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Tocai, Tokaji, Tokay, Tai – Baby Talk or Geographical Indications?

Yesterday the region of Veneto in the Italian north-east decided that a wine formerly known as Tocai will be renamed “Tai” from end of March 2007. Last year their neighbours in Friuli already decided to change the name of its Tocai to Friuliano. In a move seemingly designed to confuse non-enophiles, “Tai ” actually means glass in the Friulian, one of only two ‘minor’ languages – with Sardinian – officially recognised in Italy. In addition people in those parts like to have a drink for themselves more frequently than elsewhere on the peninsula and the place is littered with little bars where one enters and asks for a tai. Now the Veneti speak funny, but they don’t speak Friulian, so what’s this about? Like to trademark-litigate anybody?

All this commotion in designations derives from the European Court of Justice’s decision in 2005 that henceforth only Haungarian producers from around Tokaj would be permitted to use anything resembling Tokaji. There are several ironies here, not least that Italian Tocai is made with a vine of the same name. Secondly the Hungarian wine is made using four different grapes, the most important of which Furmint, was apparently imported from friuli in the seventeenth century. Apparently some dogged fellow is trying to leverage the last fact to haver the case reopened. To compound the confusion there are also Tokay wines from the Alsasce region of France made from pinot grigio.

Friuli is a region whose wines are massively underrated, largely because most of the good stuff is white and they are overshadowed by Piedmont and Tuscany. So this is a hot tip: get yourself some Ribolla Gialla wine, a plate of proper San Daniele, some Montasio cheese with a Piccolit and/or Rifosco jam…


January 10, 2007 Posted by | European Court of Justice, geographical indications, material culture, wine | Leave a comment