Hungary is the only country in the world whose national anthem sings the praises of its native wine Tokaji (pronounced by Hungarians as “toe-koy”). This sweet wine invented in the 16th century was a favourite of Peter the Great, but it got its enduring third-party endorsement from Louis XV who dubbed it vinum regum, rex vinorum (“the wine of kings and the king of wines”). Tokaji was believed to be a panacea capable of curing a variety of ailments — everything from anemia to erectile dysfunction.
When you think of the area, the only wines that may spring to mind are Tokaji and Bull’s Blood of Eger; but with sweet wines falling out of favour and the growing interest in international-style reds, Hungarian winemakers have been forced to grow wines that the home and international market wants. While Tokaji is still made, the emphasis is, thank heavens, now on dry wines made from the grapes that have been traditionally used in the production of the dessert wine — Furmint and Hárslevelű. Kékfrankos, Kadarka and Blauburger are slowly giving way to Pinot Noir, Syrah and the Bordeaux varieities, especially Cabernet Franc. And Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc plantings are increasing.
On a trip to Hungary earlier this year I was impressed by the Cabernet Francs from the Villány region and Takler’s wine in Szekszárd; and the Bordeaux-style blends from Kiss Gábor, Malatinszky, Kúri , Heimann’s Barbár and Villa Tolnay in Szekszárd, Vida, and Gróf Buttler’s Bordeaux varietals. I also enjoyed the Furmints from IFDTa , Vylyan and Szent Benedek and loved the Szamorodni from Tokaj Kereskedőház (like a vin jaune). But Tokaji still remains the glory of Hungary!
Kertész Etyeki Chardonnay 2009
Straw colour, and a ripe nose of tropical fruits. Spicy with piercing acidity, with a good length. Tastes like a Russian River Chardonnay.
Pócz Kokas-Hegyi Chardonnay 2009, Dél-Balaton
Deep straw colour, and an intense, spicy nose (touch of botrytis?). Dry, soft on the palate and mouth-filling. Nicely integrated oak with a spicy finish and a resiny note.
Fríz Mátrai Hárslevelű 2008
Old-gold colour, and a honeyed, botrytis note. Orange marmalade, mature and nicely balanced with great length. A dried apricot finish.
Vylyan Gombás Pinot Noir 2008
Ruby colour. Earthy, and beetroot and raspberry with a floral note. A firmly structured, dry, elegant and well-made Pinot.
Eszterbauer Chardonnay 2011
Medium straw colour, and with apple and barnyard notes. Medium bodied with a dry, rustic crabapple flavour with a crisp, lemony acidity.
Eszterbauer Kadarka 2009
Ruby-purple colour, and an earthy-spicy, cherry nose. Spicy black cherry with a floral grace note. Light on the palate in spite of 13.5% alcohol.
Eszterbauer Bikavér 2009
Deep ruby colour, and an earthy blackcurrant and plum nose. A rich mouthfeel, dry with a floral uplift on the finish. (38% Kekfrankos, 8% Kadarka and 16% Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.)
Eszterbauer Tivald 2007
Dense purple colour, and a cedar, gamey, blackcurrant nose. Sweet fruit with a dark chocolate note. Firm on the palate with drying tannins; needs time. (100% Cabernet Sauvignon.)
Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint 2010
Straw coloured, with a spicy pear and quince nose and a floral grace note.
Szepsy Szamorodni 2008
A spicy, luscious wine with tropical fruit flavours, and a rich mouthfeel with great balance. (70% Furmint, 25% Hárslevelű and 5% Yellow Muscat; two years in barrel.)
Orosz Gábor Nyúlászó Furmint Hárslevelű 2009
Straw colour with a lime tint. Fragrant, spicy, fruity peach flavour with lively acidity.
Orosz Gábor Betsek Furmint 2009
Deep straw with a lime tint, and a minerally, toasty-oak, spicy nose. Dry, ripe fruit flavours of peaches and spring flowers; full-bodied with citrus acidity.
Bodvin Betsek Muscat Lunel 2011
Tank sample. Spritzy, spicy, grapey. Perfumed, fresh and lively, and easy drinking.
Dobogó Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2006
Old gold colour. High-toned, orange-and-dried-apricot flavour with an intriguing floral note. A barley sugar finish.
Gróf Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2006
Old gold colour. Intense, honeyed tropical fruit with a botrytis note, concentrated orange, honey and nectarine flavours. Medium-bodied and elegant with a great length.
Orosz Gábor Sárgamuskotály 2009
Golden with a lime tint, and spicy orange-blossom nose. Sweet, honeyed orange with a floral note, beautifully balanced and clean. Soft and full on the palate. Like biting into a sweet Muscat grape.
Orosz Gábor Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2003
Old gold and amber colour, and a nose of vanilla oak, orange and honey. Beautifully balanced flavours of clean-and-pure orange, dried apricot and honey, with an engaging tobacco.
Puklus Tokaji Aszúeszencia 2003
Light bronze colour, high-toned, botrytis nose of orange peel and honey. Full-on-the-palate sweet but well balanced with acidity. Great length.
István Szepsy Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2005
Pale amber colour. Rich and spicy, with barley sugar, honey and orange flavours. Thick on the palate with amazing length.
István Szepsy Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2006
One of the best dessert wines I’ve tasted — rich barley sugar and orange flavours, mouth-filling but not cloying, very elegant with a flavour that stays on the palate for an unconscionable time. 229-grams-per-litre residual sugar, 10-grams-per-litre acidity and 10.5% alcohol. Just an amazing wine. Wonderful mouthfeel and great length.
Royal Tokaji Eszencia 2007
Light amber colour, honey and spicy apricot, unctuous and thick on the palate. Too rich to mark. 700-grams-per-litre residual sugar and 22-grams-per-litre acidity!
* Visit your liquor board web site to get current pricing.