Hungary has a long-standing history in wine production, dating back to the time of Romans and the Celts. Centuries of great migrations brought the Avar nation to central Europe. Although their ancient cultures has since been lost, the Hungarians who later migrated to the great planes of Central Europe adopted and preserved the wine making crafts of the Avars. Thus grape growing and wine production quickly spread amongst the medieval Hungarian cities. This process was further promoted by different privileges bestowed by the rulers of that time, who considered wine production improvements as an important part of their policy. Although the Tartar and the Turkish conquests of Hungary may have hampered this trend up until the 17th century, by the 18th century, Hungarian wine making flourished again reaching markets stretching from German speaking municipalities and the Netherlands to England. Over the years, ancient tradition merged with new local innovations coupled with the great variety of climate and soil, resulted in emergence of 22 distinct wine regions in the country.

Many wines were exported to European countries and their unique quality and taste made them favorites in the household of various European rulers from France to Russia. Such international success turned Hungary to the third most influential wine-producing country in Europe by the end of 19th century. Sadly wine production suffered greatly during the hard times of two World Wars. In the communist era, the clamp down on private enterprise and market economy further damaged quality wine production. Finally long-awaited political and economical changes brought about in 1989, re-established the right climate for excellent wine production in Hungary. The 1989 turning point breathed a fresh air of optimism amongst wine maker and eleven years onwards once again we are witnessing prosperous wine-growing regions across the country. Dozens of recent international awards are a testament to the regained reputation of Hungarian wine internationally.

Tokaj, Hungary’s fabled sweet elixir, has now emerged from the shadows. The vineyards around the city of Tokaj were recognized as special early on and ranked through a formal classification in 1770, a century before Bordeaux received similar treatment. Tokaj is produced at various levels of sweetness, reflecting the proportion of grapes affected with botrytis (a “noble rot” that brings exotic flavors) blended into the wine; the ultra-rare Essencia is made from the pure, syrupy juice squeezed from these magical grapes by their own weight. Some Tokaj producers have adopted a fresher, more modern style of winemaking, while others hold to the venerable tradition of long barrel aging and deep, amber coloration; either way, great Tokaj is in a class by itself.

The 1989 change of political system was a turning point in Hungary’s history. Thanks to subsequent privatisations and the large influx of investment funds, today the Tokaj-hegyalja region enjoys a true Renaissance. New vineyards and wineries spring up one after the other. The production of aszú wines, once earning a deserved reputation for the entire Tokaj region, has again come to the attention of the world’s wine connoisseurs.

Descendants of the once prominent and successful historic families have reacquired vineyards and cellars, and built modern wine processing plants. This is the case with Dobogó Winery as well. As a token of old friendship, the winery was established by two famous families, the Zwacks and de Gelseys. Recently the Zwack family became the sole owner with Isabella Zwack registered as the owner of the winery. The objective is to regain recognition for Tokaj and the Hungarian winemaking all around the world.

The name “Dobogó” (clopping) relates to ancient times when the hooves of horses pulling carts echoed throughout the landscape. Vineyards providing the base stock for Dobogó Tokaji Aszú come from the historic slopes of Mád és Tállya. The prime tracts of Betsek and Szent-Tamás lie on the south-western slopes of Zemplén Mountain. The volcanic mountain range is covered by cohesive soil. Vineyards are found at elevations of 200-250 m.

Under ideal conditions, in early September – with a combination of morning dew followed by hours of sunshine and the beneficial effects of the grey mould, Botrytis Cinerea – the noble rotting sets in. The process, during which the grey mould concentrates the sugar and acid content in grapes, continues until late October. Aszú grapes are picked over an extended period. Each time, only the properly rotted grapes are taken from the vine, the rest if left to mature. Once all aszú has been harvested, these are added to prepared base wine in proportions developed over the centuries in the Tokaj-hegyalja region.

Dobogó Tokaji Aszú is not only an essential drink for any celebration; it can bring sunshine into the working week as well. Dobogó Tokaji Aszú is not just something to drink with a starter of goose liver or a nibble of blue cheese; it will go magnificently with any course. It is a superb foil for fish, white meat or poultry, as well as for duck. And of course it makes an unbeatable team with a sweet and sour sauce, with any sort of fruit garnish (citrus or tropical), or with spicy foods that involve curry, ginger or cardamon. Last but not least, it makes the perfect way to round off a meal: the crowning moment of the feast. The wine is at its best when slightly chilled, at around 12-13°.

Written on May 21st, 2010 , Travel, Wines

A Virtual Tour of Grapes, Wines, Wineries