The Future of Tokaj
Updated: May 8, 2021
Like a football team, a wine region’s success in the future lies in its ability to strengthen its players and formulate innovative strategies to win games.
Tokaj has a legendary reputation for its premium botrytised sweet Aszú, which has long played the strikers’ role, scoring many goals by gaining appeals from the royal class since the late 17th century. Then, the last two decades have seen its dry Furmint taking its turn, successfully gaining positive attention from global wine lovers as the world taste for sweet wine waned.
But Tokaj has more to show. Dry Szamorodni is another traditional trump card, made from grape bunches with a mix of healthy berries and botrytised grapes, fermented to dry with extended ageing under a layer of flor yeast. Perhaps, it is about time to dispatch this once-favoured player to catch the throwback trend of flor-influenced wines like Spain’s Fino and France’s Vin Jaune.
Being the world’s first wine appellation formally decreed in 1737, Tokaj has six approved grape varieties. Amongst Furmint and Hárslevelű which take up 75% and 25% of Tokaj's acreage, there are Sárga Muskotály (Muscat Blanc a Petit Grain), Kabar, Kövérszölö and Zéta. These supporting players may one day shine alone. We have already seen passionate winemakers making quality traditional method sparkling from Furmint and Hárslevelű. It would be interesting to taste a sparkling wine made using pressurised tanks from their aromatic Muskotály, which probably is an answer to Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti.
Currently, 92% of Tokaj’s wine exports go to Europe, only 3.5% and 4.5% to Asia and the Americas respectively, meaning a considerable potential for growth in the later ones. Given that wine has widely been part and parcel of the gastronomical experience, wine and food pairing are a fantastic channel to these markets. You can imagine how perfect it is to pair Tokaj’s elegant and flavoursome dry whites with the delicate flavours of Japanese and Cantonese cuisines and see how its sweet wines counter the heat of Mexican and Thai food!
Expanding markets would need more supply. Tokaj has just under 6,000 hectares of vines, i.e. 22% of Burgundy and only 5% of Bordeaux. It may need to look for new suitable sites to expand its acreage to meet this end.
Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Tokaj has demonstrated its ability to innovate from its solid traditional fundamentals to ensure a sustainable future.