I had the opportunity to taste my way through Hungary recently. Of course, wine was my top priority. Tokaji, or Tokay as it is commonly written in English, has long been one of my favorite wines. As is often the case when traveling, things taste exceptional when you experience them relaxing on vacation.
Tokaji comes from the region of Tokaj in the northeast corner of the country. The terroir of the region is conducive for the development of botrytis (noble rot or aszusodas, as the Hungarians call it) in the furmint and harslevelu grapes.
There is more than one style of this wine. Most of us are more familiar with the sweet Tokaji Aszu made from botrytized grapes. Within this style there are sweetness levels identified by the number of puttonyos. Puttony is the name of the wooden hod used for harvesting the grapes. The rotting botrytized grapes are put into these wooden tubs for about a week. A minuscule amount of juice known as “essencia” will run out naturally. This juice is known as an elixir of life for many Hungarians. After the runoff of the juice, the grapes are pounded into a paste and added to a dry wine. The more puttonyos (tubs of paste) added to the wine, the sweeter the resulting product.
A wine labeled Tokaji Aszu 3 puttonyos will have a minimum of 60 grams of residual sugar; 4 puttonyos, 90 grams; 5 puttonyos, 120 grams; and 6 puttonyos, 150 grams.
The most rare of the Tokaji wines is Tokaji Aszu Essencia. It has long been claimed that this wine has medicinal benefits and was used as a revitalizing tonic. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the wine was given to the seriously ill and, it was claimed, it’s what brought them back to robust health. Hand-selected noble rot berries are placed into a large barrel or keg. They are not filled to the top to allow for an extremely slow oxidizing process. Adding to the rarity is the time involved to produce this wine. A wine labeled as 2 puttonyos will have aged a minimum of four years and a 6-pottonyos bottle will have aged eight years.
- 2003 Tokajbor-Bene 3 Puttonyos, Hungary (about $24 retail)
- 2003 Tokajbor-Bene 6 Puttonyos, Hungary (about $55 retail)