Wine has been made in Hungary’s Tokaji (“tock-eye”) region for at least 500 years and, for much of that time, its sweet wines have had the highest of reputations. They were enjoyed across many of the noble courts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and were a particular favourite of the French King, Louis XIV. In fact, at the time, Tokaji became known as ‘the wine of kings, the king of wines’.
The 1870s saw an abrupt change in fortune when the phylloxera bug struck, devastating the vineyards. Two World Wars were followed by years as part of the Soviet bloc where the only wines demanded were cheap with high alcohol. The industry was in a poor state indeed when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 opening up many of the Eastern European countries to outside investment. Happily, Tokaji was a major beneficiary. In particular, English wine writer Hugh Johnson’s involvement with the historic Royal Tokaji Wine Company has reinvigorated this once great producer.
Today, much of the region’s output remains the glorious, intensely sweet wines made in the unique traditional style – expensive, but definitely worth it if, like me, you like that sort of wine although, perhaps I should say, they’re not to everyone’s taste. However, other, lighter, sweet wines using late-harvested grapes are also made and can be tremendous value, as is the occasional dry white such as the one from the Royal Tokaji Company (Majestic, £9.99) we enjoyed recently.
Made using the same native Furmint and Hárslevelű varieties that are found in the sweet wines, this full-bodied dry example is beautifully tangy and fresh with lovely flavours of baked apples and sweet spices leading to a really long mouth-watering finish.
There is no doubt that Johnson and others have rescued Tokaji from the dire state it had descended to by 1990; all that remains is for the delicious wines of the region to become much better known.