine for more than thirty years.

Today, the wine tradition is back and Hungarian wines are once again appreciated by wine lovers around the world.

The wine regions of Hungary

For centuries, Hungary has been a nation with great winemaking traditions thanks to numerous indigenous vines, advanced winemaking techniques for sweet wines and wine legislation even older than French legislation. Throughout the countryside of the small country of Hungary, there are 22 wine regions, which can be divided into seven main areas.

Each of these wine regions has something great to offer in the form of a different and unique type of grape variety that you’ve probably never tried. This is what makes a trip to these regions so special for wine lovers.

Let’s talk about Tokaj

Tokaj, officially the “Tokaj Foothills” and sometimes spelled “Tokay”, is Hungary’s most famous wine region, located in the northeastern part of the country. It is possible to take an excursion from Budapest.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tokaj has long been known for its golden-hued wines made naturally sweet by the work of a benign mushroom. It was Louis XIV, King of France, who declared that Tokaj was “the wine of kings, the king of wines”. Today, sweet and dry wines are produced there.

There is a unique microclimate in Tokaj that provides the ideal conditions for winemakers to capitalize on the botrytis fungus. First, Tokaj’s rivers and streams provide enough moisture to attract the fungus. In fact, two major rivers, the Bodrog and the Tisza, join together just outside the town of Tokaj.

Hungarian Tokay is a sweet wine produced in the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, located in northeastern Hungary. It is considered one of the best white wines in the world.

There are three categories of Tokay

  • Szamorodni: dry or semi-dry wine, produced from healthy and botrytized grapes.
  • Aszú: sweet wine, produced from botrytized grapes dried on wooden racks.
  • Essence: very concentrated sweet wine, produced from the most concentrated juices of botrytized grapes.
Catherine Mills Avatar