Picture: Budapest in the Summer of 2009
I was very thrilled when I received an invitation from the Hungarian Ambassador to the US requesting the pleasure of my company to an Hungarian wine tasting event at the Embassy. The Ambassador was offering us the opportunity to taste some of the best Hungarian wines available on the US market.
Hungary has a Long History of Winemaking
Wine was introduced to Hungary by the Romans. During the Turkish occupation beginning in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger, which was the basis for the red wine blend that later became known as Bull's Blood. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaj region became known for dessert wines, harvested late to encourage noble rot.
After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Blauer Portugieser. From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard. The 2oth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt. Under Communism quality was neglected in favour of overcropping, pasteurisation, and industrial production.
Picture: Istvan Kiss, General Manager of Tokaji Kereskedohaz Zrt. and Christian G.E. Schiller
Since 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, there has been a lot of new investment, particularly in Tokaj and renewed interest in the traditional varieties. In general, red grapes have been on the rise. The most important whites are still Furmint and Hárslevelü (the grapes of Tokaj), along with Riesling, Welschriesling (Olaszrizling in Hungarian, and no relation to German Riesling) and Zöld Veltlini (Austrian Grüner Veltliner).
Hungary’s Wine Regions
Hungary has 22 designated wine regions, in all 4 corners of the country. Some people consider the red wines from Szekszárd and Villány in southern Hungary to be the cream of the crop. I am a fan of the Joseph Bock wines from there. Around Lake Balaton, you will find the Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonboglár, and Badacsony regions. Further to the North, the Somló hills and Sopron region also offer fine wine.
Tokaji is the Best Known Wine Region
Noble-sweet Tokaji has been Hungary’s crowning glory for hundreds of years. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, noble-sweet Tokaji was a cherished wine enjoyed by the European Courts, including Louis XIV of France, Peter the Great, Elizabeth of Russia, and Frederick the Great; it graced the wine glasses of Beethoven, Schubert, and Hungary’s native son Franz Liszt.
The vineyards of the Tokaji region were classified long before Bordeaux, already in the 1700s, with vineyards grouped into 3 categories depending on the soil, sun exposure and potential to develop noble rot. A royal decree in 1757 established a closed production district in Tokaji and the classification system was completed in 1772.
Mother Nature, under non-special circumstances, produces dry wines in the vineyard. All the sugar in the grapes at harvest disappears during fermentation and no sweetness remains in the wine. There are, however, plenty of sweet wines made around the world. There are different techniques to make a wine sweet. One of them is to let the noble rot suck the water out of the grape, so that the degree of sugar in the grapes is extra-ordinary high.
Picture: Attila Toth, Agricultural Secretary at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington DC and WSET Certified Wine Educator Jason Whiteside
Another technique is used in Portugal to make Port wine. Port wine is made sweet by adding alcohol to the fermenting must so the fermentation stops and the sugar of the grapes remains in the wine. What you get, is a wine with lots of alcohol and remaining sweetness in the wine.
Botrytized Noble-sweet Wines
Botrytis cinerea is the key to the success of many of the world’s most famous noble sweet wines. Also known as noble rot, Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that under the right conditions attacks already-ripe grapes, shrivelling them, concentrating the sweetness and acidity. The grapes end up looking disgusting but they make profound sweet white wines.
Noble sweet wines made on the basis of noble rot are produced in a number of countries. The most famous ones are the Sauternes in France, the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany and in Austria, the Austria Ausbruch and the Tokaji from Hungary. No doubt, the first noble rot wines were created by accident - both the Hungarians and the Germans have similar stories of how the harvest was delayed for some reason, but the over-ripe grapes were vinified anyway and then the resulting wine found to be delicious.
A noble-sweet Tokaji is typically a blend of botrytised (aszu) and non-botrytised grapes. There are different levels of sweetness in the noble-sweet Tokaji wine. The more aszu grapes are blended into base (not- botrytised) grapes, and the sweeter the aszu grapes are, the sweeter the final wine will be.
Picture: Award-winning Embassy Chef Viktor Merényi
To indicate the sweetness of the Tokaji wine on the label, the Hungarians have developed the puttonyos classification system. A puttony is a traditional wooden hottes. Generally, noble-sweet Tokaji wines range from three to six puttonyos. Since joining the EU, wine with one or two puttonyo(s) is no longer allowed to be bottled.
3 puttonyos = 60 grams of remaining sugar per liter
4 puttonyos = 90 grams of remaining sugar per liter
5 puttonyos = 120 grams of remaining sugar per liter
6 puttonyos = 150 grams of remaining sugar per liter
In addition the rare Aszú Eszencia wines contain more than 180 grams of remaining sugar per liter and the Eszencia wines more than 400 grams of remaining sugar per liter.
What is interesting is that Hungarian Tokaji wines are classified according to the level of remaining sweetness in the wine, while German and Austrian noble-sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein are classified according to the sugar level in the grape at harvest.
Once mixed, the Tokaji must undergoes a slow and cool fermentation which can take several months or even years to complete. A practice unique to Tokaji wines is to allow a degree of oxidation to occur during fermentation. In fact, the amount of oxidation often becomes the hallmark of the producer’s unique style.
Picture: The Wines we Tasted
When I was in Budapest last year, I was surprised by the extent of oxidation experienced in many Hungarian wines; I did not like it. In fact, when I spent a week in Budapest earlier last year, I came across several times a dry Tokaji wines, with a distinctive note of oxidation. Initially, I thought the wine was faulty. But then I learned that some wine makers in the Tokaji region still use a vinification method whereby the wine is exposed to air during fermentation , as the Sherry from Spain, and adopts a distinctive style. This style is clearly not appreciated on the international market, but I found it interesting to experience this taste in Budapest.
What we Ate and Drank
WSET Certified Wine Educator Jason Whiteside, DWS, presented the wines, while the Hungarian wine industry and the participating wineries werel be introduced by Agricultural Attaché Attila Tóth. Food pairing was prepared by award-winning Embassy Chef Viktor Merényi.
Pan Fried Scallop Served with Brown Bread and Cheese Air Foam
Goose Liver Brulee Served with Celery Marmalade
Blue Cheese Coated Grape with Pink Peppercorn and Almond
Veal Cheek Cooked in Red Wine Served with Buttered Potato
Cantaloupe “Caviar” Served with Oven Dried Ham and Fresh Pear
Crispy Sweet Cracker with Tokaji Wine Foam and Dark Chocolate Ganage
Törley Grande Cuvée 2008
Wine region: Etyek-Buda, Winery: Törley, www.torley.hu, Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International,firstname.lastname@example.org, Retail price range: 15 $
Tasting notes: Clean on the nose, flavors of toast and mineral on the palate, refreshing finish.
Tokaj Kereskedöház Tokaji Furmint 2009
Variety: Furmint, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Tokaj Kereskedöhaz, www.tkzrt.hu Awards: Decanter Hungary – Best value, Contacts in the USA: Vinum Tokaj, International, 1-714-794-4840 email@example.com, Retail price range: 8-9 $
Tasting notes: Fresh and fruity on the palate, with mouth-watering acidity, good structure, very approachable.
Disznókö Tokaji Furmint 2007
Variety: Furmint, Wine region: Tokaji, Winery: Disznókö, www.disznoko.hu, Awards: Wine and Spirits International – Winery of the Year 1997 ; Winery of the Year, Hungary 2005, Contacts in the USA: Vintus, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-914-769-3000, Retail price range: 15$
Tasting notes: Straw yellow in the glass, attack of peach and apricot, couple with minerals on the nose, good acidity, long, mineral, briny finish.
Alana Tokaji Furmint 2006
Variety: Furmint, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Alana-Tokaj, www.alana-tokaj.com Contacts in the USA: Allison Tonkin, 801-503-7693, email@example.com Retail price range: 18-22 $
Tasting notes: Wave of quince notes on the nose, rich and concentrated on the palate with loads of fresh peach and nectarines, a bit of residual sugar which rounds out the body.
Dobogó Tokaji Furmint 2006
Variety: Furmint, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Dobogó Pincészet, www.dobogo.hu Awards: Decanter Hungary – Best Furmint of 2006, Retail price range: 14 $
Tasting notes: 100 % Furmint, fermented partly in oak and partly in stainless steel, a lot of honey notes and a bit of petrole on the nose, spicy, wet stone and foral aromas on the palate, long finish.
Nobilis Hárs 2008
Variety: Hárslevelü, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Nobilis, www.tokajnobilis.hu, Retail price range: 18 $
Tasting notes: Fermented in oak barrels with native yeast and aged in 50 % new and 50 % 2-3 years old barrels for 6 months, attack of peaches and melon on the nose, a very perfumed wine, floral aromas, vanilla and honey on the palate, a very distinctive and memorable wine.
Patricius Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2008
Variety: Yellow Muscat, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Patrícius, www.patricius.hu Contacts in the USA: Blue Danube Wines, firstname.lastname@example.org, Retail price range: 18.95$
Tasting notes: Wave of orange and lemon on the nose, crisp, fruity and clean on the palate, good acidity, with just a touch of residual sugar.
Heumann Kékfrankos 2007
Variety: Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch), Wine region: Villány, Winery: Heumann Pincészet, www.heumannwines.com Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, email@example.com Retail price range: 20-25$
Tasting notes: Medium dark ruby in the glass, vanilla, plums, raspberries on the nose, a full-bodied wine, mouth filling with fruity aftertaste.
Takler Noir Gold 2006
Variety: Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch), Wine region: Szekszárd, Winery: Takler, www.takler.com Awards: Winemaker of the Year, 2004 Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, firstname.lastname@example.org Retail price range: 25-30$
Tasting notes: Dark red, almost black in the glass, raspberries and wet stone on the nose, a full-bodied wine, cherry and smoky oak on the palate, long finish.
Picture: The Tables were Nicely set-up for the Tasting
Heumann Cabernet Franc 2007
Variety: Cabernet Franc, Wine region: Villány, Winery: Heumann Pincészet, www.heumannwines.com, Awards: Topwine, X. Pannon Bormustra, 2009 Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, email@example.com Retail price range: 20-25$
Tasting notes: Dark ruby in the glass, vanilla and spices on the nose, a full-bodied wine, dark chocolate and plums on the palate, with a creamy texture, fine structure, long finish.
Heumann Cuvée 2007
Variety: 50 % Cabernet Franc, 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 % Merlot, 10 % Portugieser Wine region: Villány Winery: Heumann Pincészet, www.heumannwines.com Awards: Topwine - Pannon Bormustra Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, firstname.lastname@example.org, Retail price range: 20--25 $
Tasting notes: Dark ruby in the glass, liquorice nose, blackberries, chocolate and spices on the palate, concentrated and full bodied, good structure and well integrated tannins, long aftertaste.
Heumann Terra Tartaro 2007
Variety: 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 % Cabernet Franc, 30 % Merlot, Wine region: Villány Winery: Heumann Pincészet, www.heumannwines.com Awards: Topwine Pannon Bormustra Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, email@example.com Retail price range: 25-28 $
Tasting notes: Dark ruby in the glass, cassis, underpinned with a fine smell of tobacco and chocolate on the nose, a full-bodies wine, very well integrated tannins acidity structure, an elegant yet powerful wine, long finish.
Gere Kopár 2006
Variety: 52 % Cabernet Franc, 46 % Merlot, 2 % Cabernet Sauvignon Wine region: Villány Winery: Gere Attila Pincészete, www.gere.hu Awards: Winemaker of the Year 1994 Contacts in the USA: Blue Danube Wines, firstname.lastname@example.org Retail price range: 59.95 $
Tasting notes: Dark red in the glass, attack of dried roses, cedar and cigar smoke on the nose, a full-bodied wine, good structure, a wine that can hold up with the finest from Bordeaux
Takler Regnum Proprietor’s Reserve 2002
Variety: 45 % Merlot, 25 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 % Cabernet Franc, 10 % Kékfrankos Wine region: Szekszárd Winery: Takler, www.takler.com Awards: Winemaker of the Year 2004 Contacts in the USA: Monarchia Matt International, email@example.com, Retail price range: 60 $
Tasting notes: Dark ruby in the glass, flavors of berries and cherries co-mingle with chocolate and coffee on the nose, a full-bodied wine, luscious in the mouth, with green paprika and sweet pepper on the palate, long finish.
Gróf Degenfeld Fortissimo 2008
Variety: Furmint, Hárslevelü, Muscat Lunel, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Gróf Degenfeld, www.grofdegenfeld.hu, Contacts in the USA: The Country Vintner, 1-800-365-9463, Retail price range: 30-35 $
Tasting notes: Straw yellow in the glass, wave of spiced corn typical of Hárslevelü on the nose, medium-bodied wine, good acidity, notes of honey and pineapple on the palate.
Tokaj Kereskedöház 4 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 1991
Variety: Furmint, Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Tokaj Kereskedöhaz, www.tkzrt.hu Awards: Vinitaly – Grand Menzione, 2000, 2003; Concours Mundial de Bruxelles 2000 – silver; International Wine and Spirits Competition, London – silver, Contacts in the USA: Vinum Tokaj International, 1 -714-794-4840 firstname.lastname@example.org, Retail price range: 25 $
Tasting notes: Dark golden in the glass, this 4 puttonyos, furmint-based aszú has a sugar content of 117 g/l, is produced from grapes grown in one of the best classified vineyards of Tokaj, the Szarvas-dülö.
Patricius 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2000
Variety: Furmint, Hárslevelü, Wine region: Tokaj Winery: Patrícius, www.patricius.hu Awards: Wine Spectator 94 points, in Top 100 Wines of 2009; Vinagora International Wine Challenge 2004, Budapest Gold Medal; Decanter World Wine Awards 2006, London Silver Medal; Japan Wine Challenge 2006, Tokyo Silver Medal Contacts in the USA: Blue Danube Wines, email@example.com Retail price range: 49.95 $
Tasting notes: Dark golden in the glass, the wine announces in its fragrance and taste the apricot and peach hues of the aszú grape, sugar, acidity and alcohol create an elegant balance, smooth structure, long finish.
Alana Tokaj 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2005
Variety: Zéta, Yellow Muscat, Hárslevelü Wine region: Tokaj, Winery: Alana-Tokaj, www.alana-tokaj.com, Contacts in the USA: Allison Tonkin, 801-503-7693, firstname.lastname@example.org, Retail price range: 90-100 $
Tasting notes: Intensely fragrant, with notes of citrus, honey and essence of muscat fruit, framed by fresh floral touches, viscous and concentrated body, ultrasweet yet extraordinarily elegant, built on a mouthwateringly zesty tangerine core; long, 45+ second finish, fascinating and hedonistic, a Tokaji par excellence.
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