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.

Tokaj wine

Also made in Slovakia

 photo: Chris Togneri

Tokaj - a sweet, golden dessert wine that has been made in Slovakia and Hungary since at least the 17th century - is a distinct regional wine that can only be produced in the Tokaj wine belt, a leech-shaped swath of land with the requisite climate and wine cellars needed for the unique wine making process.

Over 80% of the Tokaj region falls inside Hungary, with a small tip extending into south-east Slovakia, some 60 kilometres east of Košice. Just south of Trebišov, three small Slovak companies produce Tokaj within a 20 kilometre radius of the village of Veľká Tŕňa.

Foggy fall mornings melt into warm, sunshiny afternoons in the Tokaj region, weather that transforms the wine grapes into special raisins (cibéby) containing high concentrations of vitamins and sugar. Cibéby are mashed and added to pre-made wine, giving Tokaj its honey-sweet taste. But before the wine can be drunk, it must age for up to six years in special Tokaj wine cellars that were originally built during the Turkish invasions of the 16th and 17th centuries. The cellars stay a cool 10-12 Celsius year round and are home to a red fungus that produces a crisp, damp air, an indispensable ingredient to the Tokaj-making process.

“So many factors are involved, we could talk about Tokaj for days,” says Jaromíra Ostrožovieová, who in 1990 with her husband founded the J&J Ostrožovie vineyards, Slovakia’s largest Tokaj producer.

All Tokaj wine has a putňo rating of between three and six. In old Slovak, putňa was a barrel - a putňo rating of three meant that three barrels of cibéby had been added to 136 litres of wine, while a rating of four meant four barrels had been added, and so on.

Today the process is more complex, Ostrožovieová says, but the proportions are essentially the same. The higher the putňo rating, the sweeter, stronger and more expensive the wine will be.

The exacting process of making Tokaj translates into relatively high prices for Slovakia (bottles of 4-putňo Tokaj retail for around 300 crowns, or $6, while 6-putňo goes for around 600 crowns), making Tokaj a rare treat for most local consumers. Exclusive trade agreements between Hungary and most EU countries have limited export opportunities for Slovak producers, even though the quality of Slovak and Hungarian Tokaj is comparable. Indeed, with its 6-putňo from 1993, J&J Ostrožovie vineyards surpassed all Hungarian Tokaj wines at a recent Moravian wine competition.

Whether Slovak or Hungarian, the Tokaj wine maker faces a challenge greater than trade agreements: Tokaj wine cannot be made in most years since weather conditions are rarely exactly as they must be to produce a sufficient number of cibéby. The best years in recent memory for Slovak producers have been 1984 and 1993. Ostrožovieová says that 1999 and 2000 were also good years for cibéby crops, but that she and her husband will have to wait until the opening of the barrels in a few years to find out just how good.

To arrange a visit to J&J Ostrožovie vineyards in Veľká Tŕňa, call 056/ 679-3322. For more information, check out

By Matthew J. Reynolds

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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