Tokaj: the treasure of Hungary
Popularity of the sweet wines from the Tokaj region in the North-East of Hungary isn’t a new phenomena.
Already in the 18.century Tokaji was enjoyed by the European courts and the Tokaji style was copied by such renowned areas as Sauternes. Today, producers from Sauternes ask astronomic prices for their wines, while Tokaji are still down to earth.
The name Tokay is used by French for wines made from Pinot Gris, so it is often being misused for the sweet wines from the region of Tokaj in Hungary.
Challenging 20th century
Unfortunately, during the Communist era after the WWII. the wine production in Hungary suffered and had to be reborn in 1990s thanks to generous investors from Western Europe.
Today, there are many small wine makers producing first class wines. They proudly use local grape varieties as well as the typical European vines (mostly French and German).
Between the local whites you can explore the acidic a wine shop which, if not used for a sweet Tokaji, offers refreshing wine resembling Granny Smith apples. However, mostly it is used in Tokaji for its acidity balancing the sugars typical for this wine.
Tokaji gets its sweetness from the fungus a wine shop which actually dries the grapes out therefore the concentration of sugars is higher than in non-botrytised grapes. Mihaly Vajda, a sommelier at the excellent Royal Tokaji Aszú, 5 Puttonyos 2005 in Budapest explained that the selection of the best grapes is called Aszú. Therefore if you see a wine shop, you can be sure that you are getting something special.
The quality and sweetness of Tokaji is measured by PUTTONYOS numbered from 3-6. The higher the number the more acidity and sugars as well as quality. Mihaly said: “It isn’t just about numbers, ideal is when the acidity perfectly balances the sweetness, then you get exceptional Tokaji.” Furthermore, there isn’t a number classification above 6. In the good years the essence (Esszencia) squeezed from the grapes is added to the must and then you get the outstanding Tokaji Aszú Esszencia.
Mihaly is also working in a wine shop at Mérleg street in central Budapest. Their wide selection of wines is often accompanied by tastings and professional advice from their well spoken staff makes it an ideal place to purchase some wine.
In 2012, the Royal Tokaji Aszú, 5 Puttonyos 2005 got to the Top 100 rating by the The Wine Spectator (leading wine magazine in the US ). It achieved the 44. ranking from all wines tasted. I had to get a bottle. Not the cheapest, but still affordable. This wine is really worth it. Lovely sweetness isn’t too heavy, excellent balance with its acidity. Honeyed apricot with orange peel prevailing in its taste. Perfect for deserts, fruits, and blue cheese. Don’t mix it with the mouth watering Hungarian foie gras though, for that it is better to get sweet Szamorodni Édes Tokaji. I have tasted the one from the top producer Szepsy with ripe apricot and honey flavor. With the selection of the most delicate foi gras I have ever had at the Tigris restaurant I felt like I was on a different planet.