Tokaj wine region
Tokaj wine region or Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region (short Tokaj-Hegyalja or Hegyalja) is a historical wine region located in northeastern Hungary . It is also one of the seven larger wine regions of Hungary (Hungarian: Tokaji borrégió). Hegyalja means “foothills” in Hungarian, and this was the original name of the region. The region consists of 28 named villages and 11,149 hectares of classified vineyards, of which an estimated 5,500 are currently planted. Tokaj has been declared a World Heritage Site in 2002 under the name Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape. However, its fame long predated this distinction because it is the origin of Tokaji aszú wine, the world’s oldest botrytized wine.
Some of the characteristics which make the Tokaj wine region unique are:
• Soil and microclimate: The Tokaj terroir consists of clay or loess soil on volcanic subsoil. The microclimate is determined by the sunny, south-facing slopes and the proximity of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers, and is conducive to the proliferation of Botrytis (noble rot) and the subsequent desiccation of the grapes.
• Indigenous grape varieties: Furmint and Hárslevelü have been cultivated in the region for centuries and, together with Yellow Muscat (Hungarian: Sárgamuskotály), Kabar, Kövérszőlő and Zéta, are the only grape varieties officially permitted for use in the region.
• Cellars: A vast system of cellars was carved out of solid rock between 1400 and 1600 AD. They provide a constant temperature of around 10-12°C. The cellars are covered with a characteristic mold, which feeds off the alcohol evaporated during aging and keeps the humidity in the range of 85-90%, which is ideal for the aging of Tokaji wines.
• Appellation system: A royal decree in 1757 established a closed production district in Tokaj, the world’s second system of wine appellation (the first one was CHIANTI 1716). Vineyard classification began in 1730 and was completed by the national censuses of 1765 and 1772.
No one knows when the first wines were made in the Tokaj region. Historical records show that vineyards had been established in Tokaj as early as the 12th century. There is evidence for the earlier introduction of wine production to the region, but opinion is divided on when this occurred.A number of experts claim that viticulture could have started in the Tokaj region as early as in the Celtic times, that is BC. A petrified grape leaf found in Erdőbénye and dating from the late 3rd century AD, points to the existence of viticulture in Roman times. Slavs arrived in the region in the late 5th/early 6th century. One possible origin for the name “Tokaj” is that it is derived from the Slavic word “Stokaj”, meaning approximately confluence (i.e. confluence of the rivers Bodrog and Tisza. The Slovaks claim that Slavs continued previous viticulture in the region.Magyar settlers arrived in Tokaj from the end of the 9th Century and there is an alternative theory that viticulture was introduced to the region from the east, possibly by the Kabar tribe. The Magyars themselves seem to have had an ancient tradition of wine-making (see: Origins of Hungarian wine-making). Another possible origin for the name “Tokaj” is that it comes from an Armenian word meaning “grape”.Latin people were first invited to settle in Tokaj by Hungarian King Béla III (1130-1162) and then by Béla IV (1235-1270). These immigrants were probably Walloons from northern France, although some researchers claim that they were Italians. Slavic peoples (Slovaks and Rusyns) are also documented as being involved in Tokaj viticulture by the 12th century. However, the rise of Tokaj as a major wine region can be dated to the early 16th Century.Around 1620 the emperor imported a wallonian-French winefarmer Duvont, who later invented the later known “king of wines”-methode in the Tokaji-district. In honour of Mr. Duvonts exceptional skills, the emperor ennobled this farmer, and gave him one of his many villages (Kiralyfalva) now Königsdorf in Austria. The emperor then named the family Királyfalvy.
Tokaji wine became an increasingly important commodity for the region from the 17th century, its export being a major source of income for the ruling princes of Transylvania to which the Tokaj region belonged at the time. Indeed, revenues from the increasingly renowned Tokaji Aszú wine helped to pay for the wars of independence fought against Austrian Habsburg rule. The repute of Tokaji wine was enhanced when in 1703, Francis II Rákóczi, prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France a gift of numerous bottles of wine from his Tokaj estate. Tokaji wine was then served at the Versailles Court, where it became known under the name of Tokay. Delighted with the precious beverage,
Louis XIV declared it “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” (“Wine of Kings, King of Wines”).