Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about the wonders of Tokaji wine. I’ve always wanted to try it and was delighted to get to do so a few weeks ago. I was a with a wine expert, so I got to learn a lot. I thought I would share my learnings with you.
Tokaji Is the Region and Style, not the Grape
Tokaji wines come from from the Hungarian region of Tokaj (pronounced Tokay), an ancient and very important wine region. According to Wine Folly, “The most desirable of these elixirs (and the most expensive) was that of Tokaji Eszencia, a liquid goo that contains as much sweetness as straight syrup. It’s so intense that Eszencia is typically enjoyed from a tablespoon and, because of the high sugar content, will age 200+ years.”
Six Grape Varieties Are Approved for Tokaji Wine
According to Wine Folly, to be called Tokaji, a wine can only contain six grapes: Furmint (“foor-meent”), Hárslevelü (“harsh-level-lou”), Kabar (“kah-bar”), Kövérszölö (“kuh-vaer-sue-lou”), Zéta (“zay-tuh”), and Sárgamuskotály (“shar-guh-moose-koh-tie”) (aka Muscat Blanc). Furmint is the most common, accounting for 60 percent of the grapes. Hárslevelü is next most common, accounting for 30 percent of the grapes. The third most common grape is Sárgamuskotály.
Noble rot is the name given to grapes affected by Botrytis or gray mold, a fungus that causes the grapes to shrivel and become incredibly sweet. The Hungarian grapes affected by this mold are called Aszú berries. Per Wine Folly’s infographic, you can see that depending on the style of Tokaji, some use only Aszú berries and some use a combination of Aszú berries and other grapes.
According to Tokaji.com, “the Furmint grapes begin maturation with a thick skins, but as they ripen the skins become thinner, and transparent. This allows the sun to penetrate the grape and evaporate much of the liquid inside, producing a higher concentration of sugar… The grapes are left on the vine long enough to develop the ‘noble rot’ (Botrytis cinerea) mold. Grapes are then harvested, sometimes as late as December.
Tokaji Can Be Dry
I’d always thought of Tokaji as a dessert wine. Surprisingly, the Tokaji I tried was dry. Wine Folly says that “there is an entire new subset of wines emerging from the Tokaj region that are dry. Dry single-varietal Furmint and Hárslevelü have already made waves in the European markets and continue to gain interest. These wines usually have a touch of residual sugar (usually around 7.5 g/L) but this is simply to counteract the intensely high natural acidity. Wines are often aged in oak (in the local Hungarian oak), but it only adds subtle body and texture to the lean, mineral profile of the wines.”
Because I tried a dry Tokaji, I still feel the need to try a sweet one. If you are in the Bay Area and want to try one with me, please let me know.
A Fun Factoid
I learned from Wikipedia that “the ‘nectar’ coming from the grapes of Tokaj is… mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary.”
A Good Read
Wine Folly, as always, has a beautiful write up about this wine. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with this wonderful wine.
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