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A Timeless Journey Through the Hidden Treasures of the Tokaj Wine Region

Fanni Kaszás 2020.02.17.

Home of the legendary Aszú white wines, Tokaj wine region is located in northeastern Hungary. Named after the town of Tokaj, the region’s former commercial center, it is a relatively small wine region of around 5,500 hectares of vineyards. From wine tastings, excursions, producer’s markets, and great restaurants, the region offers a lot for tourists. 

photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today

Tokaj has a great history, as the region was declared one of the first appellations in the world in 1737. Over the last twenty-five years, the region went through a great development period as its wine-making culture and traditions were honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. The vineyards of Tokaj lie along the foothills of the pristine Zemplén Mountains, meeting with the enormous Great Hungarian Plain which provides the summer heat for the vines. Humidity, essential for the noble rot, the Botrytis, drifts up from the rivers Bodrog and Tisza.

photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today

The vine region includes 27 towns and villages, including Tállya. Tállya and the neighboring Mád both have their own village wine, however, the Tállya wines are the product of the collaboration of five local wineries and winemakers who were brought together by a love of culture, fine arts, tradition, good food, and good wine. Visiting one of them at the Szűcs Winery, it was a great opportunity to taste both the Szűcs wines, as well as the village’s own. The specialty of the production area is the volcanic rocks – the rhyolite in Tállya – the sunny southern slopes and the unique micro-climate. The cellar system, which lies under the village, often on multiple levels, was carved into the rhyolite tuff, and mainly contains Furmint wines, as 70% of the wine region produces it.

Szűcs Ferenc winery (photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today)

Ferenc Szűcs began to buy his vineyards in Tállya back in 2011, and since then he has been a pillar of the wine producing community of Tállya wines. The winery manages cc. 6.5 hectares, including vineyards such as Bohomály and Somszög, most of which are historic first-class vineyards. Their goal is to make their wines as natural as they possibly can, by avoiding the use of yeast, preferring fermentation in ceramic jars and wooden barrels, and looking for the perfect corks to deliver the highest quality wines to their customers.

photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today

Another winery in the area, Royal Tokaji winery, owns a unique combination of first and second-growth vineyards, including Mézes Mály, one of the two great first growths. They also produced Tokaji Essencia, which was labelled by USA-based Fortune Magazine as the world’s most expensive wine. The newly-released 2008-vintage wine costs $40,000 per bottle, almost as much as a kilogram of gold.

The World’s Most Expensive Wine Is From Hungary

Essencia differs from other Tokaji Aszú wines in that it is made entirely from the juice of grapes affected by noble rot and contains no base wine to dilute its sweetness. Due to the high sugar levels of the grape juice, the fermentation process is eight-years-long (versus just days or weeks for most wines) and results in an alcohol content of only two to four percent.

Szűcs winery cellar. (photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today)

In Tokaj village, some cafés, wineries, and producers collaborated on a “treasure hunt map,” in which tourists and visitors can collect stamps. If they taste all six of the “treasures” such as coffee in the Kávé Manufaktúra, jams at the Ízes Örömest Lekvárium, or wines in one of the participating wineries, and collect all the stamps, they can visit one of the two participating museums for free: either the World Heritage Wine Museum or the Tokaj Museum.

Szűcs winery cellar. (photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today)

The producer’s market at the Sárgaház (Yellowhouse) near Tarcal, another village in the region, is a unique Sunday program. The Tokaj-Hegyalja Market – with the support of the local government of Mezőzombor – is open on the second Sunday of every month from February on, with the help of local producers and craftsmen.

photo: Mádi Sajt Facebook

Visitors can taste and buy homemade cheeses from Mád, crochet jewelery from Erdőbénye, jam made from Aszú wine, honey from Bodrog, and many other delicacies.

photo: Tokaj Market Facebook

A great excursion in the neighborhood is to visit the Castle of Boldogkő. The castle stands above the village of Boldogkőváralja, on the top of an oval-shaped andezite tuff mountain. The exact time of its construction is unknown, but it is certain that it was built after the Tartar invasion. As a fortress, it protected the road to Kassa (Kosice) and the valley of the river Hernád.

Boldogkő castle (photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today)

The archaeological excavation of the castle began in 1963, and after the restoration, the former palace was transformed into a hotel. The picturesque castle has become a popular destination for excursions. At the beginning of the 90s, the hotel was closed, replaced by a military history exhibition and an exhibition of toy soldiers. The Toy Soldier Exhibition on an eight-square-meter field table depicts the Battle of Muhi with more than a thousand pieces. In 2002, another major reconstruction and excavation began in the castle.

Boldogkő castle. (photo: Fanni Kaszás/Hungary Today)

A 20 minutes drive among the small villages of the region reveals one of the best surprises of the area: one of the best countryside restaurants of Hungary, situated between small shops and canteens, hidden off the main road of Encs. The restaurant Anyukám mondta (My Mother said), was set up by the Dudás brothers in 2008 after they worked in Italy, with Szabolcs Dudás as head chef and his sibling, Szilárd, running the front.

Anyukám mondta, Encs (photo: Dániel Vargha/Hungary Today)

Produce is imported from Italy weekly and there is a proper wood-fired pizza oven, as they first started out as a pizza place. The restaurant is really busy, guests are warned to reserve a table in advance, as they operate a full house. They always work with the freshest and best ingredients and try to pick from local producers. And their coffee is also special, being among the few fortunate (only three places in Hungary) to make the coffee of the “coffee legend” Gianni Frasi.