Legend has it that, in the mid-16th century, winemakers in Tokaj could not start grape harvest right in time because of the upcoming war clouds from invading Turks. The grapes had to remain on the vine longer than usual and thus decayed by noble rot. That harvest, assumed to be rotten, marked the birth of the Tokaji Aszú … In fact, the Tokaji Aszú was first mentioned in written form in the 16th century. This shows that making wine from noble rotten grapes was common practice at that time. Through its distribution by Polish and Jewish traders, Tokaji Aszú soon gained an excellent reputation at several European royal courts.
In the 18th century, chieftain Rákóczi II owned most vineyards in the region. He used Tokaj wines as diplomatic gifts during the struggle for independence from the Habsburg dynasty. Through generous wine gifts he tried to get the Sun King Louis XIV, Frederick I of Prussia and the Russian Tsar Peter the Great on his side. Although the rebellion failed in 1711, the monarchs did not forget the wine. The Russian tsar’s court established its own base in the town of Tokaj with the aim to assure regular wine deliveries to St. Petersburg. The Tokaj wine reached its hight in the mid-18th century.
The trade with Tokaj wines decreased in the late 18th century, caused by the divide of Poland, which was the most important trading partner, but also by Russia´s withdrawal of their wine purchasing base in Tokaj, and trade obstacles set by the Habsburg dynasty. Many vineyards forfeited, or became property of new, less dedicated owners. But the value of Tokaj wines increased, because it was now more difficult to obtain it. With the vine fretter plague in the 1880s the viniculture in Tokaj hit the rock bottom. Various associations endeavoured to reactivate the viniculture around 1900, until the sales decreased again because the World War I. In the beginning of the 1930s, only five percent of the production could be sold.
After World War II, the private vineyards were expropriated. Nationalization led to decreased quality wine production. After the end of the Communist era, the Tokaj wine startet its splendid comeback. First, investors came from France, Spain, Germany and England, but also local winemakers bought vineyards in excellent locations. Over time, premium vineyards were divided into smaller and smaller parcels, so that only small producers were interested in buying them. That is why today wine friends can find excellent Aszú wines from first-class vineyards, produced by small and medium-sized wineries.