Imbibe Hour


Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Tokaji Hungary, Imbibing is anything but BORing. Part 3

After some imbibing hell, it was time to go through imbibing nirvana. I had picked Hungary for my vacation because I "specifically" wanted to go to Tokaji's wine region. Hungary as I mentioned before is primarily a wine consuming nation. Bor, as wine is called in Hungary is also primarily white, but not all of it. In fact Hungary has been making white wine for centuries, and only started making red wine during the 16th century.

However, as there are many wine regions in Hungary to choose from, none is probably more well known and famous as the Tokaji region for its sweet wines particularly the ones known as Aszú. I could spend pages here talking about all the cellars I went to in Tokaji. There are several just within the town region, some are new, some aren't, but you can walk around from cellar to cellar trying wine till your legs fall off. There is also a wine bar nearby where you can just go to one place to have wine from several producers.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Tokaji wines are sweet they can be dry as well. There were 3 things that stuck out at me as I was visiting this region. One is that I was concerned going around to cellars and trying wine was going to break my pocket book. If anything it was opposite. Even the cheapest Tokaji wine is solid with a glass going for barely a few US dollar and it tastes anything but cheap. Secondly this was the first time I visited a European wine region and I was concerned that there would be a lot of pretentiousness and ego. This was not the case at all as producers let anyone taste their wine, many times giving it to me for free. Finally there was nothing NOTHING here that I tried, old, new, sweet, dry, cheap, expensive, that I found that wasn't worth consuming. There was not a single bad boring wine not worth tasting here, from going to a well established producer like Hétszőlő 1996 6 puttonyos Aszú, A Pincéset 1993 Aszúcencia, or visiting some persons small basement having wine out of a plastic jug.

It is hard to determine where to begin. Perhaps I'll mention an interesting characteristic. In the cellars of the hills there is a distinct mold that grows in the cellars that many believe creates a flavor to the wine. Also one of the other things is that the grapes used to make Aszú are made with botrytis grapes (a fungus), and those definitely impart a dramatic taste to the wine. Noble rot indeed!

As I mentioned you can have dry Tokaji wines, many are made with the Furmint varietal grape. In fact I had one of the most shocking dry wines here. I tasted a 1995 dry Furmint Vivamus Pincézet that had the nose of a caramel tawny port, but tasted like a great dry wine with acidity. In fact there are too many wines I had that I just can't talk about them all.

Wines had caramel, body, acid, mint, mango, butter, oak, floral notes, sugar, honey, hot pepper finishes, spice boxes, jam preserves, dried raisins, creme brulee, even Christmas fruitcake on the nose and/or palate. One of the Hímesudvar 2002 Aszú had legs so big that when swirled a concentric solid ring coated the glass, fell all consistently, and never even broke.

Wine is often served to you not just in the bottle but straight from containers, sometimes the barrels themselves. Often the proprietor will stick a long giant glass rod and siphon the liquid gold out for you, keeping their finger on the end of the rod and dispensing it into your glass.

Many of the cellars I went to had of course the distinct mold inside, but also they had another characteristic. Many people come and stick in the mold and walls many coins, some hang paper notes on strings, or leave other mementos of their visit. Soccer pennants was a common one I would see adorned on the walls, many of them hard to read as the mold would overtake them.

While first traveling in to Tokaji, the train goes by a very large vineyard which is part of Hétszőlő. Many times I went back here only having a hard time finding its tasting room. Turns out I was going to the actual production winery, and was directed to go in town to their tasting cellar which is the oldest in the town. In fact a Hungarian king was crowned inside its depths.

A young man who spoke the best English came out to talk with me about the companies operations. It was quite fascinating as he pointed out to me the bins of botrytis laced grapes, I could even eat them!

They were just finishing up harvesting, harvest time actually starts around early October and we were just coming to the end of it. I immediately then thought to ask a question, probably the one that makes the most sense when you visit any producer. "Did you have a good year?" which is what I asked, wondering if the harvest is going to produce really good quality wine. He mentioned to me that there was too much rain this summer and that they don't think it's going to be that great, however he did say they did have lots of fungus laden grapes, so those might actually be quite good.

I thanked the Hungarian guy who spoke English with a French accent about taking the time out to share with me some of the things going on at the winery. I hardly expected a big known producer to just do this with some ordinary tourists who were just walking around casually without a care in the world.

Hetzolo's wines are really good by the way.

That being said, I went to another cellar where something very interesting happened. We were just about done, stumbling back to our hotel, when we passed by a place and figured well why not we'll check it out. The wines were good, the place was messy. The cellar was filled with HUNDREDS of empty liquor bottles, everything from wine, to beer, to bottles of Bacardi. What is up with this place I thought? We were being siphoned wine from jugs which was quite fun, having a good time. Everything was inexpensive there was not pressure what so ever. Suddenly our host an older man, came to our table and placed a very old molded bottle on our table.

We had already been to several wineries, had enough wine at his place and I sort of quickly motioned him to stop pouring. He then spoke in his best English "mini" meaning he was just giving us a real small taste of something. And that something was really interesting as he pointed to the bottle on the table. He was pointing at the bottle on the table, and then our glass as to say this is what this is, please look. I glanced at the bottle and my jaw nearly hit the floor.

What he was pointing at was a 1962 bottle of Tokaji Aszú. I sort of sat there frozen. Did this guy just pour me a 50+ year old Aszú? I thought fast. Okay... the guy is old so maybe he did make this, check, but I didn't see him take this out of the barrel. Where was this magic wine coming from? He had to take it out of a barrel somewhere (which there were many in the cellar), but I did not witness this. The bottle didn't have a producers name on it. Was this fake? Regardless this was a gift he was letting me try, he wasn't asking me to pay for tasting it.

I stopped my paranoia and suddenly just got in to focus to taste the wine. I put behind all doubts and just took it in.

This is what it looks like to drink it...

And this is what it feels like after...

Having tasted the wine it was quite and experience. The wine had the bouquet of an incredibly caramel chocolate honey port. Taste was divine with the similar notes on the bouquet, but it had a certain acidity to it that ports just don't have, there was even some of trademark mold taste on it as well. This was unlike anything I have ever had in my life.

I am not sure though what happened. Is this for real??? I kept asking myself. There was a phone number on the bottle. How was that possible in 62? It was hard to get a phone in Communist times. Another producer when I asked him about how the vineyards survived during the Communist era told me many where flat out ripped out. What was going on here? Did the guy just buy basic port and put this in a barrel for a few years? Or was this hidden under wraps and continuously aged for decades with a label slapped on it later? I had to stop thinking about it and just enjoy the experience.

After all of that there was still much imbibing to consume the following day. I found that I really enjoyed the Sárgamuskotály and Hárslevelü varietals. Furmints were also just a good basic white wine grape, and a good Aszu is just spectacular (although tasting several of them can be a bit much, they are VERY sweet).

Probably though a good memory stood out on my visit which happened as my wife and I were making plans to leave our town and go on a long train ride to Romania.

We were stocking up on some food and drink for the train ride and walked into a store to buy some basic wine. It was in plastic giant 2L bottles and really cheap.

We realized that even the basic wines always offered a good time and a good place to be, whether its carefully crafted or just basically made. I think what got to me was that it seemed like making this wine that the people of this region inhabit seemed so effortless. Everyone just seemed to make wine and it was as if it was the easiest thing to do to such as putting socks on in the morning.

I wish it was so simple where I lived, and more importantly I wish I could do this so easily myself.

That said, the imbibing trip to Tokaji and also the imbibing portion of Hungary was complete. It was now time to go on to other lands and see what they offered.

Somehow I knew there was no place I was going between here and Istanbul that would produce drink better than Tokaji so I just had to sit back and enjoy the long train ride, and make my 2 litres of Muscat Tokaji last and last. It wasn't that hard really, you can do it elegantly....

Or just do it with reckless abandon...

Somehow I know Tokaji, I will be back. Can't wait for a return.

Wineries visited:
Some of the wines imbibed:
  • 2003 Benkö Borház Tokaji Szamorodni (purchased)
  • 2007 Hímesudvar Tokaji Furmint
  • 2007 Hímesudvar Tokaji Sárgamuskotály
  • 2006 Hímesudvar Tokaji Kövérszölö
  • 2006 Hímesudvar Tokaji Furmint
  • 2003 Hímesudvar Tokaji Cuvée
  • 2002 Hímesudvar Tokaji Aszú
  • 2009 Hétszölö Tokaji Furmint
  • 2007 Hétszölö Tokaji Hárslevelü
  • 2007 Hétszölö Tokaji Sárgamuskotály (purchased)
  • 2005 Hétszölö Tokaji Édes Szamorodni
  • 2003 Hétszölö Tokaji Forditás
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Muskotalyos Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 1999 Hétszölö Tokaji Hárslevelü Aszú 6 puttonyos (purchased)
  • 1996 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2004 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 2003 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Aszú 3 puttonyos
  • 2009 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Hárslevelü
  • 2006 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Sárgamuskotály
  • 2003 Furminit (producer forget)
  • 1995 Vivamus Pincészet Szamorodni
  • 1993 Vivamus Pincészet Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2000 Vivamus Pincészet Aszúesszencia
  • 1999 Andrássy Pincészet Tokaji Aszú 3 puttonyos
  • 2008 Babits Pincészet Sárgamuskotály
  • 2006 Babits Pincészet Cuvée
  • 1993 Tokaj Hills Pincészet Aszúesszencia
  • Giant bottle of Sárgamuskotály from Borostyán Pince non vintage
  • 1962 unknown Aszúesszencia
If you want to share more knowledge of Tokaji and the wines from this region, please contact me.

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