Described by Louis XIV as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” (the king of wines and the wine of kings) Tokaji Aszú, the unctuous, honeyed wine made from super-concentrated, botrytized grapes, has long been the archetypical Hungarian wine since it was first documented in 1571.
Beloved by Thomas Jefferson and Russian czars alike, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria (who was also King of Hungary) had a tradition of sending Queen Victoria Tokaji wine, as a gift, every year on her birthday, one bottle for every month she had lived, twelve for each year. On her eighty-first and final birthday (1900), this totaled an enviable 972 bottles.
As sought-after and expensive in the 21st century as it was in the 18th, these ebulliently floral, lusciously fruity wines are traditionally a blend of local grapes including varieties of Muscat, the world’s oldest varietal. Even under Ottoman and then under Soviet rule, Hungary still managed to somehow produce Tokaji wines which have never lost their international appeal.
Following the collapse of the Hungarian Communist regime in 1989, Hugh Johnson, the great English wine writer founded a winery to revive the fortunes of this ‘Vinum Regum’ which he called Royal Tokaji. This sweet golden wine, tasting of ripe peaches, apricots, pears and mandarin oranges is made from three local varietals, Furmint, Hárslevelű and Muscat de Lunel.
The other famous wine from Hungary is Egri Bikavér - Bull’s Blood – which although weakened under Soviet rule is now once more being made in the traditional manner – dark, strong and powerful.