The Noble Rot
In a nation full of outstanding wines, Tokaj stands above the rest. The Tokaj wine region is tucked into the northern uplands of Hungary, just 55km (35 miles) east of Miskolc.
One of the sweetest wines in all of Europe is cultivated in an area with perfect soil and an outstanding microclimate. What is the secret of Tokaj? It’s called of all things, “noble rot!” It sounds paradoxical, but through the centuries it has created vintage after vintage of incredible wine.
What happens in these uplands is specific only to the Tokaj region’s microclimate. The soil, volcanic in origin, traps and holds heat for periods much longer than other soil types. This allows for a longer growing (and wilting) season leading to a late fall harvest of the grapes.
By the end of October, they have over ripened and succumbed to what is called “noble rot” making them intensely sweet. This creates the Aszu, a sweet dessert wine, which has become famous throughout the world.
Also specific to the region, the wine can be stored in black mold lined cellars found throughout the area. This serves to greatly enhance the flavor.
The rot is not the only thing noble about the wines of Tokaj! They have a long history of being the favorite of European nobility during the past three hundred years.
The wine first arrived in France as a gift from Ferenc Rákóczi II to his ally Louis XIV. Louis’s successor at the court in Versailles, Louis XV is said to have coined the phrase “Wine of Kings, King of Wines” in describing the beloved “Tokay” as the French call it.
No less a historical personage than Queen Victoria received 12 bottles of Tokaj each year as a gift from Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. By the time of her last birthday at the age of eight-one she was up to 972 bottles!
Tokaj even reached the far northern, remote reaches of Europe. Russian Tsar Peter the Great was said to love the wine and King Gustav III of Sweden claimed that it was the only wine he would ever drink.
In modern times Tokaj has become available to anyone willing to tempt their palette. We highly recommend the small village of Mad for a taste of Tokaj. Here you can visit the Royal Tokaj Cellars and partake of tasting tours.
This is allegedly the home winery of István Szepsy, who it is said descended from the original creator of Aszu. Once you are done in Mad be prepared for a non-stop tour to the villages and vintners of Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape.
In 2002 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It doesn’t get much better!
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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