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Battle over Tokaj

Wine-makers from southeastern Slovakia are to be allowed to use the name "Tokaj" again, an issue that has long been subject to a dispute with the neighbouring country. On Tuesday, April 27, members of parliament supported the cabinet's draft amendment to the Act on Viniculture proposed by the Agriculture Ministry in a fast-tracked legislative procedure.

Francisck Réka AlízBest of Budapest online | May 4, 2010

Providing the president Ivan Gasparovic signs it, the amended bill will take effect on June 1. The amendment means that Slovakia will adopt the European format for labelling wines, which means it will stop dividing wines into categories of table wine and vintage wine. The new categorisation emphasises geographical labelling. Slovak wine regions will be divided into the following areas: Malokarpatská (Small Carpathians region), Južnoslovenská (southern Slovak), Stredoslovenská (central Slovak), Nitrianska (Nitra), Východoslovenská (eastern Slovak) and Tokaj.

The present dispute arose in July 2009 after Hungary, despite an agreement that every change in legislation affecting the shared wine region would first be consulted with the other country, unexpectedly changed the agreed-upon term Tokaji to Tokaj in its legislation. Earlier the EU has banned Slovakia from using the Tokaj name and wine makers in Slovakia could use only the adjectival Tokajsky, Tokajská or Tokajské. On December 1, 2009, the commission published Hungary’s proposal in the EU Journal. Slovakia had previously asked to register the term Tokaj, but the request had been rejected by the European Commission. Now that the European Union officially classified the entire Slovakian side of the cross-border region as a Tokaji wine-growing region, the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development decided to go on court.


Tokaj History in a nutshell

“I was conquered by Tokaji wine,” said Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, while French monarch Louis XIV dubbed Tokaji aszú “the wine of kings and the king of wines.

” The battle over the world famous wine is a legacy of the Treaty of Trianon that followed World War I, cutting off chunks of Hungary. The original Tokaj wine region was carved in two, with most falling into Hungarian territory and a smaller part into what today is Slovakia. In 2008, debates resulted in a preliminary agreement in which the two sides recognized “Tokaj as an invaluable historical heritage” for which both countries would share responsibility, and the Hungarians acknowledged the existence of a 565-hectare Tokaj area on the other side of the border. However, in the spring of 2009, Slovakia demanded that its designated area be extended to include 908 hectares.

The region that produces the golden-colored vintage, a narrow 87-km long area in the Tokaj hills is one of the few wine regions to feature on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Entitled since 1993 to the use of the Tokaji label, a protected designation of origin, Hungarian winemakers insist the production of the dessert wine requires a special soil, microclimate and production methods to keep up the quality. The name Tokaj reflects Hungarian pride and Hungarians want to protect it against forgery and imitation. Hungary had similar appellation issues both with Italy, which had to give up its Tocai Friulano, and France, which was forced to stop marketing one of its white wines under the name Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris, by April 2007.


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