Beautiful and Misunderstood: Tokaji Aszú is a Wine That Defies Description
“It is about $90. Not by the bottle, of course.”
“But, as it turns out, not even by the glass. Ninety dollars is the price by the spoonful.
“The wine, the Royal Tokaji Company 2003 Tokaji [Essencia] is one of the great wine experiences to be had—a wine so noble, concentrated and invigorating, it is indeed sometimes served the way it was consumed centuries ago—by the spoon. And although bottles of the 2003 are not particularly old yet, they are rare. In their own cellars, Royal Tokaji Company has just 30 bottles left for the world. The next available vintage—the 2007—is already sold out. (From 2004 through 2006, the Tokaj-Hegyalja region of Hungary experienced disastrous back-to-back vintages. Many estates in Tokaj threw up their hands in surrender and made no wine for three years).
“Tokaji Aszú (commonly known simply as Tokaji and pronounced TOKE eye) is, in a word, mindblowing. It’s a wine that defies categorization; often, a wine that defies description. It belongs to what I think of as the Big Five: Champagne, Sherry, Port, Madeira and Tokaji. These are the wines that, were they not already invented, would never be invented because they are just too painstaking and time-consuming to make. These are the five types of wine that, in the end, are irreducible. Wholly unique. They are the products, not just of good winemaking, but of genius.
“It seems to me that Tokaji is widely misunderstood as merely a sweet wine—something to drink at the end of the night instead of Sauternes if you’re in an adventurous mood. But Tokaji sits outside of the usual dryness/sweetness spectrum. It’s definitely not a Sauternes substitute or a sub for TBA or SGN or many other unctuous sweet wines.
“Tokaji is as savory and refreshing as it is sweet. Indeed, the wine may well be the most truly balanced wine in the world for, in the same split second, it registers on every sensory dimension currently known: sweet, salty, tart, spicy, bitter and savory. (Which is why you can drink it anytime—including as an aperitif.)
“I don’t get the opportunity to taste Tokaji that often, but when I do, I jump at the chance. Here are my thoughts on the just released 2008 vintage of the Royal Tokaji Company wines that I tasted recently with Ben Howkins, co-owner with several others (including the eminent English wine authority Hugh Johnson). As for the Royal Tokaji Company 2003 Tokaji [Essencia] above, it’s most definitely a 100-point wine.
“Royal Tokaji Company 2008 Red Label 5 Puttonyos The flagship wine of RTC is full of savory and spicy flavors with exquisite bitter orange marmalade flavors.
“Royal Tokaji Company 2008 Betsek An easy-to-love favorite, this tokaji is from Betsek, the largest of RTC’s ‘First Class’ vineyards. Its precision is icicle-sharp. Lots of energy and edginess here. Long and vivid with an especially appealing salty, orange peel tanginess. And a rich sappiness in the middle.
“Royal Tokaji Company 2008 Szt. Tamás The ‘First Class’ vineyard known as Szt. Tamás is full of reddish clay and volcanic rock. Bortrytis develops easily in this vineyard, and the wines always have a distinct personality of orange peel, spices and a certain custardy richness. The texture is particularly ‘fat’ and sappy.
“Royal Tokaji Company 2008 Mézes Mály Pronounced meshes my, and meaning ‘honey pot,’ Mézes Mály is the name of one of the ‘Great First Growths’ in Tokaji. An exquisite drinking experience, the wine is like ethereal droplets of sensation taking over your mind as well as your palate.”