Sweet "king" of wines reclaiming its heritage

Tue Feb 15, 2011 5:45am EST
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By Suzanne Urpecz

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It survived two world wars, decades of neglect under communism and like a number of other eastern European royals, the "king" of wines has re-surfaced and is keen to let the world know of its claim.

Sweet Tokaji Aszu (pronounced "ossu") wine is grown in vineyards located 120 miles northeast of Budapest in the UNESCO world heritage site of Tokaj, Hungary's most famous wine region.

The region produces dry and sweet wines, but it is the honeyed Aszu for which this region is so famous.

Made from grapes afflicted by "noble rot," which concentrates the sugar content, the sweet wine has been Hungary's crowning glory for hundreds of years.

During the 17th and 18th centuries it was the favorite drink among Europe's royal households. It is said that King Louis XIV of France liked it so much that he called it "The king of wines and wine of kings." Even Peter the Great was an admirer; "I was conquered by Tokaji wine," he said.

But Tokaj wasn't always so highly esteemed. After World War II, when Hungary became a Soviet-influenced state, its wine production was limited to a central-planning system. The result was devastating for Hungary's wine industry.

However, new investment and a renewed commitment to traditional wine-making has helped to restore the region to its former glory. The vineyards of Tokaj were the first in the world to be classified according to quality.

"The production methods are unique and it is arguably where great wine was created... between 1700 and 1737," said Ben Howkins of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company.   Continued...