These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Decline and Renewal

Tokay's prestige continued into the 20th century; even today, it ranks with Port, Madeira, and some Alsatian whites as among the world's most prized after-dinner wines. Yet the 20th century nearly devastated the Tokay region, especially the Slovak part. When the Austro-Hungarian empire dissolved at the end of World War I, the Tokay area was split in two - with 90 percent remaining in Hungary, and the rest going to the new Czechoslovakia. World War II severely disrupted the entire European wine trade, and the post-war rise of Communism in both Tokay countries meant nationalisation of the vineyards, and a shift of focus from quality to quantity.

In Communist Czechoslovakia, the indifference to the Tokay mystique was so great that the government traded away its right to the Tokay trademark in exchange for the right to export beer to Hungary. That deal has since been annulled, but Slovak winemakers still lack the right to sell their wine to European Union countries under the Tokay name. Hungary signed a 13-year trademark deal on the Tokay name in 1993; Slovakia, then in the throes of the Velvet Divorce, didn't participate in those talks.

Thus when Communism fell, the Hungarian Tokay region underwent a renaissance - foreign investment poured in, and the wine became fashionable again. But the Slovak part languished. Without the right to export into the lucrative EU market, foreign winemakers saw little reason to invest in Slovakia's tiny bit of the Tokay region.

But things are changing. There are now seven Slovak wineries producing Tokay - profiles of the two most important ones follow. And the trademark problem will likely be cleared up by 2006, according to a spokesman for the European Commission. That's when Hungary's exclusive trademark with the EU runs out; the spokesman expects the next trademark deal to include at least a certain amount of the Slovak Tokay region.

Thus this is an interesting time for lovers of Slovak Tokay. There are virtually no tourists there, and the prices for the wine are much lower than for Hungarian Tokay of comparable quality. These facts could both change though if the country gets the Tokay trademark in 2006. We may one day remember this period as a golden age for quiet, cheap enjoyment of a marvelous wine in a dramatic setting.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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