Are you a fan of serious dessert wines? By serious, I don’t mean cheap, sweet wines. I mean coveted wines that people spend a lot of money on. Last week, I was delighted to try my first Tokaji (pronounced Toe-kay). It was a 2013 Château Pajzos 5 Puttonyos. I’ve happily known Sauternes for seven years and was eager to compare the two. In this article, I’ll share some information about both wines and include my thoughts on how they compare. A big thank you to Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly for her tremendous coverage of Tokaji.
What Do the Two Wines Have in Common?
- Botrytis: Both of these dessert wines are affected by Botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. noble rot), which causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated, distinctively flavored wines.
- Age worthiness: Both wines are very age worthy. Some people claim that good bottles can last 200 years!
How Do the Two Wines Differ?
- Location: Tokaji comes from the Hungarian region of Tokaj. Sauternes comes from the Graves section in Bordeaux France.
- Grapes: Tokaji is made from six native varieties, the most prominent of which is Furmint (pronounced Foor-meent). Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.
- How long they’ve been around: According to Wikipedia, Tokaji was first mentioned in 1635, whereas Sauternes wasn’t invented until 1836.
The History of Tokaji
According to Wine Folly, “Tokaji was once one of the most important wines in the world. It was coveted by royal customers including Hungarian noblemen, Ferenc Rákóczi II, Peter the Great, King Louis XIV, Catherine the Great and even Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (who received some payments in the form of wine).”
Sadly, because of communism, and the resulting lack of focus on quality in state-run wineries, we haven’t seen a lot of Hungarian wines of late, and certainly not many good ones. The good news is that in the last 30 years, there has been some privatization of the industry, which will hopefully result in our ability to get higher quality Hungarian wines.
Characteristics of Tokaji
This wine is very sweet with high acidity, no tannin and medium body. Flavors to look for include tangerine, apricot, honey, ginger and marzipan.
Hungarian Terms Worth Knowing
- Aszú: (pronounced ah-tsu): This is the name given to grapes in Hungary affected by noble rot.
- Puttonyos: This is a term that tells you how many baskets of Aszú were added to a Tokaji. The higher the number, the sweeter the wine. The 5 Puttonyos Château Pajzos that I tried had a minimum of 120 grams sugar/liter. Because baskets are no longer used, this term isn’t used as religiously as it once was.
- Eszencia: This is the only Tokaji that is made entirely from noble rot grapes. It has 450+ grams sugar/liter and is so sweet that many people drink it from a tablespoon!
Seven years ago, I wrote an article entitled The Joys of Sauternes, where I talked about a tasting a small group of us did of two Sauternes. I said that the tasting experience left me in seventh heaven. I talked about “succulent aromas of honey and dried pineapple with beautiful acidity balancing out the sweetness.”
Rereading my article brought back the incredible memories of our tasting experience and made me want to run to the store and buy some Sauternes J
While the Tokaji tasting was intriguing, it did not knock my socks off. And it was an expensive bottle. I will continue to taste this wine and will hopefully be surprised by a great bottle in the near future.
On the food front, we found that in spite of its sweetness, Sauternes was complex enough to pair beautifully with all kinds of savory dishes. We loved it with smoked salmon and gorgonzola, artichoke lemon spread and baba ghanoush.
I had my Tokaji with dessert, which was okay. But I have a feeling I would have liked it better with blue cheese.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Tokaji and Sauternes. Cheers!
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
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