Tokaj’s new spring – Wojciech Bońkowski

Wojciech Bonkowski photo

“I have a love story with Tokaj. And as usual with love stories, I remember the beginning as if it were yesterday. In May 2001 I drove the historical route through the Carpathians. Tiny little vineyards shone in the spring sun. The Tokaj hill rose majestically on the horizon. All producers of Tokaj, it seemed, could fit in the cool church where an al fresco tasting of 1993, 1995 and 1996 Aszú took place. The flavour of those wines, the liquid apricot and peach, the poppy seed spice, the “clarion tang” (Hugh Johnson’s brilliant expression)—it was sheer bliss. I was hooked for life.

Since then, Tokaj has followed the ups and downs of the domestic and international wine market. But looking in perspective, the progress it made since the 1990s is nothing short of staggering. Tokaji Aszú has yet and again confirmed its status as one of the world’s greatest wines; 1993 and 1996 were followed by more memorable vintages: 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009 (hopefully)… The panorama of lighter sweet wines has expanded, making many a sommelier happy. Dry Szamorodni, a fascinating historical style, has been saved from oblivion by a few dedicated artisans. But the most astonishing development has involved dry white wines. It took Tokaj vintners a decade to solve the riddle of Furmint, but many of the dry (or dryish) examples in bottle today are truly fascinating in their terroir expression—as well as being simply delicious to drink.

Quality is never an accident, the adage goes: it is always the result of intelligent effort. All those achievements are entirely the merit of two generations of local vintners; relentless partisans of Tokaj’s uniqueness. Credit goes to the early pioneers: István Szepsy, Disznókő, Oremus, Hétszőlő, Pajzos, Gróf Degenfeld, Royal Tokaji, and Márta Wille-Baumkauff who poured their wines in that little church in the centre of Tokaj back in 2001. But the region’s fascinating landscape today is also the success of ambitious 30-year-olds. With their talent and creativity, I am confident the best for Tokaj is yet to come.

The latest stroke of local genius is the Great Tokaj Wine Auction: a perfect example of intelligent promotion and valorisation of Tokaj’s territory and its liquid asset. A full immersion into the region’s grassroots energy, showcasing the best quality vintners can offer: a winning combination. Tokaj has come a long way since 2001 but has managed always to reinvent itself, like nature in springtime. I feel privileged to have witnessed that journey.”