500 YEARS OF HISTORY

KEY EVENTS FROM THE HISTORY OF TOKAJ

GRAPE VARIETIES

TOKAJ'S 6 AUTHORISED GRAPES

APPROXIMATE PERCENTAGES OF
VARIETIES GROWN

Colour | white

Origin | native to Tokaj, one known parent being Gouais Blanc (Borsiquot et al. 2004), the other parent likely to be a local variety already extinct

First known mention | 1611 in the village of Erdőbénye, Tokaj region

Synonyms in actual use | Šipon (Slovenia, northern Croatia), Moslavac (Croatia),  Pušipel (Croatia)

Where it is grown | mostly in Tokaj where it accounts for some 67 per cent of all plantings (i..e 3900 hecatres/9600 acres of around 5800 hectares/14000 acres). It is also found in Hungary’s Somló and Lake Balaton area, and to some extent in the Eger and Mátra regions. Other countries where it is historically grown include Austria, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Furmint is the 3rd most widely grown grape in Hungary, after Kékfrankos [Blaufränkisch] and Olaszrizling [Graševina]. Today, Furmint dominates ongoing plantings in Tokaj, with over 80 per cent.

Wine styles | still dry/off-dry, sparkling dry, natural sweet (such as Sweet Szamorodni and Aszú), botrytised dry (Dry Szamorodni)

The name | The word Furmint does not have any specific meaning in modern Hungarian. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      FURMINT

Colour | white

Origin | native to Tokaj, one known parent being Furmint (Borsiquot et al. 2004), the other parent likely to be a local variety already extinct

First known mention | 1723, Tokaj region

Synonyms in actual use | Lindenblättriger (Austria), Lipovina (Slovakia)

Where it is grown | mostly in Tokaj where it accounts for some 20 per cent of all plantings (i..e 1160 hecatres/2870 acres of around 5800 hectares/14000 acres). It is also found in Hungary’s Eger and Somló regions, the Lake Balaton area, as well as, to some extent, in the Villány region. Hárslevelű is the 11th most widely grown grape in Hungary. Popular in new plantings, as well.

Wine styles | still dry/off-dry, sparkling dry, natural sweet (such as Sweet Szamorodni and Aszú), botrytised dry (Dry Szamorodni)

The name | The word Hárslevelű literally means ‘Linden-leaved’ for its leaves are slightly rounder and less deeply-lobed that than Furmint’s, and are remotely similar to those of the Linden tree. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      HÁRSLEVELŰ

Colour | white

Origin | uncertain, Greece or Italy

First known mention | 1304, Italy

Synonyms in actual use | Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat de Lunel (France), Moscato Bianco (Italy), Moschato Samou (Greece)

Where it is grown | mostly in Italy (13,280 hecatres / 32,816 acres) and France (7620 hectares / 18,829 acres). Out of Hungary’s 647 hectares, some 580 hectares are planted in the Tokaj region, where it is the 3rd most common grape. Sárgamuskotály is the only international grape variety authorised for the Tokaj appellation.

Wine styles | still dry/off-dry, non-botrytised natural sweet

The name | The word Sárgamuskotály literally means Yellow Muscat. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      SÁRGAMUSKOTÁLY

Colour | white

Origin | a cross between Furmint and Bouvier, obtained in 1951

Synonyms in actual use | none (the original name Oremus was changed to Zéta in 1999 and has since been out of use)

Where it is grown | Tokaj only, where it accounts for around 2 per cent of all plantings (i.e. some 114 hectares/281 acres of 5800 hectares/14000 acres). Zéta is no longer planted these days in Tokaj.

Wine styles | mostly picked as botrytised berries for Aszú wines, rarely vinfied into sweet varietal wines

The name | The word Zéta means Zeta, the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet. Zéta is also an extremely rare masculine given name, created by 19th-century Hungarian writer Géza Gárdonyi. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      ZÉTA
Colour | white

Origin | uncertain, Hungary or Rumania

Synonyms in actual use | Grasă de Cotnari (Rumania)

Where it is grown | mostly in Rumania (415 hecatres / 1025 acres). In Hungary, Kövérszőlő was introduced for the Tokaj appellation in 2004 and is now grown on approximately 37 hectares, thus accounting for some 0.65 per cent of all plantings in the region. No-one is planting this variety any more.

Wine styles | non-botrytised or botrytised late harvest style natural sweet wines, rarely dry

The name | The word Kövérszőlő literally means Fat Grape, referring to its large berries. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      KÖVÉRSZŐLŐ

Colour | white

Origin | a cross between Hárslevelű and Bouvier, obtained in 1967

Synonyms in actual use | none (the original code name Tarcal 10 was changed to Kabar in 2006, and has since been out of use)

Where it is grown | Tokaj only, where it accounts for a mere 0.35 per cent of all plantings (i.e. some 21 hectares/52 acres of 5800 hectares/14000 acres). There is hardly any ongoing planting of Kabar in the region.

Wine styles | mostly picked as botrytised berries for Aszú wines, rarely vinfied into dry or off-dry varietals

The name | The word Kabar is actually the name of an ancient ethnic group of Turkic origin that amalgamated into the Hungarian nation a millennium ago.

WINE STYLES

TOKAJ'S 8 AUTHORISED WINE STYLES

APPROXIMATE PERCENTAGES OF
WINE STYLES PRODUCED

How it is made | Botrytised berries are picked separately and then macerated, generally for half a day to three days, in often fermenting grape juice, aka ‘base must’, or in a fully fermented, finished ‘base wine’ of the same vintage. During maceration, the berries absorb most of the base must/wine and are then pressed. The resulting juice is fermented into an Aszú wine in a steel tank and/or a barrel.

Ageing requirements | Aszú wines can be released on 1st January in the third year after the year of harvest at the earliest, that is to say, the overall (i.e. barrel plus bottle) ageing requirement is a little more than 2 years. Within this period, the wine must spend a minimum of 18 months in oak. These rules have been in place since the harvest of 2013. This means, for instance, that Aszú wines of the 2020 vintage cannot come to the market before 1st January 2023.

Special bottling requirements | Aszú wines can only be released in clear-glass bottles that are standardised for Tokaji botrytised wines and mostly come in capacities of 500 mL or 375 mL. Bottles of this type sized 250 mL, 187.5 mL or even 100 mL could legally be used as well, but they virtually never are.

Minimum residual sugar content | 120 g/L

Annual production | approximately 10% of the region’s quality wine production

First known mention | 1570

The word | The original name of this style was aszúszőlő bora [literally, a wine from dried/shrivelled grapes], later abbreviated to aszúbor and then aszú. The word aszú is actually an old form of modern Hungarian aszott, the latter meaning shrivelled/dried. In modern Hungarian, the word aszú only means this style of wine. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      ASZÚ

How it is made | Partially botrytised bunches are picked and then pressed, whole or destemmed, for a rich juice that is then fermented in a steel tank and/or a barrel. Before pressing, the whole clusters or destemmed berries are often left to sit in the press for a few hours of maceration. Today, this is the only traditional Tokaji wine style that can be both dry and sweet, although dry Szamorodni production is minuscule.

Ageing requirements | Szamorodni wines can be released on 1st January in the 2nd year after the year of harvest at the earliest, that is to say, the overall (i.e. barrel plus bottle) ageing requirement is a little more than 1 year. Within this period, the wine must spend a minimum of 6 months in oak. These rules have been in place since the harvest of 2016. This means, for instance, that Szamorodni wines of the 2020 vintage cannot come to the market before 1st January 2022.

Special bottling requirements | Szamorodni wines can only be released in clear-glass bottles that are standardised for Tokaji botrytised wines and mostly come in capacities of 500 mL or 375 mL, though the latter is never really used for Szamorodni. Bottles of this type sized 250 mL, 187.5 mL or even 100 mL could also legally be used, but they never are.

Minimum residual sugar content | 0 g/L for the dry [száraz in HU] Szamorodni and 45 g/L for sweet [édes in HU] Szamorodni

Annual production | approximately 10% of the region’s quality wine production, out of which around 99% is sweet:)

First known mention | 1570 as főbor

The word | The original name of this style was főbor [literally, main wine or prime wine], and was renamed Szamorodni during the 19th century when ever-present Polish merchants started looking for this cheaper style of sweet wine instead of Aszú wines. So Szamorodni is a word of Polish origin which means something like ‘self-born’ or ‘self-made’. This is how they distinguished it from Aszú wine that was historically referred to as a ‘made wine’ [csinált bor in HU] for its production involved more work (picking of botrytised berries, adjusting the ratio of berries to base must, maceration, etc.) than that of any other wine. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      SZAMORODNI

How it is made | Bunches of overripe and shrivelled grapes or partially botrytised bunches are picked and then pressed, whole or destemmed, for a rich juice that is then fermented in a steel tank and/or a barrel. Késői szüret wines made using botrytis-affected bunches are technically sweet Szamorodnis, which may or may not comply with the Szamorodni ageing requirements.

Ageing requirements | none

Special bottling requirements | none

Minimum residual sugar content | 45 g/L

Annual production | approximately 20% of the region’s quality wine production

First known mention | 2010:) This is not at all a traditional category in Tokaj and is not a Tokaj-specific style either, of course. It was introduced as late as 2010 to cover non-bortytised sweet wines, made in the Tokaj region.

The word | The official designation of this style is késői szüretelésű bor that literally means ‘late harvest wine’ and is often abbreviated to késői szüret or kései szüret (both spellings are correct). Many growers use the English word Late Harvest on their labels. Click on the icon below to listen to how the Hungarian term is pronounced.

How it is made | Fordítás is made through the re-maceration and re-pressing of botrytised grapes, already pressed once for an Aszú wine. Making a Fordítás is actually an integral part of making an Aszú wine, that is, the overwhelming majority of winemakers macerate and press botrytised berries twice. However, Fordítás it normally blended back into Aszú, the wine from the first maceration and pressing, and is very rarely released as a standalone product. Dry Fordítás was discontinued in 2016, but had been very rarely made anyway.

Ageing requirements | Fordítás wines can be released on 1st January in the 2nd year after the year of harvest at the earliest, that is to say, the overall (i.e. barrel plus bottle) ageing requirement is a little more than 1 year. Within this period, the wine must spend a minimum of 6 months in oak. These rules have been in place since the harvest of 2016. This means, for instance, that Fordítás wines of the 2020 vintage cannot come to the market before 1st January 2022.

Special bottling requirements | Fordítás wines can only be released in clear-glass bottles that are standardised for Tokaji botrytised wines and mostly come in capacities of 500 mL or 375 mL, though the latter is never really used for Fordítás. Bottles of this type sized 250 mL, 187.5 mL or even 100 mL could also legally be used, but they never are.

Minimum residual sugar content | 45 g/L

Annual production | approximately 1% of the region’s quality wine production

First known mention | 1826

The word | Fordítás literally means ‘turning’. Historically, the macerated botrytised berries were always shovelled into textile sacks before being pressed underfoot to allow the liquid phase (juice) to easily separate from the solid phase (marc) during pressing for an Aszú wine. The word Fordítás alludes to the move of turning the pressing sacks inside out to transfer the berries back into a wooden maceration vat for a second maceration for Fordítás. Of course, this is no longer done this way in modern Tokaj. As most producers use pneumatic tank presses, the press is just opened after the first pressing and the base must for a second maceration is pumped into the tank of the press. Centuries ago, the word Fordítás was sometimes used interchangeably with Máslás, but the two categories are now clearly defined and separated. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

How it is made | Máslás is made through maceration of grape must or wine on the lees of an Aszú or a Szamorodni wine. When an Aszú or Szamordni has fully fermented, it is racked off its lees that, however, still contains lots of sugar, flavours and aromas. Then a normally dry and generally non-botrytised wine of the same vintage is racked onto these lees, and mixed and left in contact with it for a few months to produce a moderately sweet wine with botrytised notes. Dry Máslás was discontinued in 2016, but had been very rarely made anyway.

Ageing requirements | Máslás wines can be released on 1st January in the 2nd year after the year of harvest at the earliest, that is to say, the overall (i.e. barrel plus bottle) ageing requirement is a little more than 1 year. Within this period, the wine must spend a minimum of 6 months in oak. These rules have been in place since the harvest of 2016. This means, for instance, that Máslás wines of the 2020 vintage cannot come to the market before 1st January 2022.

Special bottling requirements | Máslás wines can only be released in clear-glass bottles that are standardised for Tokaji botrytised wines and mostly come in capacities of 500 mL or 375 mL, though the latter is never really used for Máslás. Bottles of this type sized 250 mL, 187.5 mL or even 100 mL could also legally be used, but they never are.

Minimum residual sugar content | 45 g/L

Annual production | approximately 0.5% of the region’s quality wine production

First known mention | 1759

The word | Máslás is an old form of modern Hungarian másolás and literally means ‘copying’.  This is because the method of production is sort of a copy of that of Aszú wines, the Aszú or Szamorodni lees replacing the botrytised berries in the process. Historically, the word Máslás was erroneously used, mostly in Poland, to mean an Aszú wine of a lower concentration (i.e. 4 puttonyos and below). Centuries ago, the word Máslás was also sometimes used interchangeably with Fordítás, but the two categories are now clearly defined and separated. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

How it is made | Eszencia is the free-run juice from botrytised grapes, picked for Aszú wines. While these very dry, shrivelled, botrytis-affected berries are sitting in their container, waiting to be macerated after the end of the harvest, they are pressed by their own weight and the resulting juice is tapped from the bottom of the container. Eszencia is then normally racked into 50-litre glass demijohns, or experimeantelly into amphoras, and fermented with natural yeast, sometimes for many years, to an alcohol level of a mere 2 to 3 per cent. Eszencia is normally blended back into Aszú wines of the same vintage, but sometimes released as a standalone product. Although Eszencia is technically not a wine, it is an exception under European wine regulations and can still be called a wine, despite its alcohol content being less than 6 per cent.

Ageing requirements | none

Special bottling requirements | Eszencia wines can only be released in clear-glass bottles that are standardised for Tokaji botrytised wines and mostly come in capacities of 500 mL or 375 mL. Bottles of this type sized 250 mL, 187.5 mL or even 100 mL could also legally be used. For Eszencia, the 250-mL version is still occasionally used, but the smaller ones are not.

Minimum residual sugar content | 450 g/L

Maximum allowable alcohol level | 6% ABV

Maximum allowable yield | 6 litres from 100 kilograms of botrytised berries

Annual production | approximately 0.5% of the region’s quality wine production

First known mention | 1759

The word | Eszencia means ‘essence’ in English. Other spellings you may see on labels include Esszencia and Essencia. Click on the icon below to listen to how it is pronounced.

      ESZENCIA

How it is made | In a multitude of different ways. There are no specific production requirements for this category under which Tokaj’s modern, mostly non-botrytised dry wines are released. For instance, all dry Furmint varietals fall under this ‘heading’. While dominated by dry wines, this, however, is not at all a dry-only category. Late-harvest-style sweet wines, and even botrytised wines, made using any of the traditional methods (i.e. Aszú, Szamorodni, etc.) can, in principle, be released as ‘Other Whites’, though the latter does not happen very often (and if it does, such wines cannot be marketed in the clear-glass bottles standardised for them or labelled as an Aszú etc, of course).

Ageing requirements | none

Special bottling requirements | none

Annual production | approximately 60% of the region’s quality wine production

The word | Fehér bor, the original Hungarian designation of this category in the Tokaj Product Specification,  literally means ‘white wine’, which does not make too much sense, for only white grapes are authorised for the Tokaj appellation, so all Tokaji wines are, of course, white. This is why I prefer to call this category ‘Other whites’ in an English-language context.

How it is made | Tokaji sparkling wines can only be bottle-fermented, which technically means that all are made using the classic/Champagne method. The transfer method could in principle be used, but never is. A Tokaji sparkler must be aged in the bottle for a minimum of 9 months, including at least 90 days on the lees before disgorgement. The liqueur de triage may contain saccharose, grape juice, concentrated grape juice, fermenting grape juice or wine. There are no specific requirements for the liqueur d’expedition, which means this is the only Tokaji wine style that can actually be artificially sweetened with sugar, however, in practice, all high-quality Tokaji sparklers are brut nature, brut or extra dry. Some producers have experimented with dosage consisting of Aszú or Szamorodni wines.

Ageing requirements | 9 months in the bottle, including 90 days on the lees

Special bottling requirements | none

Annual production | less than 1% of the region’s quality wine production

The word | Pezsgő is not a Tokaj specific-term and simply means sparkling wine in Hungarian. It is rarely heard used in an English-language context as speakers generally translate it as ‘sparkling wine’.

27 TOWNS AND VILLAGES

THE 5 TOWNS AND 22 VILLAGES THAT COMPRISE THE TOKAJ REGION

5800 HECTARES UNDER VINE

…AND AT LEAST ANOTHER 6000 HECTARES WITH THE POTENTIAL TO BE REPLANTED IN A TOTAL OF 415 DŰLŐS [i.e. VINEYARD SITES]