Probably the most famous wine of Hungary is named after the town of Tokaj in the north-east of the country near the borders with Slovakia and Ukraine. The word "Tokaj" is probably of Hunnic-Turkish origin and means "forest by the river". It was first mentioned in a chronicle at the end of the 11th century, where the passage of a Cumanian army over the river Tisza is described at "Thocoyd". King Béla IV. founded Hungarian viticulture on a larger scale. (1235-1270), the first boom in the Tokaj region took place in the 13th and 14th centuries. When the very first Tokaj aszú was produced in its present form is no longer known, but it is certainly one of the first wines made from botrytised noble sweet berries.
There are many legends about the "invention" of Tokaj. It is said that already in 1562 at the Council of Trent Pius IV. (1499-1565) at the Council of Trent, whereupon he remarked: "Summum pontificem talia vina decent!" ("Such wine belongs on the papal table" or "wine from Tállya belongs on the papal table" - because the word "talia" can mean "Tállya" but also "such"). Already in 1590 the term "Asszu szolo Bor" (wine from aszú berries) appears in the posthumous work "Nomenclatura" by Balázs Szikszai-Fabricius (+1576). And in 1635 a list of the Rákóczi cellar mentions "7 barrels (the Gönc barrel was the standard size) and 2 Àntalag (= small barrel) Aszúszölö-Bor" (= aszú grape wine).
Among the estates of Prince György Rákóczi I. (1600-1660) was the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. When around 1630 another Turkish invasion threatened, the responsible court preacher Máté Szepsi-Laczkó (1576-1633) decided to wait with the grape harvest until the danger was over. During the long and sunny autumn, the berries began to shrink and noble rot set in. The winegrowers were instructed to press the grapes from the Oremus vineyard separately during the harvest. At Easter of 1651 the first "Tokaj Ausbruch" (this was the name given to the wine at that time) was served to Princess Zsuzsanna Lorántffy. The Hungarians still honour Szepsi-Laczkó today as the "Aszú inventor".
From the 17th century the Tokaj played an important role at many European courts. Royal lovers were Franz-Joseph I, Maria Theresa, Frederick the Great, Victoria I and William II. Many famous writers, poets and composers mentioned the Tokaj in their works. These were Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust), Heinrich Heine (Book of Songs), Friedrich von Schiller (Wallenstein), Franz Schubert, Bram Stoker (Dracula), Johann Strauß Sohn (Fledermaus), Theodor Körner (in a wine song), Nikolaus Lenau (Mischka on the Tisza) and Voltaire (Proof of God). In 1733 the Russian tsar's court established its own wine buying commission in the town of Tokaj. The Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna Romanova (1709-1762) ordered by letter on November 8, 1745 a delivery of 375 barrels and noted as a postscript: "And if there is even one possibility, send with messengers at least three Antal (barrels of about 75 liters), which I cannot get anywhere here, since I cannot be without the wine, as you also know"
Under her successor, Catherine the Great (1729-1796), there was a special Cossack department whose task was to escort deliveries to her residence in St. Petersburg. The French Sun King Louis XIV (1638-1715) awarded him the title "Vinum Regnum - Rex Vinorum", in German "Wein der Könige - König der Wein". The Tokajer was also often used as a diplomatic weapon. When the Turks were driven out of Budapest in 1686, Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II. (1676-1735) wanted to establish the now liberated Hungary as an independent, national kingdom. In order to ally himself with Louis XIV, he sent him a noble Tokajer from his estates. Emperor Franz-Joseph I (1830-1916) also used the wine for diplomatic purposes; he greeted Queen Victoria of England (1819-1901) every year on her birthday with a consignment of aszú.
The heyday of Tokaj viticulture or wine trade was in the heyday of the ruling families Rákóczi and Bercsényi in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period most of the countless wine cellars (185 were counted in Tokaj alone in 1967) were dug into the loess soils that were excellently suited for this purpose, for which the cellar digger's own profession existed. From the last third of the 18th century onwards, there was a decline, on the one hand due to warlike events, as a result of which the vineyards remained untilled or were destroyed, and on the other hand due to economically decreed measures, especially during the reign of Maria Theresa (1717-1780). Only as much Tokaj wine was allowed to be exported as was imported for Austrian wines. In 1745 the ruler sent 600 bottles of it to the Russian Tsarina Elizabeth (1709-1762). Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758) also received a consignment and he thanked her with an extraordinary quotation.
The wine counterfeiting that took place on a large scale in Hungary and many other countries in the 19th century also contributed to the bad reputation of Tokaj. In wine books there were even detailed recipes for this, for example in a work from 1875 it was written: Take 100 litres of normal wine; 15 litres of raisin essence; 0.5 litres of bitter almond essence; 0.1 litre of elderflower essence; 4 kg of sugar; 0.5 kg of caramel; 4 kg of glitter and 6 litres of 80-percent spirit. At a wine dealer in Vienna-Döbling such wine could be ordered by the wagon for a ridiculous price. Wine adulterations were widely common at that time. During the communist...