Friday, May 13, 2005

Farewell, Tocai Friulano

The word Tocai (Tokaji or Tokaj in Hungarian, and Tokay in English) refers to both a wine producing region in Eastern Hungary and to a number of different wines, the most important of which are Hungarian Tokaj, a sweet wine that Louis XIV called the "Wine of Kings and the King of Wines," the French Tokay d'Alsace, and the Italian Tocai Friulano, a dry white wine made from the Tocai Friulano varietal.

Though the Friulani have records showing that their Tocai vines are indigenous, and were transplanted to Hungary in the 1100s, the Hungarians have long argued that theirs is the original Tocai wine and that the other Tocais are usurpers riding upon their coat tails. In 1993 the European Union agreed with Hungary, decreeing that by 2006 other European producers had to abandon the use of the word Tocai on their labels; though the Friulani appealed the ruling repeatedly, citing their historic records, there has never been much question regarding the ultimate outcome of the contest, because the Tocaj region is in Hungary. And indeed, the EEU has now ruled that the word Tocai must go from Non-Hungarian labels in 2007.

This will be easy for the people in Alsace, whose wine is made from Pinot Grigio: They have already added the words Pinot Gris to their labels, and are now phasing out the word Tocai. It's more difficult for the Friulani whose wine is made from the Tocai grape, because they can't simply list their varietal. So what will happen?

Some producers will be giving their Tocai-based wines nomi di fantasia; for example, Radikon has settled upon Jacot, a palindrome of Tokaj. Others are instead pushing for a new regional name for Tocai-based wines, perhaps Friulano. We shall see.

More information? Craig Camp has posted an excellent article on Tocai, with a number of tasting notes, on Egullet.

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