History of Wine in 100 Bottles: Tokaji, 1571

news  %tages History of Wine in 100 Bottles: Tokaji, 1571Our third wring from Oz Clarke's new book, The Description of Wine in 100 Bottles, looks at Europe in the 16th century, and the progression of Tokaji. Tokaji vineyardsI’ve always presumed it was the gorgeous taste of Tokaji that first made it well-known, or indeed its
This c. 1680 rarity is possibly the oldest unopened bottle of Tokaji.
legendary restorative powers that had the fantastic and excellent of Europe queuing round the block for their allocation. But perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was something altogether more compelling.
Sixteenth-century Europe was a melting pot of crazy thoughts and fantastical propositions. And into this world of alchemy and intrigue strode Tokaji. An Italian thinker called Marzio Galeotto spread the word that the wines of Tokaj contained gold. He’d visited Tokaj in Hungary and reported that there was golden ore in them thar hills, that the sand in the vineyards’ soils contained particles of gold, and that some of the vines even had golden http://1000-facts-about-wine.com shoots. That brought the most well-known alchemist of the day, Paracelsus, to Tokaj and, not surprisingly, he disastrous to wring gold from the grapes or their wine, though he did make the rather baffling observation that sunshine ‘like a thread of gold, passes through stock and root into the rock’. So this kept the Tokaji and gold legend fizzy away for quite a while yet.
Of course, imbibing gold flakes was supposed to be excellent for you, which might clarify why the Tokaji wines were so well loved with the potentates of the time. But I suspect the wits was simpler – the stuff tasted so scrumptious. Intense, succulent and sweet.
Nowadays, sweetness is everywhere in what we eat and drink, but it wasn’t then. And any wine that could regularly come up with rich, sweet flavours was going to be clamoured for by the wealthy. And there’s some evidence that the growers of Tokaj, in an block out province in the east of Hungary, may have been the first http://1000-facts-about-wine.com to make naturally sweet wines on a regular basis. To make a naturally sweet wine, it’s not enough to simply have super-ripe grapes; they must be over-ripened to the point of shrivelling on the vine, or, ideally, attacked by a fungus called ‘noble rot’, which
Noble rot
sucks out the moisture from a grape and concentrates the wine to the greatest extent physically possible. The Hungarians use the word aszú to describe shrivelled, desiccated grapes, and also to describe grapes whose sugar is concentrated by noble rot. The first mention of Aszú grape wine is in 1571, in a property deal clearly demonstrating that the Aszú grapes had been kept break from the habitual grapes in the vineyard of Mézes Mály. And this would at the very least imply that the producers of Tokaji were the first in the world to harvest shrivelled and nobly rotten grapes on purpose – the Germans on the Rhine didn’t get the hang of purposefully nobly rotting their grapes until 1775.
The more commonly http://1000-facts-about-wine.com accepted legend is that a guy called Szepsi Laczkó Máté postponed the vintage at the fantastic Oremus vineyard in 1630, fearing an attack by the Turks. Or was it 1633? Or was it 1650? That’s the distress with legends, who knows? Anyway, the Turks were certainly threatening – just over the Bodrog River (wonderful name) – and Oremus was the family estate of Prince Rákóczi, the most prominent local nobleman. The date doesn’t really matter, because the exceptional climatic conditions along the Bodrog River, with its daylight mists and warm autumn days, would mean that grapes had been nobly rotting there on a regular basis for centuries. But it was the local Tokaji wine producers who first started to make one of the world’s fantastic wine styles – naturally sweet, luscious wine from nobly rotted grapes.
This wring was taken from The Description of Wine in 100 Bottles by Oz Clarke
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