The air grows cooler as you navigate through an underground warren of centuries-old tunnels. The only light is the flickering glow of a candle up ahead. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were exploring the caves of Burgundy. Instead, you’re in the heart of Tokaj, a Hungarian wine region 150 miles northeast of Budapest.
Using the map you were given in the modern Holdvölgy winery overhead, you emerge in a dimly lit cellar, where an upturned barrel holds a bottle of tantalizing amber liquid and several glasses. It’s time to taste Tokaji wine. Ancient volcanic soils, a mild climate, and the confluence of two rivers create ideal growing conditions for Botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot” that concentrates sugar within grapes; all combine to produce uniquely sweet and structured wine.
Tokaj’s wines were historically prized throughout Europe, and declared the “wine of kings, king of wines” by Louis XIV. But a Phylloxera outbreak, two world wars, and nationalization of the wine industry left the elixir largely forgotten by the end of the 20th century. In the past two decades, enterprising winemakers have put Tokaj back on the map. Today visitors can sample not only the classic Aszú-style sweet wines but also tongue-tingling dry whites like Furmint and Hárslevelű, savory signals of this historic region’s exciting outlook.
Where to sleep
Where to taste
How to travel
Companies such as Wine a’More can arrange drivers, access to smaller wineries, and activities like vineyard tours by bike.
Eric Rosen is a freelance travel writer and loyalty-program expert who contributes regularly to National Geographic Traveler, the Los Angeles Times, The Points Guy , and more. He is also the founder of ClusterCrush.com , an insider’s guide to the world of wine from grape to glass. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter for more travel tips.