Tokaj is an institution. It is a Unesco world heritage, it is beautiful, volcaneous and most of all, spectacular wines are being made here. The region is situated in the northeastern Hungary on the border to Slovakia and includes barely 6000 hectares of wine land (the size of a single appellation in Bordeaux!) Thanks to the amount of dead volcanoes in the area, Tokaj has a very complex terroir; a soil that was created through layers of marina fossil chalk, loose soil and mud. Tokaj is mentioned in the medieval writings. The sweet wine from the region was exported to the whole of Europe and assigned magical qualities – Johan III treated his sick horse with it. Fredrik the Great drank it together with Voltaire and Goethe invited Faust. If this was not enough, the World’s first classification of vineyards based on quality was established in the region of Tokaj around 1700.
(karta från winefolly.com)
Aszú – “a wine for kings – the king of wines”
This is how Ludvig XIV described the sweet wine from Tokaj, 100 years before French Sauternes rised to similar fame with its wine of noble rot! Tokaj wines are made mainly from 3 grape varieties; Furmint, Hárslevelü and Muskotály (muscat blanc à petits grains) but also Kövérszölö, Zéta and Kabar are allowed. The most curious is that the this most well-known wine from Hungary is created from mould! That got the name noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). the mould is developed in the skin during humid conditions and the grapes are simply left on the vines to dry until they have shrivelled and their natural sugar content maximised.
The most sweet and noble wine, Tokaji Eszencia, is made completely out of aszú grapes and can reach a sugar content of as much as 800g per liter. During a long time this sugar chock of a wine was thought to have healing properties and was reserved to the kings’ deathbed for their final trip to heaven. Both Aszú och Aszú Eszencia have an extremely long life-length, Eszencia can be stored as long as 200 years!
Dry whites are the new focus – Furmint in the centre
It is interesting that the production of sweet wines actually has decreased to only stand for around 1% in the region, despite the fact that the sweet is the wine associated the most with Tokaj. In later years the white wines have increased rapidly in quality, to currently being able to compete with the real top wines. Furmint is a grape with high acid that is expressing terroir fantastically well (this is similar to Chardonnay). The wines become complex and concentrated. The character is often delicate with pear, spices, floral notes and mineralogy, if the earth is rich in mineral like in Tokaj. The high acid contributes to a large storage potential.
Wines made of Furmint can handle everything from flavourful dishes of pork, cheese and charkuterie, to fat fish dishes. Except Furmint there are many dry or half dry wines made out of the grape Hárslevelü in Tokaj. Also this grape gives wines with high acidity, full body, floral and spice, but even more aromatic tones. There are a number of known winemakers in Tokaj, from István Szepsy, who is considered almost an icon in the region, to several less known some of whom delivers wine to Michelin-restaurants. Try something new, a dry Tokaj can be one of the most unexpected and exciting wines you have tried in a long time!
István Dorogi, from the family winery Dorogi Brothers.