Tokaji Wine Region
The Tokaji Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape represents a distinct viticultural tradition that has existed for at least a thousand years.
The region is the origin of Tokaji aszú wine, the world's oldest botrytized wine. It consists of 28 named villages and 7,000 hectares of classified vineyards. It’s also characterized by a network of wine cellars carved by hand into mostly volcanic rocks.
Community Perspective: It’s hard to find anything exceptional here. You can go wine tasting at the Rákóczi cellar in Tokaj or visit the 'World Heritage Wine Museum' in the same town. Clyde discovered the peculiarly shaped Tokaji wine cellars in Hercegkut which resemble hobbit holes.
Map of Tokaji Wine RegionLoad map
I visited the Hungarian Tokaji Wine Region in 2022 en route from Hortobagy and as a pleasant stopover for 2 days before heading to the Aggtelek and Slovak Karsts WHS. The best location in terms of vineyard landscapes is probably the area around Mad, Tarcal and Tokaj with excellent views from the oval Terézia chapel near Tarcal. The unique highlight of this WHS for me though lies in the peculiar shaped Tokaji wine cellars in Hercegkut.
First of all, Tokaj is the name of one of the villages of the wine region, while Tokaji is the official name of the wine region. The inscribed part (at least for now) lies in Hungary, but there are plans to extend this WHS to the Slovak part too. Tokaji aszu wine, the world's oldest botrytized wine, is a sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. The "nectar" coming from the grapes of Tokaj is also mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary. Of the six grape varieties officially approved for Tokaji wine production, Furmint and Harslevelu account for 60% and 30% of the area respectively. The wines produced in the region range from dry whites to the Eszencia, the world's sweetest wine. I tried a variety of wines from different wine cellars and since I was travelling by car got a generous sample of those I enjoyed most during my stay.
Probably the largest and most impressive of the wine cellars are found at the Oremus winery near Tolcsva, which belong to the Spanish Alvarez family. The 10 13th century separate wine cellars seen above ground (recently restored) are now actually different entrances to the same 4 km long maze of connecting cellars underground, after having been connected in the 19th and 20th centuries. A modern lift has also been integrated which makes the cellars easily accessible even for the elderly and easier for the wine to be transported in and out. The tunnels were simply carved into the soft layers of volcanic rhyolite tuff and later arched with bricks or rocks. The climatic conditions of the cellars provide ideal conditions to age the wines either in barrels or bottles. The overall ambience inside is quite similar to the Infernot cellars in Piedmont, Italy. The temperature of the cellars remains around 10.5°C all year round, with a humidity of 85-90%. Most of the walls are covered by a special mold which helps to regulate the humidity and keep the air clean. The cellars have shafts leading up to the surface for natural ventilation which are called “spirit holes”. Apart from the 10 connecting cellars, the Oremus winery also includes the Alvarez family mansion opposite a pretty half-timbered church.
The area where Tokaji wine is traditionally grown is a small plateau, 457 metres (1,500 ft) above sea level, near the Carpathian Mountains. The best systems of peculiarly shaped Tokaji wine cellars are to be found in the little Swabian village of Hercegkut, namely the Koporos Cellars and the Gombos-hegyi Cellars. Of all the cellars of these two systems in Hercegkut, cellar 92 of Gombos-hegy and cellar 87 of Koporos receive special mention as part of the WHS and are masterpieces of folk architecture too. The hillside cellars, with their distinctive triangular entrances, can be seen from town and the surrounding area, and are reminiscent of hobbit holes. I had a field day here with my drone. Kalvaria Hill rises up over the Gombos-hegy cellar rows, and you can follow a sacred route up to a chapel with an intimate atmosphere and a beautiful view of the town and of the Zemplen Mountains in the distance.
All WHS locations had UNESCO signs or information boards but the UNESCO WHS plaque can be found in the small main square of Tokaj (precisely on the wall of no. 15 Boraszuk winery). With no rain in sight for days on end, I can happily report that there were no pesky mosquitoes. The Tokaji Wine Region is really quite off the beaten track and it was a real delight for a change to enjoy so many fine wineries practically alone for most of the time, unlike the most famous wine regions of Italy and France for example. I'll definitely be revisiting in the near future if only to restock my small cellar at home with some more Tokaji wine. It is yet another one of those splendid places I would have never visited were it not for the WH list.
"I wanted to leave a surprise for future visitors." was Hubert's laconic reply, when I mentioned that he had left out a key and hard to miss detail from his otherwise great review of Tokaj. His so called surprise hit me at nightfall, when sitting outside and drinking Tokaj wine became unbearable. The whole area was swarming with insects and I was quickly turning into an open bar for bloodsuckers. Yikes.
I figured this was a night thing. Next morning, though, on my hike in the vineyards, the insects took another bite. Apparently, I am also a well respected breakfast option. Anyhow, now you are warned. Bring insect repellant as if this was in the tropics.
The core zone encompasses the old town of Tokaj. It's nice with wine estates here and there, but certainly it's not a St. Emilion, let alone Epernay or Val d'Orcia. The town is on the south east corner of the inscribed area. I am not sure how much better it gets if you venture further into the area; I could imagine that the less touristy/rural components are nicer. Best site for me were actually at the end of my hike: the small houses directly facing the train station (photo).
While I understand Hubert's 0.5 Stars rating, I decided to give this 0.5 Stars more. Not because I think it's great, but in comparison to the run of the mill Italian vineyard Prosecco or Piedmont inscription, this at least showcases a bit of Hungarian culture.
Note: In the near future, the site might well be extended to Tokaj vineyards in Slovakia.
There are regular trains running to Tokaji connecting to Budapest via Miskolc to Nyíregyháza and Debrecen. From Debrecen you can reach Hortobagy National Park, from Miskolc the Aggtelek and Slovak Karst.
I came from Slovakia via Miskolc having walked across the border. I left via Debrecen with a stop over in Hortobagy before taking the night train to Cluj, Romania. Debrecen itself was rather pretty.
The Tokaji Wine Region represents a distinct wine-growing tradition that has existed for at least a thousand years and has been preserved intact to date. The region is known for the Tokaji Aszú, the world's oldest wine that uses a process of 'noble rot'. The volcanic subsoil and the microclimate of the area are ideal for this type of viticulture. I visited the region as the last WHS in a series of 3 during my recent short trip to Hungary.
From Hortobagy, it takes an hour and a half of driving to arrive at the heart of this wine region. I did not expect too much from it: the site is in the bottom 100 of our rankings & well, it’s about wine again and I don’t drink that. Daydreaming along the way in the car, I just hoped to be able to sit in the sunshine on a terrace in Tokaj with a cappuccino and preferably also a piece of cake. That may seem like a simple wish, but something like that is certainly not a given in eastern Hungary.
The town of Tokaj turned out to be small but also somewhat livelier than the places I had seen in the days before. They also had a couple of terraces in the well-kept center, and I had a cappuccino with a piece of plum pie. A plus for Tokaj!
In addition to the usual wine cellars that can only be visited by appointment, they also have a 'World Heritage Wine Museum' here. It has only been open since 2016. Entrance to it costs 1,000 Hungarian forints (3 EUR). Photos and texts about other wine-growing areas on the World Heritage List are on display. You can also learn more about Tokaj's wine-growing tradition via interactive screens. Unfortunately, they do not have many items that were/are being used for viticulture here in the region in their collection.
The inscribed wine region covers an area of 132 square kilometers. To see some of the vineyards I drove 18 kilometers from Tokaj to Mád. Wineries are certainly prominent here and they also advertise along the road for sale. The vines are planted in neat rows against the mountain slopes. But the cultural landscape is not very spectacular.
After arriving in the very modest town of Mád I had one goal: a visit to the synagogue. The role of Jews in the Tokaji wine history is an interesting side note: Jews settled in this region in the 18th century and started producing and trading kosher wine. From that time there was also a synagogue in Mád and a Jewish cemetery. With foreign funds that synagogue, one of the oldest in Hungary, was restored in 2004. It is signposted well from the main street. Unfortunately, I found it closed though some foreign Jewish visitors were also present. I left without any clue when it can be visited (I was there on a Sunday morning).
Read more from Els Slots here.
The Hungarian World Heritage Sites never seemed very appealing to me (with the exception of Budapest), and it never crossed my mind to plan a trip to Eastern Hungary as the main destination. But we took the opportunity to visit Tokaj and the Hortobágy National Park on the way home from Slovakia to Austria in August 2014. Tokaj is only about 100 kilometres from Aggtelek (where we visited the karst caves), and it's just a further 1.5 hours drive to the Hortobágy National Park, so we gave in to the temptation and made a detour to tick off these two WHS.
The Tokaj Wine Region is best-known for the sweet wines, the most famous is the Tokaj Aszú. It is made from raisin-like dry grapes that were affected in the vine by the Botrytis fungus. This 'noble rot' gives the wine its special flavour, but it depends on the weather and does not occur every year. The tradition of wine making in the Tokaj region is centuries old, the first vineyards were established as early as in the 12th century. And Tokaj was among the first WHS, that are dedicated exclusively to viticulture.
However, the outstanding value of such a WHS should be visible in the specific features of the agricultural landscape or by a typical rural architecture. But in this respect Tokaj is very similar to other wine regions in Europe, there is nothing really exceptional, and e.g. the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Wachau or Lake Neusiedl are much more scenic landscapes. But maybe I'm biased because I always lived in or near wine regions, so I'm used to see vineyards, and even though I like this kind of cultural landscape, vineyards mean nothing special to me.
The town of Tokaj is the tourist centre of the wine region and its most lively place, it is located at the southeastern edge of the core zone. Near Tokaj are also the steepest vineyards, the upper photo shows the terraces of the Lencsés slope.
We spent a half day driving along the main road of the wine region from Tokaj to Tállya (about 25 kilometres) and we stopped here and there for a short walk through the vineyards. One of the most picturesque places was a small white chapel in the midst of the vineyards near the town of Torcal. But all in all, we were rather disappointed. We also went to two of the exclaves of the WHS, the Köporosi and Gomboshegyi wine cellar rows in the village Hercegkút (lower photo), 35 kilometres northeast of Tokaj. Each of the two places has about 70 to 80 of these wine cellars deeply dug into the hillside. But it was not possible to visit one of the cellars, everything was closed, seemingly tourists only rarely go to Hercegkút (probably only WHS enthusiasts), we were the only people around.
In the evening we went to a wine tasting at the Rákóczi cellar in Tokaj. In general, I prefer dry wines, but some Tokaj sweet wines tasted very good, so we bought some bottles of our favourite. And finally, after our return to Austria, on a mild summer evening on our balcony, a bottle of Tokaj wine and a selection of fine cheeses attenuated our negative assessment of the Tokaj WHS.
Tokaj is a picturesque town at the confluence of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers. Having grown rich from the fruits of their labours, the residents built a number of prestigious buildings, including civic buildings, wine cellars and the Grand Synagogue.
Tokaj is accessible by train from Miskolc and Debrecen.
Where the rivers of Tisza and Bodrog meet is the location of the small town of Tokaj, the central town in the Hungarian wine growing region with the same name. Actually Tokaj is only one of 28 towns and villages in the the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. But it was here it once started back in the 15th century even if there are traces of settlements in the area going back to the dawn of man. It was when Pope IV had lunch in Tokaj and fell completely in love with the wine, rumour of its superior quality started to spread across Europe. Today all of that is history and Tokaj is a nice little village full of vineyards and nesting storks.
I went for a wine tasting session at the Rakoczi Cellar, one of the more famous in town, got my own guide and a set out to try the best-of-the-best wines the house could offer. And what better thing can you do on a late afternoon than sipping excellent Tokajer wine followed by a four-course meal at the best restaurant in town. And the best of it all was that it did not make any substantial hole in my budget, which a similar exercise for sure would have done in France.
For a true wine-freak there is much to do and see in the Tokajer area. Opposite the town, on the other side of the two rivers, lies a nature reserve and there are numerous vineyards to visit and wine to buy. So why not bring your car and load up with one of the best wines on offer in this part of the world.
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2003 Name change
From "Tokaji Wine Region Cultural Landscape" to "Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape"
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