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Tokaji revamped: Iconic wine region in makeover

Tokaji, possibly the only Hungarian wine that is familiar outside Europe, is undergoing a revamp. A set of guidelines approved by the wine region’s leaders on October 30 will make stricter the rules of its production.

Under the new regulations, winemakers can produce 2.2 liters of aszú wine per one kilogram of aszú grapes. Sugar content is set at 120 mg/liter – the lower limit of 5 puttonyos Tokaji – excluding from the market the lower range 3-4 puttonyos wine. (Tokaji quality is measured by degree of sweetness; the limit for 3-4 puttonyos wine is 60 mg/liter). Overall alcohol content of aszú should be at least 19%.

These constraints, as well as the recent election onto the wine region committee of board members favoring high-end wine production, signal a shift in winemaking towards the premium end. It has also triggered discontent among those who produce lower-priced Tokaji in higher volume, as their market and revenues may shrink.

Another novelty is that Tokaji wines of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) may only be bottled at Tokaj-Hegyalja from July 31, 2014. Adding sugar and sweeteners to these wines will be completely phased out from July 1, 2015. Cellars producing lower-range wines will have to report sweetening to the wine region and keep a log of it, too.

Unlike the previous regulations, the new rules do not exclude the possibility of making red wines in the region; up to now Tokaj wine has been defined as white, a description the new code does not include.

Old local varieties such as szerémi zöld, piros bakator, and villláskacsú that are less prone to philoxera are to be reintroduced and will replace varieties like cserszegi fűszeres, királyleányka and tramini, which will be allowed to grow only in moderation. Embracing these older wines can be explained by a recent surge of interest in local varieties over more global grapes.

Clearer requirements and reinforced quality control will guarantee the premium status of Tokaji wines, claims Miklós Prácser, head of the Tokaji wine community. Prácser believes these steps are vital to restore the rank of the iconic winemaking region. “Placing wine production on new basis will help boost the region’s growth and help ever more people to live from winemaking.”