|Hungary - Historic Wine Region Tokaj-Hegyalja|
The historic wine-growing region of Tokaj-Hegyalja
Its international reputation makes the Tokaj-Hegyalja region a symbol for the whole of Hungary. It is located in the north-east corner of the country and produces one of the greatest sweet white wines of the world - the famous "Aszú" which the French King Louis XIV called "the wine of kings, the king of wines".
“Some fairies used to live on the hills of Tokaj. The ‘Hill of Fires’ used to make them many troubles. Especially to those who were in love with each other. One of the fairy boys even fell in a crater. His love had been searching for the lost fairy boy everywhere, and had been dropping her teardrops by the sides of the hill. The teardrops of the fairy girl had got deep into the roots of the vines, and that is the reason why the Tokaj wine is so sweet and has the colour of the Sun.”
The legend of the golden vine
Tokaj Hegyalja became the king of Hungarian wine regions after the Turkish reign, and practically the Tokaj wine took an international fame and with it the legends and fairy tales appeared among the people in Hungary and abroad as well. For example, the legend of the golden vine, according to the above tale, had been alive for centuries. Even Paracelsus mentioned it: ”During my travels in Upper-Hungary, through Tokaj and its region: Mád, Tarcal, Tállya, I met a host who cut a vine-root into two. Inside of the vine there were golden lines which are used for weaving.”
Of course, there are no gold vines in Tokaj Hegyalja, however the value of the wine is undoubted. It is unquestionable that wine-marketing started in the 16-17th century. The King had to make a law to protect the Tokaj wine in 173, as everyone in the near wanted to sell wine under the name of Tokaj, so was the first closed-wine-region born.
Although, before the philloxera-epidemic (grape disease) there had been many kinds of vines, the most dominants had always been the furmint, hárslevelÅ±, and yellow Muscat. After the epidemic, for a long period, only these three kinds were grown in the Tokaj Wine Region. Only in the recent years the kövérszÅ‘lÅ‘, zéta (oremus), gohér are having their renaissance.
All the three kinds can be used to make Aszú wine. According to the legend, under the Turkish reign, one year the people had run and hidden away from the fights. They had only come back at the end of October, when the grapes started to get “aszú”-Ed (rotten). This year the wine had been especially very good- so this is the reason why the harvest is started on the day of Simon –Jude (28th October) in the Tokaj Wine region. So are the two main wines born: the Tokaji Furmint and the Tokaji HárslevelÅ±, very characteristic white wines and the Sárga Muskotály (Yellowmuscat) must be also mentioned, which couples the Muscat aroma with smart acids. For the late –harvest wines, the over-ripped (sometimes partly bothrytised) grapes are harvested even later than Simon-Jude day, at the end of November. So is the sugar content of these wines are so high, with a pleasant, fruity smell.
A traditional method
According to tradition the first Aszúwine was produced by Szepsi Laczkó Máté in ErdÅ‘bénye for the queen Lórántffy Zsuzsanna. May the legend be true or not, it’s still a fact that Tokaji Aszú was first mentioned in written form in the 16th century. It got its name after the characteristic aszú-ing (rottening). This over–ripping continuoum that gives the special quality can come only after a long and warm autumn. When raindrops reach the grape, they got hurt and the Botrytis Cinerea, the grey mould, finds the hurt-grape-berries easily. If the weather is dry the grey-rottening turns into a so called noble-rottening, even in the healthier grape-berries. This way, in these berries, the sugar content increases highly. During the harvest, the aszú berries are separated. They can separate 3-4-5-6 puttony of aszú berries, depending on the wished quality of aszúwine. Then they pour a gönci barrel (136 litres) of wine to the aszúberries. It is mixed together for 12-48 hours. If the time is over, the top of the wine, the so called aszú-hat is taken away. According to tradition, the aszú wine is in small size barrels for as many years, as many puttonys it has got. Today it must be a minimum of 3 years.
Beside the aszúwine, another speciality of the wine region is the szamorodni. It’s a Polish word, meaning “as it was born”. It’s produced from partly aszú-ed grapes without separating the noble-rotten berries. Another special wine is the Tokaji Fordítás, which is made from the above mentioned “aszú-hat” (which was taken away from the top of the wine). New wine is poured on the used “aszú-hat” to gain the sugar and aroma from this. “Máslás” is a dry wine made from the rest of the used aszúgrapes.
The “esszencia” is the most unique product of the wine region. This is honey-like nectar which originates from the dropping of the noble rotten grapes, without outer pressing. It’s a unique and rare thing all over the world. Being very thick it reaches very low alcohol content, even untouched for years.
There were two characteristic kinds of barrels in Tokaj-Region Gönci and Szerednyei. The first one is 138 litres made of oak. During history, its size has changed many times in the 16th century it was 407,24 litres, in the 18th century it was 152,72 litres and in the 19th century it was 135,75 litres. Having a small size it was easy to use for transporting wine. The Szerednyei barrel is 220 litres, made of Zemplén oak. (Zemplén is the name of mountains in the Tokaj region.)
A cellar labyrinth
The wine cellars’ walls are covered with noble-mould. In them, the Tokaj wine which was named “the wine of kings, king of wines” by the king XIV. Louise is being rippen. There are two kinds of wine cellars in the Tokaj region the “dug-cellar” and “hole-cellar”. The first mentioned had the same territory as the house, it was situated under it. The “hole-cellar” was not connected to the house. On the surface one could only see a gate made of stone with wooden or steel door. 80-85% of the Tokaj cellars are “hole-cellars”. The most valuable is the cellar labyrinth which developed from the meeting of many hole cellars under the surface. An example for this is the Rákóczi cellar, in Sárospatak town, which is 1 km long. The history of the cellar reaches back to the 16th century and it reached its today length between 1776-1701. The “Ungvári-cellar” in Sátoraljaújhely town is one of the most well-known wine labyrinths. It is made up of 27 cellars; it has four floors, and can store 13.000 gönci and szerednyei barrels. Almost of the historical cellars can be found in Tokaj, in the historical town center’s streets. (Dózsa st, Óvár st, Bem st). These cellars are more-hundred-year-old and open to the guests.