March 28, 2010
TOKAJ, HUNGARY, Mar. 28, 2010/ Bon Voyage / — The first question you will be asking yourself while checking your map to drive to Tokaj, situated in north-eastern Hungary is: how is it spelled? Is it Tokaj or Tokay? Well, that depends . . .
How you spell the name of the town or the sweet white wine for which the region is famous depends on whether you’re spelling in English or Hungarian. Tokaj, or Tokaji, is the Hungarian spelling for both the town and wine, and the wine region is Tokaj-Hegyalja. We will stick with the Hungarian spellings.
Tokaj is a small town, but it is on all tourist maps because of its wine. Be warned, however, that the main reason to visit Tokaj is really to taste and learn about the wine.
World Heritage Site
The region, which has been making wine for a thousand years, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And while the quality of the wines has had its ups and downs through the centuries, it is definitely on the rise now.
The most prestigious and famous wine is the Tokaj Aszu, which has been famous for a long time. It is told that King Louis XIV of France liked it so much that he called it “The King of wines and wine of Kings.” (It is also told, however, that Tokaj shares this endorsement with Barolo in Italy: very good company to be in!)
Royal Tokaji, another famous brand, is made in a neighboring little town of Mad. We drove straight to Mad hoping for a tour, but alas, the winery was closed on the day of our visit. Stay in We Tokay because there is more to see in this pretty little town. And since the drinking and driving laws in Hungary are very strict – as in zero tolerance – it is more convenient to have a hotel in Tokaj and walk around for your wine tasting.
You may know little about Tokaji wines except that you like it, so you will probably be surprised that, besides the sweet Tokay Aszu, there aree other types of Tokay wines. Szamorodni is made with the same grapes as the Tokay Aszu but it is not quite as sweet. There are also dry white wines made with the Furmint and Harslevelu grapes as separate varietals.
You will have fun learning about all of them. After all, you had to walk around and talk to people and try the wine. What could be more fun than that?
There are several commercial cellars in which you can taste Tokaji. By visiting several, you can compare the Tokaj Aszu wines of different age and sweetness, all of them scored with a kind of star system called “Puttonyos:” from three puttonyos to six for the best. (We never did find out what happened to one and two.) You probably won’t be able to try the wine known as Eszencia, however, which is rated above six puttonyos because of its amazing sweetness and small, small production.
It also seems like everyone has a cave behind their house, and many of those are open for a taste too. There will be a little sign at the front door: Just ring the bell and someone will come and welcome you into their cellar.
Small fee for tasting
You’ll pay a small fee for the tasting, and you can buy some if you like it. Locals bring plastic bottles to fill! If you want to buy a bottle, the owner can probably provide a plastic bottle for you too!
While some proprietors speak English, many don’t so be prepared for using a lot of sign language.But don’t be shy. One language you will have in common is the wine.
There are several hotels and B&Bs to choose from and plenty of restaurants. You can get to Tokaj by train or drive as we did. It is about a four-hour drive from Budapest, mostly by freeway and good roads for the rest.
Whether you want to call it Tokaj or Tokay, if you love wine, you should plan a visit.
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Channels: The Calgary Beacon, March 28, 2010