Italy says goodbye to tokai

Winemakers in the northern Italian region of Friuli have been making Tocai (or Tokai) wine for centuries. Now, says the European Union, they can keep on doing so but they have to call it by a new name: Friulanio.

Italy and Hungary have been feuding over the name for 50 years or more, with Hungarians claiming only white wine made in the Tokaj region of Hungary could legitimately lay claim to the name.

For some time, a lower court decision decided that both Italian and Hungarian producers could market Tocai, a ruling later upheld by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. However, as part of the agreements for Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004, Hungary was given exclusive rights to the Tokai label from the end of March 2007.

With that deadline looming, winemakers in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy appealed to the European Court to overturn it. The court, however, ruled that Italian Tocai “does not qualify as a geographical indication” because “it has no special quality, reputation or characteristic that is attributable to its geographic origin.”

Gianola Nonino, whose family has been making wine at Udine in Friuli for generations, called the decision “appalling.”

“They have stolen a part of our history,” she told the Times of London, adding that the new name, Friulano, is “terrible” since it is simply an adjective describing anything that comes from Friuli.

Curiously, the tokai wines of the two countries are different. Italian Tocai is an aromatic dry white made entirely from the Tocai grape (known in France as Sauvignon Vert). Hungarian Tokai or Tokaji is a sweet dessert wine made using Furmint and Haréslvelü grapes.

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