Hungary: The New France

The Tokaj Album published by: The Viticultural Society of the Tokay-Hegyalja printed in Hungarian, French, German and English 1867
The Tokaj Album published by: The Viticultural Society of the Tokay-Hegyalja printed in Hungarian, French, German and English 1867

Hungary is neither new, nor French, but both countries are lands of developed terroir. In fact, the concept may even be older in Hungary. The vineyards around the city of Tokaj were recognized as special early on and ranked through a formal classification in 1770, a century before Bordeaux received similar treatment. Tokaj is as faceted and hypnotic as Burgundy, Somló an enigma like Hermitage and Eger something of a mini Loire, but Hungarian wines are not French facsimiles, they are utterly different. What underlies the wines of both is the slow understanding of relationships between land, vine and wine that farmers have formed over centuries into the distinct archetypes they are today. The French models are better recognized, marketed and never suffered 50 years of collectivized production, but these things have little to do with the Hungarian wine Renaissance happening right now. Let’s taste it!

Stippling of the village of Olaszliszka where Samuel Tinon lives. From Tokaj-Hegyaljai Album
Stippling of the village of Olaszliszka where Samuel Tinon lives. From Tokaj-Hegyaljai Album

It is not by accident that Samuel Tinon, French vigneron by birth makes strongly Hungarian Tokaji. He grew up on the estate of his family in St. Croix-du-Monts where his sister makes botrytis wines today. His restless curiosity took him around the world, studying, tasting and making wine. Samuel was drawn to Tokaj by what existed only there.Today many Tokaji producers are looking to regions outside Hungary for direction, Austria, Germany and yes France, but Samuel strives to understand the same subtle secrets of the vineyard and the cellar that have forever made Tokaji great. He has begun making small quantities of exquisite dry wines that are reductive, pale and might leave one convinced they are drinking exceptional chenin, an increasingly common direction of Tokaj production. But the greatest of Tinon’s wines are and will remain the old fashioned gold to amber, oxidative, and wondrous elixirs he nurtures. Often the outsider is dismissed, but Samuel brings to Tokaj a reverence for its past, a deep desire to preserve it and a masters touch. Tokaj is lucky to have Samuel, Samuel is lucky to have Tokaj, and we are lucky to have Samuel’s Tokaji! I am a much more outside outsider than Samuel, but I see what he is trying to protect and believe that you would too! Let’s see!

P.S. Tokaj: the name of the appellation; Tokaji: the wines from Tokaj.