Most writers intent on sampling Tokay would head to the Tokay wine region of north-east Hungary. We went instead to Slovakia, where a small fragment of Slovak territory is home to a handful of vineyards which produce their own variant of Tokay — invariably spelt with a ‘j’ in Slovakia, so Tokaj rather than Tokay.
“That letter ‘j’ is very important,” says Jaro Ostrožovič with a smile as we look over his vineyard on the southern flank of the Zemplín Hills. The land drops down towards the Bodrog Valley. Hungary is visible away to the south. “That’s where I was born,” says Jaro, pointing to Slovenské Nové Mesto in the distance. “The last village in Slovakia before the border with Hungary.”
Jaro tells a nice tale about how, when he graduated from college, his parents offered to buy him a motorbike. “I said no,” he recalls. “I asked them to buy me a small vineyard instead.”
Jaro persuaded his parents of the merits of the deal, and more than 25 years later the Ostrožovič winery is now a leading producer of Tokaj with a ‘j’. Jaro and his wife Jarka are energetic promoters of a style of wine that is usually associated only with Hungary. Slovakian Tokaj relies on the same three white wine grape types as are grown across the border, namely furmint, yellow muscat and hárslevelü — although the latter is more commonly known as lipovina in Slovakia.