The wine and what’s behind it


Over and above the grape varieties and wine types defined in the Tokaj protected designation of origin product specification, the uniqueness of the terroir combined with the winemaking and technological processes typical of the wine region all make Tokaj exceptional. The Tokaj winemakers’ and vine growers’ expert knowledge is founded on centuries of traditions and, thanks to scientific developments, continues to be enriched. Tradition and modernity complement each other beautifully in the varied range of wines. Centuries of accumulated knowledge is essential in elegant wood barrel aging to create wines with unique character, that would be unimaginable without the suitable barrels and cellars here.


Like grape cultivation and winemaking, barrel-making traditions in the Tokaj Wine Region also stretch back way into the past. Good barrel use is imperative for making wines with oxidation. The most suitable wood for the purpose is oak. Sessile oak, an outstanding raw material for local master coopers, grows in the higher Zemplén Hills. It is important to only buy and use barrels made from good raw materials as these significantly influence the wine’s aging process and have beneficial effects on both the aroma and the colour. The local oak is highly respected on the international market too, as its wood is averagely hard, wear-resistant and particularly durable due to the tannin content.

Numerous foreign merchants were active in the wine region in the 16-17th centuries and they bought the wines and musts together with the barrel from the producers. The fame of the region’s cooper soon spread far and wide, and barrels from the region were in great demand. The staves were made of dried oak wood. Until the mid-18th century staves were initially tied together with canes, later using iron rings to hold it tight. Several types of barrels were commonly used in the wine region. These include the two most widespread: Szerednyei barrel and the Gönci barrel.

The Szerednyei barrel

Historically used for fermentation, aging and storage, today it is one of the most widespread barrel types in the region. The length of the stave was cut to the width of traditional cellars; they fit in well in two lines.

Volume: 220 litres
Stave length: 80 cm
Belly diameter: 80 cm
Head diameter: 66 cm
Stave thickness: 27-30 mm
Hoop: 6
Number of rivets: 12
Barrel opening: 50 mm
Weight: 55 kg

The Gönci barrel

This was also used for transporting wines centuries ago. Today it is exclusively for fermentation and maturing. It was the basic unit of volume in the Tokaj Wine Region. In the 19th century the Gönci oak barrel of volume 160 icce (136 litres) served for the unit of measurement for making Aszú wine.

Volume: 136 litres
Length of stave: 65 cm
Belly diameter: 68 cm
Head diameter: 56 cm
Stave thickness: 25-27 mm
Hoops: 6
Number of rivets: 12
Barrel opening: 45 mm
Weight: 45 kg


Tokaji wine has special requirements, a fact recognised early by producers and wineries. They realised that great emphasis should not only be on winemaking but also on storing and maturing the product, as it is the combination determines the quality of the wine. The appropriate cooling and stable temperature provide optimum conditions for the wines. The first oral traditions say that the members of the Pauline Order began to create the Ungvári Cellar Rows in Sátoraljaújhely in the 12th century, the same time as several cellars in nearby Tolcsva. The cellars are on several levels and stretch for several kilometres up to 30 metres below ground. Cellars in the region are generally dug or excavated, with narrow corridors. Both cassette cellar systems and a smaller number of western-type hall cellars were constructed. Designing a cellar requires precise work, and the winemakers attempted to create the most suitable microclimate for aging their wines.

Over the centuries the number of cellar labyrinths increased, and today these contribute to the uniqueness of the Tokaj Wine Region. The cellars were created several metres below the surface, and construction of the systems took a long time, often with changes and extensions happening over centuries. The cassette system was generally dug from a main branch, from one running in the most appropriate direction and to which stairs led. This branch was subsequently extended with further side branches thanks to which the longest system in Central Europe was developed. The aspect of the cellar was set to the path of the sun, meaning that the doors were placed east-west with a steep entrance. The varied temperatures in the cellar systems give the option to help fermentation, or to prevent it, so the wines to ferment were on the warmer levels, while the sweet wines were deeper in the cooler spaces.

Did you know?

Today the Tokaj Wine Region was 226 wine houses and 2222 wine-storing cellars which are very varied in terms of construction and development time and style.


The creation of air vents and openings were essential during cellar and cellar system construction. If oxygen in the cellar reduces, then undesirable fungus will spread. Precise planning is required, just as for the cellar itself, as the right number of openings of around 100 mm diameter are necessary to ensure the correct microclimate. These ventilation openings were developed for 120 square metres; they needed regular care and could be called the “lungs of the cellar”. If people wanted to increase the humidity, they blocked (some of) the ventilation shafts to prevent lowering humidity. On a walk above cellars these ventilation system can still be seen, often with artistic surface closures made of stone, the “soul holes”. In addition to the vents, there is another important climate regulator in cellars.

There are as many traditions as there are cellars!

All the Tokaj cellars are special, and together they contribute to the value and success of the region. They also played a part in UNESCO recognising the Tokaj Wine Region as a historic wine region and cultural landscape.



H-3910 Tokaj, Dózsa György út 2.


Magyar Bor személyesen
Wine in Moderation