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.
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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„Until now I haven´t been defeated by anyone or anything, but Tokaji wine defeated me last evening.”
Tsar Peter the Great after a meeting with Prince Rákoczi II
Peter I of Russia