History of Tokaj
“Tokaji, the wine of kings, the king of wines!”
This is how Louis XIV, the Sun King, is said to have exclaimed in admiration of Tokaji wine sometime in the late 17th century. Sweet Tokaji Aszú was the noble wine he enjoyed, a result of centuries of tradition and expert winemaking craft. These days, Tokaji Aszú remains well-positioned for ongoing success as one of Hungary’s hallmark luxury products.
But let’s get back to dry Furmint – and its future in the making. Furmint’s prospects are grounded in its historical past. Here are a few elemental Furmint history facts – the journey begins at the dawn of the second millennium…
1074 – written mention “Tokaj” as a town
1241 – First mention of wine cellars in the town of Tolcsva
1332 – The first indirect mention of Mád’s Szent Tamás vineyard
Wine from Szent Tamás [Saint Thomas] Parish’s vineyards is included in the Papal Tithe Registers.
1482 – First mention of “Mád” as a town
1520s – Szerémség is lost while Tokaj rises
Hungary’s once famous wine region, the Szerémség, was conquered by the then growing Turkish Empire in the early 16th century, forcing many local vineyard owners and winemakers to flee the area. Many eventually found a new home in the Tokaj region, bringing with them specialized winemaking skills and knowledge. This event significantly contributed to the rise of Tokaj as a wine producing region in coming centuries.
1571 – First known mention of “Aszú” wine
1611 – First known mention of “Furmint” grape variety
The first written occurrence of the name “Furmint” as a grape variety is in an ecclesiastical document mentioning it being grown in the Gyepű Valley near the village of Erdőbénye.
1641 – The Mád Gathering: Tokaj’s coming of age
The historical meeting of local towns’ and villages’ representatives ensured voluntarily agreement to common standards of viticulture and vinification, marking the birth of Tokaj Wine Region as a single eco-geographical area. (While similar meetings had been held previously, it is the 1641 one whose full records have survived to date.)
1720s – The world’s first vineyard classification
The classification of Tokaj vineyards is the world’s oldest, well predating that of Port vineyards in 1757 or of Burgundy in 1855. Tokaj apellation appears in Vinicultura Tokaiensis, a chapter meant to be incorporated into Notitia Hungariae Novae, a comprehensive historical and chorographical account of contemporary Hungary at the time.
1737 – Royal Charter: demarcation and appellation control
The 1737 Royal Charter demarcated Tokaj wine region, listing the towns and villages whose outskirts were deemed suitable for growing Tokaj grapes, and in turn, producing Tokaji wines. This was one of several appellation control methods intended to reduce misuse of the Tokaj brand name, which was not uncommon during preceding decades.
1845 – Tokaj Grape Nursery founded in Sárospatak
63 grape varieties were identified in the region with Furmint as one of the top three most widespread cultivars.
1867 – Tokaj-hegyalja Album published
Co-authored by Dr József Szabó and István Török, the quadrilingual Album set out to acquaint the world with Tokaj Wine Region. It is written in Hungarian, with additional translations in German, French, and English (the latter being not wholly accurate, albeit an interesting read). This publication stood out on account of its apparently scientific approach, with extensive tables filled with the results of chemical analyses of soil and wine samples taken from various Tokaj sites and wineries.
1880s – The phylloxera plague reaches Tokaj
90% of all grape vines were killed by the deadly root louse during a 10-year period.
1886 – First international trial about the Tokaj brand
Tokaj producers succeed for the first time in protecting the Tokaj brand at a trial waged in multiple countries.
1920 – Hungary breaks apart
Following World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its population as a result of the Trianon Peace Treaty. Two villages of Tokaj wine region and part of the town of Sátoraljaújhely were ceded to what is Slovakia today.
1950s Communist takeover
As a result of regime change following World War II, Tokaj underwent a shift to mass production and poor winemaking practices. As a result, Tokaji wines tumble into oblivion on the international scene.
1990s – Revival with a new style of Aszú wines
2000s – Modern Tokaji dry wines emerge
American-owned Királyudvar’s well-established winemakers, István Szepsy and Zoltán Demeter, create Úrágya Furmint 2000. This wine is now regarded as a breakthrough dry Furmint varietal that opened a new era of success for Tokaji dry wines.
2002 – Tokaj is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Tokaj Wine Region is inscribed on UNSECO’s World Heritage List as a Cultural Landscape.
2013 – István Szepsy is awarded “Les Seigneur du Vin”
Hungary’s most famous vintner, István Szepsy (co-creator of Úrágya Furmint 2000) receives the World Wine Symposium’s prestigious “Les Seigneur du Vin” accolade, sometimes referred to as the Academy Award of the wine world.
2014 – Tokaj becomes a Government-Designated Growth Area
In early 2014, Tokaj Wine Region was declared a Government-Designated Growth Area, one of three such regions in Hungary.