The SOMM Journal

October / November 2015

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100 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 { stickies } If Riesling, considered by some the king of noble grapes, can have a royal revival, then why not Tokaji, the Hungarian elixir that French king Louis XV called "the king of wine and wine of kings"? Its fan base has included other roy- als: Louis XIV, Russian emperor Peter the Great and Napoleon II. Hungarian emperor Franz Josef sent Queen Victoria a bottle of Tokaji Aszú wine every year on her birthday. Musicians, philosophers and authors, too, fell under its charm. And, yet this intoxicating golden liquid—arguably the best dessert wine in the world—has remained under the radar. Tokaji's mystique has been both a bless- ing and conundrum. First, there's the name game. Tokaj is the town that gives its name to the surrounding region producing Tokaji wines, made mostly from Furmint grapes (60 percent of production here) and Hárslevelu˝ (30 percent). Dry styles are called by their varieties—Tokaji Furmint, Tokaji Hárslevelu˝ , etc.—and are the sim- plest offerings from the region. "These are not wines that have a lot to say, but are good by the glass" says László Mészáros, Head Winemaker and Director at Disznóko˝, a Classified First Growth estate dating to 1732, and one of only 150 producers in Tokaji. But he doesn't loiter much here, moving on to the region's flag- ship expression, Aszú (Hungarian for dried). Made from nobly rotted grapes selected in multi-passes in October and often into November, Aszú is one of the most labor-intensive harvests in the world. The botrytized berries are made into a paste and added to the current vintage's base wine that's already been fermented in stainless steel. Tokaji Aszú wines must be aged for a minimum of three years prior to release. They are worth the wait. The wines are characterized by citrus zest and tropical fruits, layered with creaminess, before giving way to apricot and rich dried fruits. And, they will age. A long time. "The wines are essentially bullet- proof—with the combination of good acidity and sugar, they age gracefully and enter fascinating new phases," says Alex Michas, Senior Vice President at Vintus Wines, which imports Disznóko˝ into the States. "It's wonderful to enjoy the wines with their fruity character when they're young, and then follow the mellow savory characteristics [crystallized fruits, tea] that follow with age." Drinkers, however, have been thwarted by the sweetness range. Until recently Aszú used a four-grade puttonyos scale to indicate concentration levels between 60 and 150 grams of residual sugar. (A puttony is the 25-kilogram basket or hod used to carry the dried grapes; the more puttonyos of aszú grapes added, the sweeter the wine). Tokaji simplified the range, eliminating the two lower levels, so now drinkers need only remember that 5 puttonyos yields 120 grams per liter, and 6 puttonyos nets out at 150 grams. After Aszú comes Eszencia, the run-off juice of the of Aszú berries—an elixir pressed by its own weight, says Mészáros, and yielding highly concentrated wines that reach 600–900 grams of residual sugar per liter. "It's the world's richest, most concen- trated natural nectar," he says, adding the production comes naturally: it's the bot- tling that's difficult. Eszencia is filtered up to five times, stored in demijohns (up to 15 gallons). The lighter Eszencia may be added to the Aszú wines at the end of fermenta- tion, and the richest nectar will be kept for years before bottling—and only if its time has come. These wines made with painstaking care don't come cheap. A 2002 6 puttonyos— the current vintage from Disznóko˝—will run $100 SRP, but it offers a pleasurable and affordable stand-in for a Sauternes from Chateau d'Yquem. Eszencia—if you can get it—is dear, $800 for a 375ml bottle. The current vintage is 2005, with only ten to 20 bottles allocated to the U.S. each year. But consider this: It's one of the rarest, most exquisite liquids on earth and can age longer than most of us will be alive. "Eternal aging," says Mészáros, without a drop of irony. "It is the classic, historical wine in the world. It seems to transcend the categor y of sweet wine—it is its own thing." Eternally Royal THE AGE-WORTHY WINES OF TOKAJI ARE THE STUFF OF LEGEND by Lana Bortolot The Aszú lineup from Disznóko˝, a Classified First Growth estate dating to 1732 Aszú grapes are botrytized on the vine. László Mészáros is Head Winemaker and Director at Disznóko" .

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