When most wine drinkers think of an “Eastern European” wine, the one that comes to mind is Hungary's Tokaji. This wine's famous reputation dates back to the 1500s. Prized by the Tsars of Russia, this wine was so desired that there was a group of Cossacks whole only mission was to ensure this wine reached them.
Now, many of the Tokaji estates are owned partially by Austrailians or Europeans. The three top wineries are Szt Tamas, Nyulaszo and Betsek. There is one second growth, Birsalmas. Probably the best known Tokaji is the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, which is in part owned by the English wine critic Hugh Johnson.
Tokaji is a sweet wine which is made in a similar style to Sauternes. Wineries make Tokaji with semi-dry grapes that have had 'noble rot'. The grapes in this state are called Aszu. The grapes are put into a wooden putton for a certain number of days, usually between 6 and 8.
The juice then concentrates at the bottom of the putton - usually 50 pounds of grapes will only yield 1/4 of a pint. This goes into a special “Essencia” wine, which is incredibly rich in sugar.
The remaining paste is added to a blend of 'normal' grape wine, with air left in the cask to allow oxidation, much like Sherry. The sweetness of this final wine depends on how many puttonyos they add to this base wine.
Tokaji is rather sweet and is usually drunk as a dessert wine. It is normally drunk on its own rather than with food, but it could go well with a sweet fruit dish, such as an pavlova. Tokaji can age for many years. old.
The first wine produced in this region is thought to have been produced in around 1576, as noted in the Nomenklatura of Fabricius Balazs Sziksai. The region became the first appellation control at least 30 years before port wine and well over a century before the classification of Bordeaux. Classification of the vineyards in this region began in 1730 and fell into three categories depending on the soil type, potential to develop noble rot, and sun exposure. These are known as first class, second class and third class wines. After a Royal decree in 1757 a closed production district was established inn Tokaj, and the classification system was fully completed in 1772.
After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1920 approximately 1.75 square kilometers of the Tokaj wine region became part of Czechoslovakia. When Hungary became a Soviet influenced state after World War II the distribution of wines from the region were mainly done by state-owned organizations, but after the collapse of the communism in 1990 a number of independant wineries became established in the Tokaj wine region. Although today you will still find that around 20% of the overall production in the region is handled by state owned producers.
Tokaji is typically a sweet dessert style wine with sweet aromas, although it can also be semi dry, or even dry. The sweet versions can be enjoyed on their own as a dessert wine, or pairs well with blue cheese, or a sweet dessert. The dry versions pair well with white meats or seafood.