Tokaj wine region
Bordering Slovakia in the northeast corner of Hungary sits the region of Tokaj, so steeped in winemaking history that its wine, Tokaji, traditionally known as Tokay in English, is practically synonymous with Hungarian wine.
This was the first demarcated wine region on earth, established by royal decree in 1757, although the process of classifying the best vineyards had begun half a century earlier. It predates modern borders – this was all part of Austro-Hungary then – and extends into present-day Slovakia, whose winemakers have just won a protracted legal battle to continue using the Tokaj name.
The area has a continental climate, with bitterly cold winters, cool dry springs, and hot summers. Autumns are unusual, however, generally featuring early rains followed by an Indian summer, providing the perfect conditions for long, slow ripening. Autumn mists from the region’s two rivers, Bogrog and Tisza, encourage the development of noble rot,
, which causes water to evaporate through the grape skins, concentrating the juice inside and allowing the production of great sweet wines.
Tokaji is a blend but the main grape, Furmint, which is native to the region, accounts for 60% of the vineyard area. Hárslevelu, another local, accounts for 30%. A variety of others are allowed, but the most important is Sárgamuskotály (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) which is occasionally bottled on its own.
The sweetness of Tokaji is classified by an ancient system in which 20 kilo hods, (puttonyos) of aszú (nobly-rotted grape paste) are added to a Gönc cask (136 litre barrel) of base wine. Three puttonyos makes it sweet; 6 puttonyos makes it very sweet indeed. Beyond that there is Aszú Eszencia – pure aszú – which is effectively 7 puttonyos.
Beyond even that there is Eszencia itself, the sweetest wine in the world. Made from the juice that drips naturally from the grapes
they’re pressed into aszú, it is so sweet that it takes years to ferment and still only manages to achieve a couple of percent alcohol before the yeasts give up. It was rumoured to have life-giving properties; European kings and emperors used to keep a bottle by their bedsides in case of emergency. Sadly it outlived them all: Eszencia can keep for centuries.
In recent years – only since 2000 – there has been a smattering of producers who have used a portion of their Furmint grapes to make a dry and crisp white wine.
Decanting Club wines from: Tokaj
Majoros Deák Tokaji Furmint
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