The most famous wine region in Hungary, Tokaj is located on the site of 300 extinct volcanoes. It’s traditionally known for its natural sweet wines (Tokaji Aszú) made from late-harvest grapes, but in recent decades, elegant and volcanic dry white wines have appeared, and they have quickly become some of the most popular and most acclaimed wines from Hungary.
The main traditional local grapes are Furmint and Hárslevelű (Lindenblättriger), and only six specific white grape varieties are allowed in Tokaj – no reds at all. Due to the all the volcanic activity over millions of years, the soil of Tokaj is so complex and varying that it’s nearly impossible to map. An upper layer of clay or loess covers the volcanic subsoil in most areas, but the soil composition can change completely even within a couple of meters. The relatively harsh but sunny weather, together with the volcanic soils, allow for some of the best white wines in Europe to be made here. The Bodrog and Tisza rivers run nearby, creating a damp, misty microclimate that is ideal for the development of noble rot, or botrytis, which gives the sweet wines of Tokaj their unique rich flavor. The official grape varieties are: Furmint, Hárslevelű, Muskotály (Yellow Muscat), Zéta, Kövérszőlő and Kabar.
Since the 1990s, winemakers have been learning how to bring the best out the region, and they are doing a better job year after year. In the past few years, oak barrel usage has declined, and many top producers are creating crisper, clean wines now that really bring out the rich minerality and diversity of the region’s soils.