Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos by the producer
Hungary’s Liquid Gold.
Tokaj is the name of an ancient winegrowing region that is currently divided between Hungary and Slovakia. The current Tokaj area used to be part of the greater Tokaj-Hegyalja region within the Kingdom of Hungary, but was divided between Hungary and Czechoslovakia at the end of WWI.
The sweet Tokaji wines were world-known and coveted as high-end dessert wines prior to WWII. They were mostly made from Furmint grapes. The Furmint classification happened during the late 18th century when, in 1796, a Hungarian politician described Furmint as the "genuine Tokaji Aszú" grape. After WWII, when Hungary fell under the Soviets, Tokaj wines lost their cache and international desirability because their quality varied between indifferent and poor. Actually the government at the time, confiscated the vineyards that produced the liquid gold, exiled or even worse the families that owned the vineyards, and encouraged the production of low quality wines so that the bulk of the offerings which were exported to Russia, remained cheap.
Today, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a number of grape growing and wine making families have returned to Hungary and are starting to again produce very high quality Tokaj. The modern wines are created as both sweet and dry, with the majority being vinified similarly to the better German Rieslings or the top Sauternes.
A recent tasting of the Patricius Tokaj line proved to me that Tokaj is again becoming a force to be reckoned with in the international wine marketplace. Though the production volume of exceptional wines is still very limited; the passion of the top Hungarian producers is such that a demand and a following, for both dry and sweet Tokajis has been easily re-developed.
We started our Tokaji lunch with the 2012 Late Harvest Katinka, a light-bodied, sweet and aromatic wine made from botrytis affected grapes with a very distinctive nose of honey, orange and a hint of apricots. It was paired with Liptauer, a paprika-spiced cheeses spread; an Austrian tapa made with fresh, spicy paprika to accompany wines at Viennese wine bars.
The second wine, 2015 Patricius Tokaji Muscat, accompanied the appetizer (small plate) of Duck Spätzle. Muscat is another of the ancient wine grapes that are ubiquitous in the Mediterranean basin. Phoenician, Greek and Roman traders had propagated Muscat (mostly the Moscato d’ Alessandria and the Moscato di Candia varieties) throughout Europe, the near-East and North Africa. This bottle was mildly aromatic, very dry, with a floral nose and crisp minerality driven acidity. I think it paired better with the other appetizer, a smoked salty salmon, than the Spätzle dish, which was redolent of tarragon and woody mushroom aromas.
Then came the main course, a crispy-fried Mountain Trout. With it was poured the 2014 Patricius Tokaji Dry Furmint, another very dry, fresh, minerality driven wine with a light stone-fruit nose. It is an exceptionally tasty wine, light golden colored, pungently aromatic with the minerality and acidity of the better Rieslings. Very food friendly, it pairs very well with white meats, fish, and strong cheeses but would not feel out of place accompanying fresh fruit or a young, mild, creamy cheese.
My dessert was the Marillen Palatschinken filled with apricot jam. Palatschinken is the middle-European version of crêpes, a very thin pancake filled with preserved fruit.
Sweet crêpes have been made popular by the French, served stuffed with fruit jam or a chocolate/hazelnut spread and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. The middle-European version, Palatschinken, is usually simpler, without the confectioner's sugar. The 2004 Patricius Tokaji 5 Puttonios Aszú was served with the Palatschinken. It is the closest, one can find, to the traditional pre-WWII delicate Tokaj wines so beloved by the European cognoscenti. It is a highly aromatic, well balanced sweet wine, clean and tangy; a rather youthful wine redolent of tropical fruits – honey, pineapple, lemon, peach and ginger.
There was a final digestif; the 2000 Tokaj 5 (Puttonios) Eszencia. It is one of the higest rated dessert wines. We were given a thimbleful of this delicious botrytized dessert wine made from Aszú (shriveled grapes). Please… please… please… can I have some more?
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