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Eszencia

Hungarian name for a type of Tokaj wine; see there.

Probably Hungary's best-known wine is named after the town of Tokaj in the north-east near the borders with Slovakia and Ukraine. The word "Tokaj" is probably of Hunnic-Turkish origin and means something like "forest by the river". It was first mentioned in a chronicle at the end of the 11th century, where the crossing of a Cuman army over the River Tisza at "Thocoyd" is described. King Béla IV (1235-1270) established Hungarian viticulture on a larger scale, with the first upswing in the Tokaj region occurring in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is no longer possible to determine when the very first Tokaj Aszú was produced, but it is certainly one of the first wines to be made from botrytised noble sweet berries.

Tokajer - Gemälde 16. Jahrhundert

The picture shows the vineyards of Tokaj in the second half of the 16th century (graphic by Georg Hoefnagel). The fortress known as Rákóczi Castle was demolished in 1705 by order of Francis II Rákóczi (1676-1735).

The history of Tokaj

Numerous legends surround the "invention" of Tokay. It is said that a Tokaji Aszú was presented to Pope Pius IV (1499-1565) at the Council of Trent in 1562, whereupon he remarked: "Summum pontificem talia vina decent!" ("Such wine belongs on the papal table"). Aszú wine is often first mentioned in writing in 1571, more precisely in a document from the inventory of the Garay family dated 15 May 1571. The term "Vinum passum-aszu szeőleő bor" (wine from aszú berries) appears as early as 1590 in the posthumously published work "Nomenclatura" by Balázs Szikszay Babricius (+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) Aszúszőlő-Bor" (= Aszú grape wine). The estates of Prince György Rákóczi I (1600-1660) also included the Tokaj-Hegyalja region.

The birth of 1651

When one of the numerous Turkish raids threatened once again around 1631, the court preacher in charge, Máté Szepsi-Laczkó (1576-1633), decided to wait with the grape harvest until the danger had been averted. During the long and sunny autumn, the berries began to shrivel and noble rot set in. The winegrowers were instructed to press the grapes from the Oremus vineyard separately during the harvest. At Easter 1651, the first "Tokajer Ausbruch"(dry berry selection) was served to Princess Zsuzsanna Lorántffy. The Hungarians therefore still honour Szepsi-Laczkó today as the "inventor of Aszú". A national evaluation for the Hungarian wine regions dates back to 1707. The regions were divided into five categories or quality classes. Only the Tokaj-Hegyalja region was classified as first class. It was at this time that the great importance of the area as a valuable commercial product began to be recognised.

Famous connoisseurs

From the 17th century onwards, Tokaj played an important role at many European courts. Royal connoisseurs included Franz Joseph I, Maria Theresa, Frederick the Great, Victoria I and William II. Many famous writers, poets and composers mentioned Tokay in their works. These included 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 (Mishka on the Tisza) and Voltaire (Proof of God).

In 1733, the Russian Tsar's court set up its own wine purchasing commission in the town of Tokaj. Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna Romanova (1709-1762) ordered a delivery of 375 barrels by letter on 8 November 1745 and noted as a postscript: "And if there is even a possibility, send at least three antal (barrels of approx. 75 litres) by messenger, which I cannot get anywhere here, where I cannot be without the wine, as you also know" .

Vinum Regum - Rex Vinorum

Under her successor Catherine the Great (1729-1796), supplies were escorted to her residence in St. Petersburg by a special Cossack detachment. The French Sun King Louis XIV (1638-1715) awarded it the title "Vinum Regum - Rex Vinorum", meaning "Wine of Kings - King of Wines". Tokay 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 kingdom. In order to ally himself with Louis XIV, he sent him a noble Tokay. Emperor Franz-Joseph I (1830-1916) also used the wine for diplomatic purposes, greeting Queen Victoria (1819-1901) with a consignment of Aszú every year on her birthday.

The heyday

The heyday of the Tokaj wine trade was during the heyday of the ruling Rákóczi and Bercsényi families in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, most of the countless wine cellars (185 were counted in Tokaj alone) were dug into the loess soils, which were ideal for this purpose. From the last third of the 18th century, there was a decline, on the one hand due to warlike events, as a result of which the vineyards remained uncultivated or were destroyed, and on the other hand due to economically imposed measures, especially during the reign of Maria Theresa (1717-1780). Only as much Tokaj wine was allowed to be exported as Austrian wine was imported. In 1745, the ruler of the Russian Tsarina Elisabeth (1709-1762) sent 600 bottles. Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758) also received a consignment and thanked him with an extraordinary quotation.

Forgeries

Wine adulteration, which took place on a large scale in many countries in the 19th century, also contributed to Tokay's bad reputation. There were even detailed recipes for this, for example in a work from 1875: Take 100 litres of normal wine; 15 litres of sultana essence; 0.5 litres of bitter almond essence; 0.1 litres of elderflower essence; 4 kg of sugar; 0.5 kg of caramel; 4 kg of glitterin and 6...

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