Having recently been fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Austria and Hungary, I can happily say my notebook is full of things to further clog your inbox for months to come. However, in the interest of keeping things focused and digging a little deeper, I’d like to start with a particularly intense (in a good way) encounter with Demeter Zoltán in Hungary’s Tokaj appellation.
Terroir lesson from Demeter Zoltán
Demeter is a one man army by choice and demands 100% control over everything. By everything, work in the vineyards, winery and cellar are all assumed. His control extends to how the word “Tokaj” is placed on his labels, custom drawers in his tasting room filled with terroir specific soils and rocks, selecting specific music for the winery/cellar/tasting room, and creating custom maps for his single vineyards. Even the photography associated with his brand on Facebook is his own and branded with his logo. If I were to move a book on shelf without him seeing, I have little doubt he would notice the moment he turned back around.
Tasting with Demeter Zoltán
The fascinating thing is that despite all of this control, he’s happy to admit the elusive magic of Tokaj and is remarkably humbled by it despite being a benchmark pioneer in the region. The only thing rivaling his desire for control is his assertion that Tokaj is truly one of the most important wine appellations in the world. With only 25 or so more harvests left to rediscover 500 years of history mostly lost during Communism, his race against time to showcase Tokaj is the driving force behind everything he does. Maps of famous wine regions hang the walls next to maps of Tokaj. If Champagne is branded with James Bond, so can Tokaj. When he speaks about the present and future of the appellation, the seriousness of this tone and unwavering eye contact makes you afraid to blink (in a good way.)
Tokaj as a luxury brand
With this in mind, I’m proud to be able to share two of his single vineyard dry wines: the 2012 Veres Furmint and the 2012 Szerelmi Hárslevelű. The 40 year old Veres (Red) vineyard is known for it’s reddish hue coupled with rhyolitic volcanic tufa soils.
Plowing vineyard with horse — credit Demeter Zoltán
Where some Furmints often have a fair amount of residual sugar to add body and balance the acidity, this one is impossibly dry and balanced without sacrificing intensity. Try pairing it with roast duck or goat; it’s got the structure.
Szerelmi (Lovely) is by contrast predominately loess soil with 70 year old vines on the southern side of Tokaj Hill. The loess soil lends an elegant texture and the aromatics are both sweet and sour. This is one of those wines that is intellectually interesting and delicious. Both vineyards were designated as a 1st Class sites in 1798 and are still plowed by horse without pesticides or fertilizer. If I was still working the floor, these are both wines I’d have lying in wait on the bottle list to wow the right person.
Happy to be back in country and looking forward to sharing more with you soon.