This month Marcus Bratter introduces the wine of kings…
Where has wine been made in Europe since before the Roman Empire? Which wine was made for royalty like Peter the Great, King Louis XIV, Catherine the Great and Austrian composer Joseph Haydn? Which wine will age for up to an amazing 200 years and more? Which wine has been classified since 1730? An obscure Bordeaux, an elusive burgundy or even a truculent Tuscan? Actually, it is a wine that can be so intense, with so much flavor that it can be enjoyed with a teaspoon. It is Tokaji from Hungary.
So what is Tokaji? First and foremost, it is a sweet wine made in Hungary from six different grapes and in three different styles: Furmint (late harvest), Aszu and Essencia.
Tokaji Aszu is ideally suited to accompanying foie gras, blue cheese, most sweet desserts and perhaps, surprisingly, roast pork. It is also an ideal partner to cigars, if that is your thing.
The Tokaji Essencia, if you can get it, is best enjoyed on its own, sip by sip as this is the pure essence of the Tokaji style.
Tokaji is made, like many dessert wines, by using grapes with botrytis mould. It sounds dubious but this grey mould develops naturally on grapes growing in moist conditions and left on the vine when ripe. The process causes the grapes to shrivel and become intensely sweet. The mould also adds complex flavours that cannot be found in normal grapes. These are the grapes that are used to produce this noble wine. Historically Tokaji is classified by its level of sweetness, called puttonyos. The minimum level for modern Tokaji is 4 puttonyos and over 6 it becomes Essencia. The puttonyos was actually the 25kg basket, or hod, of grapes: the more added to the barrel of wine, the sweeter the wine.
Flavours, flavours, flavours… that is what Tokaji is all about. Rare is a wine that is so packed with different and intense flavours: apricot, honey, even ginger and saffron. Tokaji is a very interesting wine to surprise your friends with this Christmas. It’s very sweet and therefore should be served slightly chilled in small quantities. Choose a small glass with an open shape to allow the aromas to flow. Its colour is a rich orange gold and will sit perfectly on your festive table. So as the first snows falls and the chill of winter installs itself and works its way across our land, I can only look forward to my first glass of Tokaji – the wine of kings.