What can better testify to the world renown and status of the nearly thousand year culture of wine and grape production in Tokaj than the fact that one can not imagine a wine shop anywhere in the world that takes itself seriously without a supply of Tokaji. Hungarians as children memorize the line from the national anthem, "Instilled with the nectar of the Tokaj wines talk..." and hear the phrase attributed to the Sun King, Louis the 14th , according to which Tokaji is "the wine of kings and the king of wines" ("Vinum regum - rex vinorum"). The popular specialty wine known as Tokaji Aszú has become well known throughout the world through the course of the centuries.
Naturally, Tokaj is the town that gives its name to the wines cultivated in this region, but this viniculture does not only occur within the fields inside this city's borders. The area of the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region as defined in the 1997 wine law comprises the most outstanding production zones, including the entire administrative territory of nine communities, Tokaj, Bodrogkeresztúr, Bodrogkisfalud, Mád, Mezőzombor, Rátka, Szegi, Tarcal and Tállya, as well as the Ungvári Cellar in Sátorújhely, the Rákóczi Cellar in Sárospatak, the Kőporosi and the Gomboshegyi Cellars in Hercegkút, and the Oremus and the Tolcsva Wine Museum Cellars in Tolcsva. A documented history of the wine region since 1561 confirms that the wine growing always took place within the triangle formed by the "three sátor (tent) mountains" (Mt. Tokaji, the Mt. Sátor in Abaújszántó, and the Mt. Sátor in Sátoraljaújhely).
The Tokaji wine region has enjoyed protection since 1737, when a royal decree declared it a closed wine region - the first such region in the world. However, this also came with obligations; wine production in this region has gone on for nearly three centuries under strict regulation. This cultural landscape faithfully illustrates the viniculture established in the region and the historic traditions for the production of a special wine. These specific demands shaped the formal appearance of the wine cellars and collectives, which differs from those in other areas of Hungary. In the deep, ancestral wine cellars of the characteristic vineyards, farms, villages and towns one can follow every phase of Tokaji wine production. The genuine maintenance in their untouched, original form of vinicultural traditions that were developed over the last thousand years and the unity of the wine region for a millennium justified the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's decision to inscribe the Tokaji wine region on the World Heritage List as a cultural landscape in 2002. The 132.55 square kilometer (13,255 hectare) total core area corresponds to the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region as defined in the Hungarian wine law, and the buffer zone contains the administrative territory of 27 other communities.
Viticulture has existed in Tokaj since ancient times; according to evidence from finds, grapes are an endemic (indigenous) plant species here. We are particularly fortunate that traces of leaves from a primitive Miocene era grape species (vitis tokaiensis), which may be considered a common ancestor to modern grape species, were discovered here. The primitive grape type vitis sylvestris to this day grows wild in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region.
Hungarian wine culture has dual origins; it integrates the traditions of eastern (Caucasian) and western (Roman) viniculture. This blend is reflected in the customs of grape cultivation and cellar construction in Tokaj-Hegyalja. The existence of viniculture and wine production may be presumed to have existed by the time of the Hungarian Conquest, although there is no objective proof of this. However, data does confirm the spread of viniculture in Hegyalja beginning with the arrival of Walloon settlers in the second half of the 12th century.
The area possesses unique geo-historical and geographical characteristics also. The brittle rock generated by volcanic and post-volcanic activity resulted in the formation of many different soil types - and this has had an influence on the land's fertility and mineral content, as well as on its abilities to absorb, retain and reflect heat. The favorably placed slopes, the abundant sunshine, the proximity of the Bodrog and Tisza Rivers, and the long autumn result in very advantageous climactic conditions; here the Botrytis cinera mold does not cause grey mold rot, but noble rot, or in other words brings about the drying of the grapes on the vine. The concentrated must of the dried grapes may contain as much as 850 grams of sugar per liter, and along with this, their high acidity and aroma are intensified. The selection of grapes affected by noble rot became the practice in Hegyalja from the beginning of the 1600s. Also, thanks to the particular microclimate a special cellar mold, the Gladosporium cellare, establishes itself on the cellar walls, and has a beneficial effect on the maturation process of the wine.
Another distinctive asset of the area is represented by the presence of Sessile oak trees in the upper elevations of the nearby mountains, which provide excellent material for the manufacture of barrels. The type of barrel significantly influences a wine's maturation process (oxidative mellowing) and can also have a favorable influence on its aroma and color. The "Zemplén oak" has long been renowned in international wine circles, since this type of wood is medium hard, wear-resistant, and its tannin content is particularly long lasting.
The outstanding quality of the sweet white wine of Tokaj-Hegyalja, the genuine Tokaji Aszú, is thanks to the unique and particularly fortunate convergence of the beneficial factors mentioned - namely the natural conditions, the types of grapes grown, and the human factors, including the culture of wine growing. This wine region is profoundly worthy of its status as part of the world heritage.