2004 WS Wine Experience: Legendary Tokaji

Hyatt Regency, Chicago

Tasted November 5, 2004 by otisabdul with 1,290 views

Introduction

This seminar was hosted by WS columnist, Matt Kramer, who is a terrific moderator. Very engaging and humorous.

Matt gave a very informative and passionate introduction to Tokaji wines. Some notes I took:

• Tokaji is pronounced “To-KOY”.

• Tokaji is made from furmint, a thick-skinned, tight-clustered grape that lends itself to receiving bortrytis.

• Until the late 1800’s, Tokaji was one of the most pursued wines in history for hundreds of years, enjoying immense prestige.

• Today, we are literally rediscovering a wine that was lost for a century:

o Around 1900, phylloxera hit the vines.
o Then came WWI
o Then came the Depression
o Then came WWII (most of the Hungarian wine merchants were Jewish and perished in the Holocaust)
o Then came Communism

• The Russians reduce Tokaji to a cheap and insipid sweet wine. They nationalized all vineyards and literally made all the wine in one factory. The Russians had steered growers toward clones with bigger grapes and higher yields.

• Starting in 1991, new capital came in. Matt called it the “Atlantis of wine regions”. One of the challenges was to find and replant old clones to approach the quality of yesteryear. Then he offered up some examples of those who have succeeded:

Flight 1 (4 notes)

White
2003 Oremus Furmint Tokaji Dry Mandolás Hungary, Tokaji
89 points
There is no real tradition of dry furmint. But the world likes dry wine, so today's Hungarian winemakers are trying to make one. Kramer picked the Oremus as one of the best examples (Disznoko also makes a good one). Light gold color. Aromas and flavors of green apple, vanilla, and peach syrup, with slight hints of quince, honey, and apricot. An extraordinary full-bodied texture and density. Impressive finish. Kramer noted that this is the type of white wine that could be served with red meat or take on powerful flavors (like Thai or Mexican food). Interesting wine, but the kind that may exhaust your palate after one glass. $15.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2000 Hétürtös Tokaji Cuvée Édes Élet Hungary, Tokaji
89 points
In this example, producer Janos Arvay is trying to make a Tokaji that don't need extensive aging. This wine has the sweetness level of a 6-puttonyos, but is not called 6-putt because it would need longer barrel aging. An invigorating wine, with peach, lemon peel, cinammon, and honey notes. Decent acidity, but a little too "fruit cocktail-ish" for me. $45 for 500ml.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2000 István Szepsy Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos Hungary, Tokaji
94 points
Istvan Szepsy is "the" superstar of Tokaji, a direct descendant of the first man to write about Tokaji in 1630. He has a newly constructed winery and only grows old clones with low yields. Unfortunately, the wine is not available in the USA. Kramer guessed that the bottles we tasted were smuggled into the country labeled as "Flu Vaccine". Bright golden color. An intense, layered wine with a peach and apricot core and luscious creaminess that coats the palate with underlying tannins and acidity. Kramer noted: "This wine is seamless and energizes your lips and tongue with an almost digital delineation. It is a demonstration to other Tokaji producers. I felt it was important that if we were going to taste Tokaji today, you HAVE to have a Szepsy." Great stuff. $150 for 500ml.
White - Sweet/Dessert
N.V. Hétürtös Tokaji Eszencia Hungary, Tokaji
97 points
Eszencia is made from the must that drips though the bottom of a bucket of botrytisized grapes. It has the most sugar of any wine, and takes years to ferment. There is an old saying on how to ferment Eszencia: "one yeast, one bubble, one month". Over a period of 6-8 years, you MIGHT get an alcohol level of 4%. It is among the rarest of wines. As Kramer noted: "only popes, kings, and Marvin Shanken would ever get to taste it. At no other time in history have 1,200 people tasted it at one time - until today". At which point producer Janos Arvay was brought to the dais and given a standing ovation for donating the wine. Dark gold color. Aromas of jasmine tea, caramel, and saffron. The most amazing mouthfeel I've ever experienced. It almost seemed like a fur of sweet syrup was growing between my tongue and teeth. Like drinking honey. Phenomenal depth. An unforgettable and singular glass of wine. $N/A.

Closing

Cheers,

Otis

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