Tokaji wine: the king of sweet wines

tokaji wine hungary

Tokaji wines, true Hungarian wine treasures, embody history and elegance in every sip, offering a unique and captivating taste experience.

What is the history and origin of Tokaji wine in Hungary?

Once upon a time, in the 17th century, in the sunny hills of northeastern Hungary, this wine legend was born. Hungarian winegrowers discovered the secrets of noble rot, this blessing of nature which transforms grapes into true liquid treasures.
The unique conditions of the local climate, with its morning fogs and sunny afternoons, provided the perfect environment for the magic to happen. The indigenous Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes were affected by noble rot, also known as Botrytis cinerea. This noble mold, like a benevolent hand, concentrated the flavors and natural sugars of the grapes, giving birth to divine wines.
The first official document mentioning Tokaji wine dates back to 1630, but the story of its fame has spread far beyond Hungarian borders. From kings to tsars, from poets to nobles, all succumbed to the taste ecstasy offered by Tokaji wine . He was even crowned with the title of “Wine of Kings, King of Wines”.
Tokaji wine was also the first wine to receive an official classification in 1730, marking its status as an exceptional wine. This classification introduced the famous "Puttonyos" system, which evaluates the sugar concentration in Tokaji wines. The higher the number of Puttonyos, the sweeter and more precious the wine.
Even today, winegrowers perpetuate this ancestral heritage with passion and dedication. They cultivate the vines on the steep slopes of the Tokaj hills, watching over each cluster like a treasure to be discovered. The late harvests, sometimes picked grain by grain, allow us to capture the very essence of this unique terroir.

What grape varieties are used to produce Tokaji wines?

The region's star grape variety, which gives its distinctive character to Tokaji wines, is Furmint . This noble grape variety, originally from Hungary, is the mainstay of the blend in most Tokaji wines. It provides structure, refreshing acidity and a complex aromatic palette with notes of citrus, stone fruit and a subtle minerality.

Another valuable grape variety that is often used as a complement to Furmint is Hárslevelű. With its name meaning "lime leaf" in Hungarian, this grape variety brings additional aromatic richness to Tokaji wines. It offers aromas of honey, white flowers, ripe fruit and a velvety texture that blends harmoniously with Furmint.

In some cases, other local grape varieties such as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (known as Sárgamuskotály in Hungarian) or Kövérszőlő can be used to bring an extra dimension to Tokaji blends. These grape varieties add intense floral aromas, subtle sweetness and aromatic depth to some Tokaji wines.

These grape varieties, cherished by Tokaj winemakers, are cultivated with care on the sunny slopes of the hills. They draw their essence from mineral-rich volcanic soils, combined with a unique climate characterized by morning fogs and sunny afternoons. It is this ideal environment that allows the grapes to ripen slowly and develop their aromatic complexity.

What is noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) and how does it affect Tokaji grapes?

Noble rot, known by the scientific name Botrytis cinerea , is a benevolent fungus that manifests itself in specific climatic conditions. In the vineyards of Tokaj, Hungary , the climate is often characterized by morning fogs and sunny afternoons, creating an ideal environment for the development of this mold.

When noble rot forms, it attacks the grapes by delicately piercing their skins. This allows the fungus to get inside the berries, where it begins its magical work. Noble rot works by dehydrating grapes, concentrating their juices and changing their chemical composition.

This unique process gives Tokaji grapes intense sweetness and exceptional aromatic complexity. The natural sugars in the grapes concentrate, giving rise to Tokaji wines rich in sweetness and opulent flavors. The aromas also transform, with notes of honey, candied apricot, fig and exotic spices emerging.

Noble rot adds a velvety texture and aromatic depth to Tokaji grapes. It also contributes to the balanced acidity of the wines, providing a welcome freshness that counteracts their sweet richness.

However, noble rot is a delicate and capricious phenomenon. Conditions must be ideal for its development, and winegrowers must be attentive and responsive to ensure a precise harvest at the optimal time. Late harvests, sometimes carried out grain by grain, are often necessary to capture the full expression of noble rot.

What are the different styles of Tokaji wines, such as Szamorodni, Aszú, and Eszencia?

First of all, we have Szamorodni, a unique wine that offers an extraordinary sensory experience. Its name means "as it comes" in Polish, because it is made from whole bunches, whether or not they are affected by noble rot. Szamorodni can be vinified in two distinct styles: dry (Száraz) and sweet (Édes). The two styles have different characteristics, but both offer remarkable aromatic complexity and rich texture on the palate.

Next we have Aszú, the true jewel of Tokaji wines. It is created from botrytized grapes, harvested by hand, berry by berry. These grapes affected by noble rot are rich in concentrated sugars and intense aromas. Aszú is produced by adding these botrytized grapes to a base must (the wine being fermented) in specific proportions called “Puttonyos”. The higher the number of Puttonyos, the sweeter and richer in complex flavors the wine will be. Aszú offers a perfect harmony between sweetness, lively acidity and delicate aromas of candied apricots, honey, spices and much more.

Finally, we reach Eszencia, a delectable rarity reserved for true connoisseurs. Eszencia is the nectar of the gods, extracted from botrytized grapes with an extreme concentration of sugar. This precious wine is so high in sugar that its fermentation is slow or non-existent, leaving a very high residual sugar content. Eszencia is distinguished by its lush viscosity, its aromas of honey, exotic fruits and its infinite length on the palate. It is considered one of the sweetest and most concentrated wines in the world.

Each style of Tokaji wine offers a unique experience, transporting the taster to unsuspected taste horizons. These exceptional wines are the result of meticulous work by winegrowers, the influence of noble rot and the exceptional terroir of the Tokaj region.

What are the recommended food and wine pairings with Tokaji wines?

Let's start with dry Tokaji wines, such as dry Szamorodni. Their subtle aromatic character and balanced acidity make them perfect companions for seafood, such as oysters, langoustines and mussels. Their lively freshness also goes well with grilled fish dishes, crunchy vegetable salads and fresh goat cheeses.

Now let's move on to sweet Tokaji wines, including Aszú and Eszencia. Their sweet richness and aromatic complexity open up a world of gastronomic possibilities. Aszú goes wonderfully with foie gras, blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort, desserts made from candied fruits, apricot tarts and intense dark chocolates.

As for Eszencia, its extreme sugar concentration makes it an ideal wine to accompany the most daring and refined desserts. It enhances elaborate pastries, crème brûlées, exotic sorbets and honey desserts. Just one drop of this divine nectar can transform a sweet moment into a heavenly experience.

But let's not forget the bold and unexpected pairings! Tokaji wines can also pair with savory and spicy dishes. So try a daring combination by accompanying pan-fried foie gras with an Aszú vintage, or spicy Asian-inspired dishes with a dry Szamorodni. The balance between the sweetness of the wine and the intense flavors of the dish can create an explosion of deliciousness in the mouth.

Finally, remember that Tokaji wines can be enjoyed alone, as true gems to be savored slowly. They can be the highlight of a meal, accompanying lively conversation or silent contemplation.

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