Tokaji (Hungarian: of Tokaj) is the name of the wines from the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary. The name Tokaji (which is of Protected Designation of Origin) is used for labeling wines from this wine district. This region is noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, a style of wine which has a long history in this region. Tokaj is mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary.
Only six grape varieties are officially approved for Tokaji wine production. These are Furmint, Hárslevelű, Yellow Muscat (Hungarian: Sárgamuskotály), Zéta (previously called Oremus - a cross of Furmint and Bouvier grapes), Kövérszőlő, and Kabar (a cross of Hárslevelű and Bouvier grapes).
Furmint accounts for 60% of the area and is by far the most important grape in the production of Aszú wines. Hárslevelű stands for further 30%. Nevertheless, an impressive range of different types and styles of wines are produced in the region, ranging from dry whites to the Eszencia, the world's sweetest wine.
There are different types of Tokaji wines, including:
- Dry Wines: these wines, once referred to as common, ordinárium, are now named after their respective grape varieties: Tokaji Furmint, Tokaji Hárslevelű, Tokaji Sárgamuskotály and Tokaji Kövérszőlő.
- Szamorodni: this type of wine was initially known as főbor (prime wine), but from the 1820s Polish merchants popularized the name samorodny ("the way it was grown" or "made by itself"). What sets Szamorodni apart from ordinary wines is that it is made from bunches of grapes which contain a high proportion of botrytised grapes. Szamorodni is typically higher in alcohol 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 less botrytised grapes, the residual sugar content is much lower, resulting in a száraz (dry) wine. Its alcohol content is typically 14%.
- Aszú: This is the world-famous wine that is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem. It is the sweet, topaz-colored wine that was formerly known throughout the English-speaking world as Tokay.
The original meaning of the Hungarian word aszú was "dried", but the term aszú came to be associated with the type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. "nobly" rotten) grapes.
- Eszencia: Also called nectar, this is often described as one of the most exclusive wines 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 may be allowed to ferment (a process that takes at least 4 years to complete) and then bottled pure. The resulting wine has a concentration and intensity of flavor that is unequaled, but is so sweet that it can only be drunk in small quantities. Storage of Eszencia is facilitated by the fact that, unlike virtually all other wines, it maintains its quality and drink-ability for 200 years or more.
- Fordítás: (meaning "turning over" in Hungarian), wine made by pouring must on the aszú dough which has already been used to make aszú wine.
- Máslás: (derived from the word "copy" in Hungarian), wine 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 after 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 késői szüretelésű (late harvest) wines. Innovative producers have also marketed tokaji wine that does not fit the appellation laws of the above categories but is often of high quality and price, and in many ways comparable to aszú. These wines are often labelled as tokaji cuvée.
Tokaji wine has received accolades from numerous great writers and composers including Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Friedrich von Schiller, Bram Stoker, Johann Strauß, and Voltaire.
Emperor Franz Josef (who was also King of Hungary) had a tradition of sending Queen Victoria Tokaji Aszú wine, as a gift, every year on her birthday, one bottle for every month she had lived, twelve for each year. On her eighty-first and final birthday (1900), this totaled an impressive 972 bottles.
Another interesting fact about this wine is that in 1703, Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France some Tokaji wine from his Tokaj estate as a gift. The Tokaji wine was served at the French Royal court at Versailles, where it became known as Tokay.
Napoleon III, the last Emperor of the French, ordered 30–40 barrels of Tokaji at the French Royal Court every year.
Tokaji was consumed by Adolf Hitler, his bride Eva Braun and others celebrating their marriage in the bunker shortly before their deaths.
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The Wine of Kings and the King of Wines, www.tokaji.com
Hungary Returns to a Sweet Past, www.nytimes.com