Tokaj - World Famous Wines
The name Tokaj is identified the world over with wine, but it has also been put on the World Heritage list to protect the characteristic grape cultivation and wine making culture of this region in the northeastern part of Hungary. A fossilized imprint has been found here of an ancient Miocene-period vine leaf, a common ancestor of today's grape varieties, from which it can be seen that grapes are indigenous to Tokaj. This is thanks to the exceptional microclimate, the volcanic and post volcanic activity which created the characteristic soil, the gentle slopes with favourable aspects, and the autumn mists rising from the Bodrog and Tisza rivers. The oak trees used for the barrels also grow locally and the special mould that has colonized the walls of the cellars helps the wine mature. The end product, referred to by the French king Louis XIV as the wine of kings and the king of wines, is considered to have medicinal properties to this day.
Getting there: take the M3 Motorway from Budapest and then Highways 37 and 38 after Miskolc.
The World Heritage part of the Tokaj Foothills (Hegyalja) wine region encompasses 27 different towns including the most notable production areas of Tokaj, Bodrogkeresztúr, Bodrogkisfalud, Mád, Mezőzombor, Rátka, Szegi, Tarcal, and Tállya. Also included are the Ungvári wine cellar in Sátoraljaújhely, the Rákóczi wine cellar in Sárospatak, the Kőporosi and the Gomboshegyi wine cellars in Hercegkút and the Oremus and Bormúzeum wine cellars in Tolcsva. The area has unique geological and geographical features. The volcanic and post volcanic activity produced many types of soil which has an effect on soil productivity, mineral content and heat retaining and reflecting characteristics. The benign slopes, the sunshine, the proximity of the Bodrog and Tisza rivers and the long autumn create the climatic conditions favourable to the special botrytis cinera noble rot, the mould which encourages the raisin (aszú) producing process. The must of these grapes can contain up to 850 grams of sugar per litre as well as a high concentration of tannins and fragrance producing materials. Selecting the "aszú" grapes from each bunch was already a common practice at the beginning of the 1600s in Hegyalja. Thanks to the unique microclimate of the area, the walls of the cellars have a special cellar mould growing on them, which has a very beneficial effect on the process of wine maturation. Hungarian wine culture has two origins: it brings together the eastern, Caucasian, and the western, Roman, traditions. They are reflected both in the methods of cultivation in Tokaj-Hegyalja and in the architecture of the cellars.
It is thought that grape cultivation and wine production was already established at the time of the Magyar conquest, but there is no concrete evidence to support this. Evidence of cultivation becomes available following the arrival of the Walloon settlers in the second half of the 12th century. Through the centuries various groups of people settled here - Saxons, Schwabians, Poles, Romanians, Armenians and Jews - all of whom enriched the economic and social life, including the wine culture. This rich variety is reflected in the religious and secular architecture of the towns. Besides the folk architecture, the 16th and 17th century buildings of the prosperous peasantry and the aristocracy are of unique interest. This area has enjoyed protection since 1737 when, by Royal decree, it was declared a closed wine region (the first in the world). Every stage of Tokaj wine production can be followed in the ancient, deep-lying cellars of the distinctive vineyards, farms, villages and small towns.
It was to preserve the traditions of wine cultivation, developed over the last thousand years, in their authentic form and to maintain the ancient unity of the wine region, that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee put the historic wine region of Tokaj on the World Heritage List in 2002. In other words, such a singular ecosystem, such a unique interdependence of human culture and traditions had evolved in Tokaj-Hegyalja, that its preservation and availability was of universal interest.
This region is an excellent place for water tours, since Tokaj lies at the meeting point of the Tisza and the Bodrog Rivers. You can reach Sárospatak from Tokaj on any of the river cruise boats. The Castle Palace in Sárospatak represents one of the most valuable Gothic and Renaissance building groups in the country. The famous Large Library and the museum of the Reform Collegium contain many treasures. The college was founded in 1531. In the castle of Szerencs, besides the Castle History Museum, you'll find the Candy Museum and a postcard collection which contains 825,000 postcards.