Page images
PDF
EPUB

ERRONEOUS IDEAS ABOUT TOKAY.

431

owned one foot of ground either in Tokay or anywhere in Hungary. According to the law of Hungary, in force up to 1848, no foreigner could hold land (and in that respect Austrians were considered aliens) unless by obtaining the indigenat, or naturalisation, by special act of parliament. Now, that great diplomatist never asked for this privilege, never was inscribed on the roll of the Hungarian nobility, and thus never had any property in Hungary. Neither has the Emperor of Austria any property in Tokay; though, as king of Hungary, of course, all the crown lands belong to the successor of St. Stephen, and thus he owns two vineyards in Tokay. But, as with all crown lands, these two vineyards are among the worst managed in that district, and the wine they produce is very indifferent. The boastful title “Imperial' has misled people; that is all.

Although the law of entail (or, as our corpus juris calls it, avicitas) was the law of the land up to 1848, there is no land in Hungary more democratically parcelled out in small plots than the vine district of Tokay. Most magnates make it a point to acquire some property in Tokay, partly from a desire to have the (so-called) Imperial Tokay they want for their own use, from their own vineyard, but especially to have a pretext for repairing thither with their families during the vintage-a season of festivities and general rejoicings. Many a noble proprietor spends on these balls, fêtes, &c., ten times the value of the whole produce of the vintage.

The average yearly produce of all kinds of Tokay wine (dry Tokay) is not less than 1,500,000 gallons in round numbers, and that of Imperial (sweet) Tokay, about 50,000.

The scarcity of this last description, and the consequent high price, arise from the multiplicity of proprietors who are consumers of their own produce; so that little is left for the general purposes of commerce, and for that little there is, and always will be, a great demand for medical purposes ; it being well known that the wines of Tokay, the dry as well as the sweet, hold a larger proportion of natural phosphor than any other wine prescribed as a restorative for debilitated persons. In this light must Tokay be viewed, to be appreciated. As a vin de luxe it will never be popular in England.

But the grey-headed roués on the Continent will have it, and would swallow it were it as bitter as wormwood. This may account for the raptures of some poets about it, and may also explain its popularity at a certain period at Court here.

I see it stated in a work which professes to give a description of the state of society half a century ago, that the Tokay of that wretched old debauchee, the Duke of Queensberry—or old Q' as he was usually called—sold, after his death, for a hundred guineas a dozen!

From another source, I learn that

Hungary is said to produce some of the most exquisite wines in Europe, but I must say that I never had the felicity to meet with them. Those which are found in ordinary use are detestable.

The vineyards of Hungary are chiefly in the hands of the peasants, who attend much more to the quantity than the quality of their produce: hence the wine commonly used in Hungary, generally a white wine, faintly coloured from the mixture of grapes of every kind, is to a foreigner, and especially to an Englishman, who sets a value upon port, sherry, and madeira, altogether undrinkable. The country, however, round the town of Tokay is justly celebrated for its vintage. It extends over a space of about twenty English miles. The grapes are permitted to remain until they become sweet; they are then gathered carefully one by one, and collected in a cask, the bottom of which is pierced with boles, to let that portion of the juice escape which will run from them without any pressure,

a

[blocks in formation]

and which, under the name of Tokay Essence, is very highly prized. To the expressed liquor is added an equal quantity of other very fine wine; and the compound being allowed to stand for twenty-four hours, thoroughly to amalgamate, is then strained. The juice thus obtained becomes the well-known wine of Tokay, which sells at Vienna at the rate of 12l. a dozen; and even at that price is difficult to be obtained.

The Meneses wine is by some judges said to be equal to Tokay. The secondary wines are Ædenburg, Rusth, St. Gyorgy, and Ofen.

M. de Szemere, a high authority on the wines of Hungary, writes

All our wines are pure, natural, and genuine. If it is true that my countrymen deserve blame for negligence, not in the cultivation-for that is very good—but in the manipulation of wines, their honesty is an unquestionable fact: they have and sell really old and pure wines; they, as a people of primitive manners, have not yet ceased to respect the wine like a holy virgin whom it would be a deadly sin to pollute or sully. Whether they will keep this old patriarchal honesty even after their wine trade has taken a greater extension, is another question; but now, I am sure, Hungary is the only country where you can rely upon the word of the proprietor for the age and unadulterated character of the wine; it is neither watered, nor blended, nor even mixed with brandy; the wine is the pure, innocent produce of the earth, of the sun, of the dew. God makes it with us—not the chymists and the grocers.

Having lately met in a French work with a most veritable account of the origin of the vineyards of Tokay, I reproduce it here. Once upon a time

F F

[ocr errors]

years; but

there lived a Hungarian nobleman who sent to all parts of Europe for the finest vines, which he planted, and, having done so, sent for the Astrologer, one of whom, like all men of rank at that period, he retained in his castle.

* Mr. Astrologer,' said he, draw me the horoscope of this vineyard. Will it prosper?'

Yes, perfectly · Will the wine be good ? ' • Excellent.' * In how many years ?' • In four

you will never drink of it.' “ What do you mean, you rascal ? Shall I die

I before that time?' No; but in

my

divinations I see that you will not drink of it.'

At the end of four years his cellarman brought him some of the wine, which he was going to put to his lips, when he remembered the Astrologer, and sent for him.

· Well, fool, do you still say that I shall not drink of my vineyard ? See this goblet in my hand : when I have emptied it I shall have you flogged for your false predictions.'

• There is much between the cup and the lip,' replied the Astrologer.

Scarcely had he uttered these words when a servant rushed into the room, exclaiming, “All is lost, all is lost! Wild boars have got in among the vines; they are tearing them up. Run, run!' The nobleman

[blocks in formation]

seized a spear, rushed to the vineyard, attacked the largest boar, which turned upon him and killed him, thus verifying the Astrologer's words. But notwithstanding this sad event, vines have grown in Tokay, and other nobles, more fortunate, have drunk of the produce, and perhaps occasionally got drunk.

« PreviousContinue »