Wine & Ratings

Tokay

About Tokay

Tokay is an outdated and somewhat ambiguous term used, at one time or another, to describe a number of distinct wine styles. Though the name is not used officially today, it may be used unofficially and thus is worth explaining in order to provide clarity and avoid confusion.

The term Tokay can unofficially refer to one of three distinct wine styles: Hungarian Tokaji, Alsatian Pinot Gris (previously known as “Tokay d’Alsace” or just “Tokay”), and a sweet Australian fortified wine today called Topaque.

Tokaji

Tokaji wine comes from the Tokaj region in Hungary and can range from bone-dry to lusciously sweet. However, it is its sweet wines for which the region is best known, and the finest examples make a strong case as the world’s greatest dessert wines.

The term Tokay was at one time used to describe these wines in export markets, perhaps to make pronunciation easier for non-Hungarian speakers.

There are six grape varieties permitted in Tokaji production, of which the most important is Furmint. The Furmint grape is late-ripening and especially prone to botrytis, making it ideal for the production of sweet wines. Fully dry or off-dry Tokaji wine is also made from the Furmint variety. The other grapes permitted are Hárslevelű, Sárga Muscotály (better known as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains or Yellow Muscat), Kövérszőlő, Zéta and Kabar.

The best-known Tokaji wine is the sweet Tokaji Aszú, produced from botrytis-infected grapes. The grapes are harvested by hand in a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, similar to what is done in Sauternes. Botrytis-infected grapes have an incredibly high sugar concentration, and thus the wines retain a high level of residual sugar after fermentation. Tokaji Aszú is required to have a minimum of 60 grams of residual sugar per liter.

Other styles of Tokaji wine include Szamorodni, Late Harvest, and Eszencia. The most prestigious is Tokaji Eszencia, a lusciously sweet wine with low alcohol and a huge minimum of 450 grams per liter of residual sugar. It is exceptionally rare and very expensive.

Tokay d’Alsace

In Alsace, Pinot Gris was long known as Tokay d’Alsace, or just Tokay. Use of the term was banned in 2007.

Alsace Pinot Gris is generally richer and more full-bodied than expressions of the grape elsewhere, and is usually made in a dry style. The Pinot Gris grape is perhaps better known as Pinot Grigio, and it is under this name that it has gained huge traction in the mass market, particularly from the Veneto region of Italy.

Topaque

The Australian fortified wine known today as Topaque was formerly known as Tokay. Topaque is a sticky fortified wine produced from the Muscadelle grape, itself once known locally as Tokay. Hungarian objection to use of that term means that its use here is now a thing of the past.

Deciding which type of Tokay wine you’d like to try? The Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s online Buying Guide—found below—hosts hundreds of reviews and articles written by our expert staff. Browse our database to help make your decision easier!

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