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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why is the name “Tocai” not allowed on wine labels anymore? It has nothing to do with the great Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji. One is the name of a white wine variety, the other is the name of a wine. So winemakers keep changing the name. One of them changed Tocai into “Green Sauvignon.” All of a sudden we’ve got a brand new grape variety.
—Drago B., Jesenice, Slovenia
You’re correct that in 2007, Hungarian winemakers persuaded the European Union to ban the use of the word “Tocai”—as in Tocai Friulano, the popular white wine from the Friuli region of Italy—so as not to be confused with the name of their famous dessert wine, Tokaji. You’re also right that Tokaji is a dessert wine and Tocai Friulano is a dry white wine, and you might not ever think of confusing the two, but Tokaji and Tocai are often pronounced the same way, “toe-kye,” rhymes with “pie.”
I understand why Hungarian winemakers feel like they have to protect the name Tokaji. After all, if there were any new wine advice columnists called “Doktor Vinnie” out there, I might have my fake attorneys send them a strongly worded letter. I feel bad that Tocai Friulano didn’t get to keep using Tocai, but the Hungarians made their case and it was ruled the way it was. By the way, Alsatian winemakers are also no longer to call Pinot Gris “Tokay d’Alsace,” so there is no confusion over which region and which wine is called Tokaji.
So, in the aftermath of that decision, some winemakers are referring to the grape formerly known as Tocai Friulano as simply Friulano, Sauvignon Vert, Sauvignon Verde or Sauvignonasse. Outside of Europe, some producers are still using the term Tocai Friulano.
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