Tokaj Today

Eric exploring the carved tufa stone cellars beneath Tokaj
Eric exploring the carved tufa stone cellars beneath Tokaj

In preparation for the 3rd Annual Great Tokaj Auction, Tom Gardyne of The Drinks Business, asked Eric Danch to explain the current state of Tokaji wines in the US market.

Q. What’s demand like for Tokaj at present?

Difficult question. It’s like asking what was the demand for Grüner Veltliner in the late 1980’s. Once people became comfortable with Austrian wine, the range of styles, and how to navigate the umlaut, it became a standard on every serious wine list. As for Tokaj, even though for the past 500 years the traditional wines like Aszú, dry Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, late harvest, and Eszencia warranted the world’s first wine appellation system (over 100 years before Bordeaux), the quality dry wines are just over a decade old. That said, there is no doubt that unique grapes are planted in unique places coupled with an incredible producer renaissance. This is what’s exciting about Tokaj right now and people are taking note. We should also remember that Tokaj was once in high demand and a muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Néruda, Balzac, Flaubert, Diderot, Catherine the Great, Goethe, Peter the Great, Bram Stoker, and Voltaire to name a few. No reason that kind of demand and appreciation won’t happen again. In our experience, it’s already happening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Q. Where’s the main interest coming from? – eg – private collectors – wine investors – high-end restaurants?

The main interest is all over the map. While it’s true that there is a collector audience and classically trained wine buyers often feature some sort of Aszú, the main interest has simply been fueled by something uniquely delicious with a great price to quality ratio. We’ve seen growth across the board from neighborhood wine shops to Michelin starred restaurants. For people who are into Vin Jaune or Sherry, Dry Szamorodni is a must try. For those into Chenin Blanc and Riesling, please try some dry and off dry Furmint, Hárslevelű or Sárga Muskotály (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). For those looking for unparalleled sugar, fruit and acidity, get some Aszú. And finally, for anyone who enjoys deeply volcanic wines, please try all of the above.

Drink Eszencia with a spoon

Q. Would you say there’s much of a secondary market for Tokaj in US?

I’m not too familiar with this end of the market, but the third Confrérie de Tokaj takes place this April and attracts buyers and collectors from all over the world. This event is sure to grow and proceeds are already helping rebuild and improve the infrastructure of the region.

Q. Is it still very niche – or is knowledge and interest in Tokaj spreading?

In some ways, Tokaj will always be somewhat niche simply because it’s not big enough to satisfy worldwide demand. Bordeaux is roughly 20 times larger in terms of vines planted for instance. At the same time, there is still exponential room to grow in terms of by the glass placements, the $15-25 retail sweet spot, and not relegating the sweet wines only for special occasions or pigeonholed as “dessert” only wine. Concerning knowledge, while many wine shops, wine professionals and inquisitive consumers might have a coffee table book on wines of the world and books focused on regions like Burgundy, Champagne, Piedmont, Rioja, and Napa, there has been very little printed in English that’s current about Tokaj. There are of course some, but they need to be sought out. I’d also personally love to see Tokaj appellation maps alongside the other great classical wine regions of the world. Lastly and most importantly, people need to go there, eat, drink, explore and meet the people. It’s an incredible
place to grow wine.

Underground wine cellars
Underground wine cellars

Read the published article here.

One thought on “Tokaj Today”

  1. Eric Danch recently introduced me to Samuel Tinon dry Tokaji in a tasting presentation. It is compellingly a must have.

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