Sommelier Jeff Berlin from À Côté (Oakland) in Tokaj.
Tokaji Aszu, certainly the most famous wine from Hungary, may even be the most famous sweet wine of the world. Still, for all its fame, it is often passed over both on restaurant menus and store shelves. But why? Those of us who have experienced the beauty and joys of drinking Tokaji cannot comprehend such behavior among fellow wine lovers.
After a few months of tasting with industry insiders and the general public, I have come to realize that people are afraid. Restaurant owners are afraid to put it on the list because they don’t think anyone will order it. At stores, patrons are afraid to take a bottle home because they don’t know if their guests will like it. This fear afflicts even those purchasers who love the wine and recognize its value.
It’s no shocker that the king of wine and wine of kings has earned a reputation for being a bit pricey, and admittedly, the prices can climb to the upper end of the scale. Even when it’s a great value, expensive price tags are not in fashion. The American stigma against sweet wines, a rapidly changing dogma, does not help the cause either. People just don’t know what to do with this unfamiliar style of wine, and how to best enjoy them. This makes for a double-dilemma: an unfamiliar style at less-than-cheap prices. The risk seems high for both the businessperson and the patron.
As with Sherry and Madeira (two other underappreciated wines) the key lies in food pairings. Offering a 3 oz pour of 3 puttonyos with the cheese plate on your dessert menu is sure to intrigue enough customers to get your full margin, not to mention heighten their gustatory experience (hello, return customers!) Similarly, passing around a bottle of 5 puttonyos at your holiday dessert parties will secure your status as best host(ess) or most creative party guest. Turning people on to new delicacies is fun, and whether they are your neighborhood regulars or your friends and family, its always appreciated.
One of the nice things about a bottle of Tokaji Aszu is its ability to stay fresh for at least 2 weeks…not that it ever lasts that long in my home! This means that you can experiment over the course of multiple meals to find your favorite pairings. With all of the parties, hearty food, and merriment, the holiday season is the perfect time for Tokaji.
Patricius Red Leonis Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos: the acidity here is sky high which keeps the overall impression light, you’ll be surprised how easily this goes down next to savory courses throughout your meal. Try this not-too-sweet wine with blue cheese, breasola, spicy noodles, or lobster bisque.
Patricius Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos: this deeply colored nectar is sweet and rich with a slightly thickened, but balanced, body. Try this alongside creamy deserts like crème brulee and panna cotta, or pastries like cheese and fruit Danish, or crepes with apricot preserves.
To learn more about the different styles of sweet wines and their production methods, check Kristian Kielmayer’s latest blog post: Drawing on examples of sweet wine production in different parts of the world.