:"This page is about the World Heritage Site. For places with similar names, see: Tokaj town, or Tokaj (region in Slovakia)"

Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape

State Party = HUN
Type = Cultural
Criteria = iii, v
ID = 1063
Region = Europe and North America
Year = 2002
Session = 26th
Link =

Tokaj-Hegyalja is a historical wine region located in northeastern Hungary. "Hegyalja" means "foothills" in Hungarian, and this was the original name of the region.

The region consists of 28 named villages and 7,000 hectares of classified vineyards, of which an estimated 5,000 are currently planted. Tokaj is unique among the world's wine regions in having been declared a World Heritage Site. However, its fame long predated this distinction because it is the origin of Tokaji aszú wine, the world's oldest botrytized wine.


Some of the characteristics which make the Tokaj wine region unique are:

*Soil and microclimate: The Tokaj terroir consists of clay or loess soil on volcanic subsoil. The microclimate is determined by the sunny, south-facing slopes and the proximity of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers, and is conducive to the proliferation of "Botrytis" (noble rot) and the subsequent desiccation of the grapes.
*Indigenous grape varieties: Furmint and Hárslevelü have been cultivated in the region for centuries and, together with Yellow Muscat (Hungarian: "Sárgamuskotály") and Zéta, are the only grape varieties officially permitted for use in the region.
*Cellars: A vast system of cellars was carved out of solid rock between 1400 and 1600 A.D. They provide a constant temperature of around 10-12°C. The cellars are covered with a characteristic mold, which feeds off the alcohol evaporated during aging and keeps the humidity in the range of 85-90%, which is ideal for the aging of Tokaji wines.
*Appellation system: A royal decree in 1757 established a closed production district in Tokaj, the world's first system of wine appellation. Vineyard classification began in 1730 and was completed by the national censuses of 1765 and 1772.


No one knows when the first wines were made in the Tokaj region. Historical records show that vineyards had been established in Tokaj as early as the 12th century. There is evidence for the earlier introduction of wine production to the region, but opinion is divided on when this occurred.

A number of experts claim that viticulture could have started in the Tokaj region as early as in the Celtic times, that is BC. A petrified grape leaf found in Erdőbénye and dating from the late 3rd century AD, points to the existence of viticulture in Roman times. Slavs arrived in the region in the late 5th/early 6th century. One possible origin for the name "Tokaj" is that it is derived from the Slavic word "Stokaj", meaning approximately confluence (i.e. confluence of the rivers Bodrog and Tisza). The Slovaks claim that Slavs continued previous viticulture in the region. Magyar settlers arrived in Tokaj from the end of the 9th Century and there is an alternative theory that viticulture was introduced to the region from the east, possibly by the Kabar tribe. The Magyars themselves seem to have had an ancient tradition of wine-making (see: Origins of Hungarian wine-making). Another possible origin for the name "Tokaj" is that it comes from an Armenian word meaning "grape".

"Latin" people were first invited to settle in Tokaj by Hungarian King Béla III (1130-1162) and then by Béla IV (1235-1270). These immigrants were probably Walloons from northern France, although some researchers claim that they were Italians. Slavic peoples (Slovaks and Rusyns) are also documented as being involved in Tokaj viticulture by the 12th century. However, the rise of Tokaj as a major wine region can be dated to the early 16th Century.

Tokaji wine became an increasingly important commodity for the region from the 17th century, its export being a major source of income for the ruling princes of Transylvania to which the Tokaj region belonged at the time. Indeed, revenues from the increasingly renowned Tokaji Aszú wine helped to pay for the wars of independence fought against Austrian Habsburg rule. The repute of Tokaji wine was enhanced when in 1703, Francis II Rákóczi, prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France a gift of numerous bottles of wine from his Tokaj estate. Tokaji wine was then served at the Versailles Court, where it became known under the name of Tokay. Delighted with the precious beverage, Louis XIV declared it "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" ("Wine of Kings, King of Wines").

In the 18th Century, Tokaj reached the height of its prosperity. Both Poland and Russia had become major export markets for its wine. Such was the importance of Tokaji in Russia, that the Russian emperors maintained a de facto colony in Tokaj in order to guarantee the supply of wine to the Imperial Court.

The partition of Poland in 1795 and subsequent imposition of customs duties dealt a severe blow to the exports of Tokaji wine and precipitated the economic decline of the region. However, this was only the first of three major crises for Tokaj. The second occurred when the phylloxera epidemic reached Tokaj in 1885 and destroyed the vast majority of the vineyards in a matter of years. The third shock was when Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory under the Treaty of Trianon, and thus Tokaj wine lost access to the majority of its domestic market. The region was also divided between Hungary and the newly created Czechoslovakia, which gained an area of 120 hectares. The latter now forms part of a much larger wine region in Slovakia.

The era of communist rule in Hungary saw a deterioration in the quality and reputation of Tokaji wines. However, since 1990 a considerable amount of investment has gone into the Tokaj region, creating what has been dubbed as the "Tokaj Renaissance". There are now almost 600 wineries in the region, of which about 50 produce the full range of wines.

An agreement was reached in June 2004 between the Hungarian and Slovak governments concerning the use of the Tokaj name in Slovakia. Under this agreement, wine produced on 5.65 km² of land in Slovakia is able to use the "Tokaj" name. However, the Slovak part did not observe their legally binding undertaking, which was to introduce the same standards enshrined in Hungarian wine laws since 1990. It has not yet been decided who will monitor or enforce those laws. The disputes led Slovakia into an international lawsuit between Hungary and five other countries (Italy, France, Slovakia, Australia, Serbia and Slovenia), for the brand name "Tokaji". (see details: Tokaji)

Tokaji wine

References and external links

* [ UNESCO description: Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape]
*"Tokaj - The Wine of Freedom" (László Alkonyi, Budapest 2000).
*"Terra Benedicta - Tokaj and Beyond" (Gábor Rohály, Gabriella Mészáros, András Nagymarosy, Budapest 2003)
* [ "Tradition and Innovation in the Tokaj Region" (Tim Atkin)]
* [ Tokaj portal]
* [ Tokaj and the historic Wine Region - tourism information]
* [ Tokaj Wine Region on the European Wineroads portal (HUN)]
* [ Tokaj-Hegyalja Attractions]

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