I’ve always let my taste guide my interest in the world of wine. The flavors that resonate with me most often lead me to esoteric, or at least non-mainstream, regions and styles. One country I cannot get enough of is Hungary. The diversity of flavors and styles offered by traditional varieties and regions is impressive in its own right, but it is the quality and purity of unique flavor that draws me in deeper.
One of my great interests in Hungarian wine are those of Tokaj. This historically lauded and anciently renowned region produces exceptional wines, both dry and sweet, through traditional techniques and with indigenous varieties. These are the same characteristics of top regions worldwide, and Tokaj is on the fast track to reclaiming its place among them. One thing I love is that you can find wines that are best by the glass and for everyday drinking, as well as a premium wines, at times the most expensive on the list, and worth every sip. The selection at the recent Blue Danube Wine Co. industry tasting at Terroir Tribeca showcased a commitment to a comprehensive sampling of the region’s best. There were wines from 7 different producers, not so much competitors as members of an unofficial collective, supporting each other and celebrating the unique nuances of their terroirs.
For me what characterized the dry white wines was crisp clean flavors, seering acidity, integration of savoriness and deep complexity. There were four versions of Hárslevelű, one of the major grape varieties of Tokaj. Patricius offers a steely and mineral-driven version, while Bott‘s was more peachy and a touch caramelized; Demeter‘s Hárslevelű, was soft with tart stone fruit flavors, and the one from Nobilis was all about stone fruit rounded out with a touch of residual sugar.
The variations among the Furmint, the region’s leading grape, were similarly discreet and intriguing. Demeter’s briney Furmint screams for lobster to compliment the natural saltiness and richness of the grape, Bott’s was gamey and somehow evocative of animal fat (this was the estate that served their wines alongside roasted goat); and Bodrog Borműhely‘s Furmint stands as a shining example of how a wine can be infinitely refreshing and complex at the same time. There was only one Kövérszőlő, a lesser known grape of the region, from Tokaj Nobilis, again kissed with a touch of sugar to offset the spice.
The sweet wines of Tokaj have always been among the most famous, for very good reason. What a treat to be able to taste the selection of Aszu wines! The 3 Puttonyos from Patricius is one of my favorite sweet wines; it is light and refreshing with a harmony of botrytized aromatics to sweetness. Though I prefer it with cheese or spicy noodles, it’s easy to drink on its own. I can imagine how ancient royalty could happily stock up on 3p like this and use it as house wine all day long. The 5 Puttonyos with their thicker intensities and more concentrated flavors pushed the sweetness up to a level that warrants something equally rich, think foie gras, or huitlacotche pate for fusion seekers. By the time I got to the 6 Puttonyos I came prepared with a little piece of blue cheese. If that was beautiful (and it was) what came next was sublime. Eszencia. One drop on my tongue excited every taste bud. It explodes and outwardly reverberates joy and juiciness throughout the body… sound familiar? I literally had to sit down. This needs no other flavor to balance it, just sip and enjoy the euphoria. Both, 6 Puttonyos and Eszencia wines were made by István Dorogi, a young rising star wine maker in Tokaj.
The cherry on top of this delicious sampling was the Dry Szamorodni from Samuel Tinon. Dry Szamorodni is a style of wine that uses whole bunches of grapes that have varying degrees of botrytis. This wine was aged under a flor and shows sweet aromas and is dry and tangy on the palate. Evocative of Jerez, though unique unto itself.
Anyone who tasted through the two tables of Tokaji wines can easily understand why they are increasingly on the shelves and lists of sommeliers and merchants. While the varying styles may push the boundaries of what we drink day to day the flavors themselves are easy to appreciate. If these wines are any indication of what the region will continue to produce, we have a lot to look forward to. Egészségedre!