The vineyards of Tokaj-Hegyalja were the first ever to be formally classified - more than one and a half century before the classification of Bordeaux. Already in the mid-17th century the Rákóczi family introduced 1st, 2nd and 3rd class (or cru) quality ratings. Records of it did not survive. The second official effort on classification was completed in 1772.
Besides introducing 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class Growths, the classification of growths defined two outstanding growths as Great First Growths: Szarvas and Mézes Mály.
The First Class Growths are the ones which are most exposed to the sun and the changes of the atmosphere, ideally situated on the steepest declivities and on their upper parts. In this manner, for example, the Tokaj mountain is planted quite round about, its soil is everywhere of the same quality, but the best site is that which has south exposure, and is perfectly accessible to the air both from east and west. Yet, long before 1700, clayey loam soil derived from volcanic rock, especially riolite, trachyte, and andesite, had become regarded as preferable. Also loess was a notable soil type. Seventy-six vineyards were classified as 1st Class, or Primae Classis in contemporary Latin.
Vineyards rated as second class are often found on hills with first class rating, but are situated on their lower parts, and with lesser degree of slope. Below the 120-meter level, stoniness declines, and cold air sinks there. Also, in account of lesser heat retention, a soil type called stone-dust was less esteemed than others like loess or riolite. On the Tokaj mountain for example, the vineyards on slopes with southeastern exposure are considered 2nd class. There are fifty-nine 2nd Class Growths.
Although Tokaj is the most famous locality of the region, there are spots which produce wines which are more preferred, as excelling in strenght and arome, like wines from Mád or Tolcsva. 3rd class growths are mainly the ones with exposure to the west or north, which is the case on the north slope of the Tokaj mountain. Here, the lack of water is the problem, which nature tries to regulate with wine. Still, the most important difference between the thirty-eight Third Class and the First or Second Class Growths refers to their exposure, since soil type is from the same quality.
Here is an introduction to the most famous vineyards of the Tokaj region.
|„Stag´s Hill“||Great First Growth|
Near Tarcal, on the southern side of the Tokaj Hill, Szarvas has been the most important property of the Rákoczis, until it was confiscated in 1714 on behalf of the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph I. During the 1800s, Szarvas became identified with the expression „Imperial Tokay“. Between the World Wars Szarvas was cultivated under the direction of The Royal Family Vineyard Administration. After 1950, Szarvas was directly under the supervision of the Viti-Vinicultural Research Institute in Tarcal, for which reason it became prime source for the Aszú Eszencia wines of the communist era. This vineyard was not for sale during the privatization process after the 1989 change, and remained property of Crown Estates of Hungary, which was formerly the State Winery.
Tokaji from the Szarvasz vineyard in our shop:
>> 1957 Monimpex Aszú Eszencia
|Szarvas Dülö near Tolcsva. One of the two Great 1st growths in the Tokaj winegrowing region, shown on a historical lithograph (by Gusztáv Keleti) from the Tokaj Hegyaljai Album, published in 1867.|
|„Honeypot“||Great First Growth|
Situated on loess soil on a south facing slope, Mézes Mály near Tarcal was formerly owned by the Imperial family. Today, 11 hectares of the vineyard are jointly owned by Hugh Johnson and the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, another 13 hectares are owned by the Gróf Degenfeld Winery. In the text of the 1700 classification this vineyard stands out as the very finest - described as Pro Mensa Caesaris Primus Haberi - „to be the first choice at the Royal table“. Mézes Mály's characteristics are based around its translation as „honey pot“. Its incredibly long and exquisitely balanced aromas and flavours combine the very essence of Aszú wines. The French pioneering wine writer André Jullien (1766-1832), slightly exaggerating, wrote in 1816 in his „Topographie de Tous Les Vignobles Connus“ about this vineyard: „The wine of the cru of the mountain Mezes-Malé does not enter commerce; it is destined in its totality for the caves of the Emperor and those of some magnates who posses some vineyards there.“
|Mézes Mály with the Terézia Chapel from the 18th century on its top
|„Let us pray“||First Class Growth|
The history of this vineyard in Sátoraljaújhely dates to at least the 13th century, when the Roman Catholic Pauline Order had established a cloister here. The name „Let us pray“ suggests, that the Pauliners developed this vineyard in that period. During the early 1500's, the land was confiscated and became property of the landed nobility. According to the legend, the first aszú wine from botrytized grapes was produced from this vineyard. By most accounts, that happened around 1620. At that time, Zsuzsanna Lórántffy (1600-1660), the wife of Prince George Rákóczi I, had a large vineyard on Oremus under the direction of the Calvinist preacher László Maté Szepsi, who is today considered to be the inventor of the modern aszú wine. Because of warfare with the Ottoman Turks, grapes had to remain on the vine longer than usual and thus decayed by noble rot. Szepsi used the large harvest of botrytized grapes to make a new sort of later harvested sweet wine, which we know today as Aszú.
The inventor of the Tokaji Aszú: Szepsi Laczkó Máté (1576–1633)
However, Szepsi served his creation to Princess Zsuzsanna only after more than ten years, in commemoration of the Easter celebrations in 1631. The ducal family Bretzenheim owned Oremus in the Imperial era until the family extincted in the 1860's. Today the vineyard is property of the Oremus winery.
|Varoldal, near Sároraljaújhely in 1867. On the slope between the hills Sátorhegy on the right and Várhegy in the middle, there is the Oremus vineyard.|
|„Pig Rock“||First Class Growth|
Once mentioned among the eight most wellknown „dülös“ of Hegyalja, Disznókö is situated on the southern side of a Perlite-hillock, with open faces to west and east.
Archduke Joseph of Austria (1776-1847) and Count Menyhért Lónyay (1822-1884), two former owners of lots in the Disznókö vineyard
The name „Pig Rock“ refers to a large stone that was thought to resemble a wild boar. During the Imperial era, a famous owner of this vineyard was Count Menyhért Lónyay, who was Hungarian Prime Minister from 1867 and K.u.K. Minister of Finance after 1870. Also Archduke Joseph of Austria owned a vineyard on this tract. Today, this most outstanding vineyard of Mezözombor is exclusively owned by the wellknown Disznókö winery.
|Disznókö near Mezözombor. Today this vineyard is owned by the famous Disznókö winery. The old presshouse in this picture, called „Sarga Borház“, contains a restaurant today, and the winery's visitors centre.|
A beautiful Essencia from the outstanding Danczka vineyard. Behind the beauty of this Essencia lies a powerful golden goddess, whose soul and magic is contained within the orange blossom honey nectar.
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„Another glass, Watson!” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes as he extended the bottle of Imperial Tokay. ... „It is a good wine, Holmes.” - „A remarkable wine, Watson. Our friend upon the sofa has assured me that it is from Franz Josef’s special cellar at the Schoenbrunn Palace.”
from „His Last Bow”
Arthur Conan Doyle