Tokaji (toke-EYE) is a classic dessert wine from Hungary, where winemakers are credited with being first, in the early 17th century, to realize the potential of grapes infected with the Botrytis fungus. Sweet, golden Tokaji wine – created more than a century before the botrytised wines of Germany or France – created a sensation in Europe. Tokaji quickly became a favorite of royalty, and was celebrated in song and verse, even earning a mention in the Hungarian national anthem. Quality wine production faltered during two World Wars and under Soviet nationalization, but in recent years Hungarian winemakers have restored the quality and selection of numerous fine wines, including Tokaji.
Based around the town of Tokaj, in northeastern Hungary, Tokaji production begins with the white Furmint grape variety. Humid conditions in the vineyards enhance the likelihood of Botrytis, known as the noble rot, shrinking and wrinkling the grapes on the vine, concentrating their aromas and sugars. These grapes, known as Aszú, are collected, crushed and added to a simple base wine to begin the maturation process. You may see a Puttonyo rating on a Tokaji label. Traditionally, the sweet Aszú grapes were gathered in wooden tubs, known as puttonyos. The rating refers to the number of tubs added to the base wine, so the higher the rating – up to seven puttonyos – the sweeter the wine.