Tokaji is the name used to describe wine from the Tokaj region in northeastern Hungary. Though dry wine is made here, the region’s most famous wines are lusciously sweet, and this is what most people refer to when they use the name Tokaji. The sweet wines of Tokaji are some of the world’s greatest.
The Tokaj winegrowing region lies close to the Hungarian border with Slovakia, in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains. The vineyards lie on the slopes of the Carpathian foothills, and the wines here have been held in the highest esteem for hundreds of years. Hungary’s time under communist rule seriously hurt its wine industry, as the emphasis shifted from quality to quantity. Since 1989, quality has once again become a focal point, and today Tokaj boasts a wealth of top quality producers.
There are six grape varieties permitted to make Tokaji wine. The most important grape in sweet Tokaji production is Furmint. This is a late-ripening white grape, and is particularly susceptible to botrytis, lending itself well to quality sweet wine. Hárslevelű is also prone to botrytis, and is the next most common variety. The other grapes permitted here are Sárga Muscotály (known internationally as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains), Kövérszőlő, Zéta and Kabar.
The best-known Tokaji wine style is certainly Tokaji Aszú. This is the primary sweet style of Tokaji, and is produced from grapes that have been affected by noble rot. The botrytis-affected berries are handpicked in a time-consuming and labor-intensive exercise. Grapes that have been affected in this way have very high sugar concentration, and thus the wines have a lot of residual sugar after fermentation. Tokaji Aszú must have a minimum of 120 grams per liter (g/L) of residual sugar.
There are several other styles of Tokaji wine, from dry and semi-sweet to even sweeter than Tokaji Aszú. Important styles include Szamorodni, Late Harvest and Eszencia.
Tokaji Eszencia is legendary in its own right, known for its low alcohol and decadent sweetness—the minimum level of residual sugar is 450 g/L, though it’s possible to see levels closer to 800 g/L. This is an incredibly rare and expensive style of Tokaji.
Looking for a list of the top-rated Tokaji wines produced globally? You can use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to filter by style, rating, price and year. Use our database to discover popular and rare bottles sure to provide the perfect pre- or post-dinner beverage.