|Vineyards on the Tokaj Hill have varied soils from ancient volcanic eruptions.|
I was really excited about this part of the trip as I had read about the wines of Eastern Hungary for years, but rarely got a chance to taste them. Tokaji wines are legendary, dating from more than 400 years ago. For centuries, Hungary was renowned for its food and wine culture and also for having the most varied native grapes in any Eastern European country. They were also the first wine area to classify growths (yes, before they did it in Bordeaux!). But that all came crashing down under the weight of the communist regime, and for decades the ancient wine cellars and vineyards of Tokaj suffered with the indifference of the communists, and time-tested standards were all but abandoned. Grape vines were ripped out of prime hillside vineyards and replanted with money-making crops such as sunflowers and corn, and cellar practices slid to sub-par levels.
But since the late 1980s and the fall of communism, winemakers in Hungary have been rising up and reclaiming their legendary past. Prime vineyard locations are once again growing such grapes as Furmint, Harslevelu, and Sargamuskotaly -- the principal varieties that make up Tokaji wine. And viticulture and vinification practices are once again, in most cases, stellar. In recognition of its past and in order to protect its future, UNESCO declared Tokaj a World Heritage Site in 2001.
Judit Bodo and Bott Wines
|The entrance to Bott's winery.|
|Bott's cellars, built into the Tokaj Hill|
Our visit with Bodo continued with a tour of her cellar, which was fascinating. You enter the building from a quaint and unassuming building at the base of the hill (photo above), but the cellars themselves are built into the hill, creating a cave-like atmosphere, replete with cobwebs, fungus (see white stuff in picture to left), and lovely cool air suitable for aging wines.
Bodo says she and her husband "are two steps away from our dream" of having an official tasting room. But in the meantime, the upstairs room, which offers a pleasant view of the Tokaj train station across the street, was fine for us. While we sampled her lovely wines, Bodo proudly showed us a framed New York Times article, titled Hidden in Hungary, Treasures on the Vine (July 2010), in which she appears, and brought out geologic maps and soil and stone samples to give us a lesson on Tokaj, and why the wines are so special.
Bott's wines are artisanal, obviously made with attention to detail. The winery produces just about 1,000 bottles per vintage, sometimes less, sometimes none, depending on Mother Nature. No doubt about it, this is a small operation, but you get the impression that Bott, like other small wineries in Hungary, is striving for excellence.
|Winemaker Judit Bodo|
I do hope that Tokaj tourism picks up, and I highly recommend it as a stop on your Central European wine travels. In the meantime, if you haven't done so, try a Tokaji sweet wine at the end of a special meal. You will love it.
Until next time, Egeszsgedre!
Some of Bott's wines are available at The Wine House (www.winehouse.com) in West Los Angeles. You can also check www.wine-searcher.com for retail outlets near you.
Read Part 1 and Part 2 of my Women of Wine series.