Looking out the window, there is no snow – but who knows? By the time you read this, the weather could turn quite nasty. However, it’s winter in Tokaj and very quiet. Is it worth it to come to Tokaj during these times? Considering that the museums are closed during quarantine and the restaurants only offer take-out? The answer is yes.
It is worth it, for a breath of fresh air and to take a long walk to clear our heads. Where should we start? Towards the mountain or down the riverbank, or shall we just walk along the city? Each locale can provide us with at least 2-3 hours of exploring.
We arrive by train. From the station, along the end of the Szerelmi cellar range, we can start off in two different directions. (The range is quite approachable by car as well, but parking can be tricky.)
Going straight along the paved road, we reach the Hétszőlő trail. According to our stamina and mood, we may choose one out of 3 color-marked paths; red, green or yellow. They follow the vineyard together on paved pathways, eventually forking out. There might be vehicles working on the way, so proceed with caution!
The green square barely elevates, only surrounding a small vineyard. The yellow one has a few more exciting parts but we can take a breather at any of the information boards or resting sites. While finding our strength we may learn a thing or two about the local grapes of Tokaj. Our destination is the Hétszőlő sign, from which we descend back to our original starting point. Following the red square brings us onto a very steep journey all the way to the top of the property, reaching the Kusajd vineyard. A beautiful view greets us at the top of the Hétszőlő vineyard, panning to Tokaj’s southern area as well as the Taktaköz. If the weather is good enough, we can even see the chimneys of the Tiszaújváros Chemical Works.
If we’re hungry for adventure or just obsessed with nature, turning towards the mountain at the end of the cellar range brings us to Szerelmi vineyard along a semi-paved road. The first part of the path consists of gentle serpentines, but the last straight part rises to a more serious uphill walk. Reaching the end of the former and keeping right, we reach Tehéntánc top. Following the instructions of the guiding signs here, we may go to the TV tower, or keep on towards the Finánc Hill Overlook (although this area isn’t precisely marked). From here on we can decide to decend via the Overlook’s stairs or take the concrete road leading downward. Taking the first leads us to the Erzsébet bridge, while the second takes us to the Employment Center’s parking area, behind the Tokaji Ferenc High School.
Find the vineyards on the map here!
From the Szerelmi range and choosing the green tourist trail, we end up at Szeles top. If we seem less tired and more energetic, we may head east and marvel at the rivers slithering on the Alföld, the Great Plain. From Szeles we have three choices: 1) follow the red sign towards the TV tower. 2) Moving along the green marking and moving around Hideg-side vineyard we reach the Fesztiválkatlan, descending back into the city next to Torkolat lodging, which used to be the city’s northern gate some time ago. 3) The red tourist sign leads us to the cemetery on Dózsa György street. This area has a very steep elevation, making it difficult to travel through in, or after bad weather. However, it’s worth it to take this path, since the doors of Hímesudvar open to this very street, inviting weary travelers in to rest and have a glass of wine in the welcoming garden.
Going back to TV tower, following the asphalt road takes us to Tarcal. From Tarcal, we can return to Tokaj by either taxi or train. Going down the same road leads to the ski-range. Unfortunately, the city has no snow cannons, but in ideally snowy weather, the range is great for beginners.
The Borostyán trail, which eventually forks into the green trail, starts from Szerelmi cellar row as well. A rest may be taken at any of the marked resting sites, where one can find more information on the Kopasz mountain’s flora and fauna.
For these trails I definitely recommend the appropriate clothing, perhaps even a hiker’s stick. Straying from the signs is not advised, since deep trenches and tide-washed crevices aren’t far from the hiking trails.
From the „large” parking lot on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endre street one is met with many opportunities to explore. For those who only wish to climb a bit of th emountain, the Finánc Hill Overlook is the closest landmark, although the staircase leading up to it can be slippery and is a little steep. The correct footwear, safe for keeping the ankles in place is highly recommended for this one. The overlook provides a wide view of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers’ fork and the neighbouring settlements towards the east.
Taking off to the south from the parking area, on Széchenyi walkway, along the Tisza’s ramparts, we may move on behind the once Salt Customs Building / Rákóczi-Dessewffy castle and continue near the football field. In front of the ÉVIZIG headquarters is the monument of the flood, which commemorates the great rising of the Tisza in 2000. The record level of 928 cm is still unbroken. Moving south from here won’t allow us to see any other impressive landmarks, although the fishing lakes further away from the city or the Ively-stream’s pass can be exciting in their own ways. However, those who venture this far will be met with the serenity of the Kopasz mountain’s looming presence and the quiet calm of nature. If one happens to be by car, we may drive along the riverbank to reach the neighbouring settlement, Tiszaladány.
Going north from the parking lot takes us to the „old town”. Until the 19th century – when the city’s southern area was built, called Kis-Tokaj – this was the only place which was known as Tokaj by multiple names (Tisza-Tokaj, Nagy-Tokaj). In the old town, every building has its story – but this is for another time
The beauty and atmosphere of the hikes can only be experienced if you take them yourself, so put your boots on - Tokaj awaits!
Translated by Áron Várhelyi
The rapidly changing natural and economical environment poses multiple challenges to our current grape-producers and winemakers – global warming and the quarantine caused by Covid-19 and its drastic changes in everyday life represent such challenges. Located in Tarcal, the Tokaj Wine Region’s Research Institute for Viticulture and Oenology handles several grapegrowing region’s research while also exclusively dealing with Tokaj’s wine related topics as well. In the following article, I’ll briefly describe the Institute’s activities and elaborate on more of them in the coming few months.
The Tokaj Wine Region is home to a unique structure of varieties. Out of its six allowed the most dominant is Furmint, which – most likely originating from the region itself – is the most common plantation in Tokaj-Hegyalja. The multifarious Furmint’s „clones” – artifically propagated types – require constant preservation and research; the same can be said about Hárslevelű, a similar ’hungarikum’. Along with other older, hungarian grape varieties, the above two are preserved in a single hectare Variety Collection on the Szarvas-vineyard, located in Tarcal and available to analysation. In order to keep up the spectrum of variety, my colleagues located close to five hundred old, valuable vines across the Tokaj Region. These will eventually be reproduced to grow the collection – after years of research, of course.
Our plant protection expert utilises an automated meteorological station to help warn us against the dangers of insects and infections which could harm our vineyards; along the „traditional” illnesses, including powdery mildew and other types of mildew, each year presents new issues to our grapes, like black rot or even invasive ladybugs. Protection against these is one of our most important tasks. However, our region has a special connection to the so-called gray rot, since in the correct conditions, this fungus, called Botrytis cinerea can produce noble rot – which means the appearance of precious aszú.
The production of healthy and delicious grapes begins from the ground up and the original roots of our desired species – the subject – are also highly important. In order to protect against phylloxera, our European species are planted onto North-American species, which are located just below the ground under the vines. Certain rootstocks ensure protection against dryness, while others can speed up or slow down the process of ripening. Choosing the ideal rootstock variety is as important as the soil’s nutrient contents, the well-being of the soil-microbes’ community and preserving the structure of the ground, which is tended to by our colleague expertising in soil science and nutrient management.
We’re currently making our first moves in two vital areas: the highly resistant grapetypes’ newest generation is appearing today in several vineyards. In about 20-30 years, they will become a topic of much discussion and study regarding the evaluation of them as „Tokaji” wine and cross-breeding them with other types and species. Geographic information systems and automatisation represent the precision-based area of the winemaking field, although these systems are still not as widespread as the large-scale production of plants. Despite this, the sight of drones and harvesting machines might be an everyday sight in Tokaj’s future vineyards.
Our new microbiology and wine lab serves the Tokaj Region’s winemakers with high quality instruments and tools, since every step in the process of winemaking requires the appropriate analytical studies, which are required high quality production. These studies include the research of different strains of yeast found in Tokaj’s cellars, the different treatments’ effects on the nature of wines and older grapes’ microvinification; growing these in extremely small amounts. Ecological grapegrowing and organic winemaking – producing organic grapes and wine – requires the thorough and precise study of all of the above fields and demands a sort of „system theory” from the winemaker. We consider not only the gathering of information on these topics to be important, but also passing them down to the next generation and providing them with experience and knowledge of the past.
translated by Áron Várhelyi
Surely, you’ve come across different types of ratings, medals, badges, different stars and other systems when you read about wine in the media or test results in our webshop. But what does it mean if a wine is 85 points? Well, if you’re looking for a precise answer, you might end up being a little disappointed. The ugly truth is that the number of culinary presses, wine judges and competitions roughly equal the amount of rating systems there are. Although those that possess education on the area, or have learned about the subject of tasting, do share some sort of common judgment. Since this is a rather subjective genre where everyone has their own system about measuring quality, it’s therefore more convenient to talk about “common grounds” where the generally balanced and excellent wines turn out to be awarded with critical acclaim. Of course, there are those with more refined tastebuds and whose words weigh more than others’; various magazines, critics and judges will be discussed in this article.
The abbreviation OIV (International Organisation of Vine and Wine) has since long ago been the most applied scale when it comes to rating a particular wine. It is primarily based on appearance (clarity, color), smell (clarity, intensity, nature), taste (clarity, intensity, nature) and a general impression which all contribute to the final scoring of the wine. During the appraisals, a jury of multiple judges do blind taste tests (covering the label) and rate the wines according to the average of points given to each one. For the sake of avoiding a drastic gap in the evaluation, a “tuning” wine is tasted before any other, in hopes of tuning the judges’ style and tastes. The local competitions and international inspections also use this rating system – with varying strictness.
It’s visibly a 100-point scale, although the sensually vague and uncertain wines reside at or below 70 points (moldy smell/taste, questionable barrel quality). As a rule of thumb, it can be safely said that the wines we would truly like to drink start at 80 points – when someone offers it at a house party, for example –, while we ourselves would consider bringing an 85+ to a house party. A 90+ would not see the light of day. Depending on the competitions, 94-100 is given a great gold, 87-94 gold, silver goes to 76-87 and bronze to 60-76. On most Hungarian competitions, much of the 90+ products are sweets from Tokaj, although sometimes a dry wine can be found up there.
Of the world’s most defining judges the American Robert Parker (Wine Spectator) and the Wine Enthusiast both use the 100-point system. Along many others, it’s also used during the Decanter World Wine Awards and by the Debreceni Borozó, Borigo Magazin, Winelovers and Wordpress Top100 wine evaluations here at home.
The formula is simplified
Since the OIV system isn’t entirely widespread, several others started to use their own methods of scoring and evaluation. This is how numerous 20-point scales were created (at the famous Jancis Robinson the 16+ wines become interesting). These are much more understandable and clearer to judge than a bleak “85” rating. The Hungarian Vince Magazin also tests in a 20-point system.
Even simpler is the 10-point system, made common by MűveltAlkoholista, a scale that is also used by Borrajongó and TáncolóMedve. A wine that stands at 5 or above means a generally fine level of enjoyment.
Stars, glasses, vines
Like medals and badges, stars can also be found when browsing through taste tests (in the GaultMillau restaurant and wine guide we can see vines while other places use glasses, hearts, etc.). The most famous one is the British Decanter (and the Hungarian Vince Magazin), but Michael Broadbent and The Wall Street Journal’s 5-star scales also work in this method. The Decanter Award of 5-star wine truly means high quality and it isn’t even awarded on most general tests. The Italian Gambero Rosso’s 3-glass rating is the peak, and if we return to Tokaj, the TokajGuide’s 3-star is the highest level of acclaim, like a 3-star Michelin Guide rating to a restaurant.
Not all that glitters is gold
The question ‘does a 100-point wine even exist?’ is clearly irrelevant. Anyone who has rated or sat behind the judging table knows that the point isn’t finding the perfect wine, whiskey, or brandy, but rather rating each product accordingly and in consideration of their own categories. In view of all competitions and awards, it is a general rule that consistency and years of achievements mostly rate the awarding party and not so much the wines and wineries. Sadly, we sometimes see PR-riddled or dilated competitions; several acclaimed and famous wineries don’t even sign their products up for these tests, as they have no need for the critical ratings and their wines are selling rather well either way. This obviously begs the question if these competitions are really the larger businesses’ playgrounds or not. Despite this, it can be said that those wines which performed well on multiple evaluations are truly of high quality and they confidently represent their makers, making them extremely valuable to acquire. However, with more and more conscious consumer choices becoming widespread, wine starts to be a product based on trust; personal experiences dominate the preferences over one wine or the other, disregarding badges or awards.
A month after your Webshop purchase, you too can rate our wines – with a maximum of 5 stars at your disposal.
translated by Áron Várhelyi