Decanter’s Tokaji tasting yesterday in London’s historic Vintners’ Hall was a unique event – the first-ever dedicated Tokaji tasting in the UK.
Thirteen producers – including the Royal Tokaji Company, Dobogo, Patricius and the the AXA-owned Disznoko – showed a wide variety of wines from the legendary Hungarian vineyards.
As well as the sweet Aszu wines for which the region is famed, producers showed dry styles, late-harvest wines, and Szamorodni wines made from both botrytised and whole ripe grapes.
There were also wines made from grapes other than the classic Tokaji grape Furmint, such as the Muskotaly (Muscat) and Harslevelu.
Both trade visitors and wine consumers were excited to be able to taste so many Tokajis – and so many different styles – side by side.
Tim Tiptree of Christie’s wine department said he was impressed by the modern styles – ‘wines that have so much freshness coming through on the palate’ – and said he was very interested in the variety of dry styles.
Deborah Middleton of Justerini and Brooks said it was ‘a real treat to taste the different puttonyos strengths side by side and see how they compared.’
On the business side, producers had no complaints: Bart Borkowski, sommelier at the Butler’s Wharf Chop House in London said he was so impressed with many of the wines that he would be adding at least two to the 350-strong wine list.
Decanter contributor Stephen Brook, who gave a masterclass on all 11 producers present, said the day should ‘make life a little easier for Tokaji producers – a lot of people don’t really know them’.
In the evening the tasting was thrown open to Decanter readers and Tokaji aficionadoes. ‘It’s been an absolute revelation,’ one enthusiast said. ‘To find so much variety under one roof.’
Hugh Johnson (pictured, centre), who next year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Royal Tokaji Company, which he set up in 1989, remembered ‘when there was far more horse-drawn traffic in Tokaji than motor traffic’.
When he first came to Hungary, he told an audience of over 100 wine lovers at the evening tasting, he was astonished at the quality of the wine being made in a country ‘deep behind the iron curtain.’
‘”How do you make this nectar?” was all I could ask. There were contrary opinions, and constant debate over traditional versus modern styles, do you oxidise or not, and so on.’
Now, 20 years later, with a new winery which will be opened as part of the anniversary celebrations, and a luxury brand that is recognised throughout the world, Johnson said that seeing his company flourishing was ‘a dream come true.’
Top 11 Tokajis
tasting notes by John Abbott
Tokaji Furmint 2006 – Alana-Tokaj
Lemon peel and orange rind. Lemony acidity. Made in the dry style but still retains some sweetness. Dried fruits with bold acidity. Surprisingly viscous for such a dry wine.
Tokaji Dry Szamorodni 2003 – Samuel Tinon
Darker gold. Heavy oxidisation – akin to quality sherry. Wild flowers and honey dominate – a real depth of complexity, with an impressive rusticity. High acidity with drying finish.
Tokaji Late Harvest Furmint 2007 Pendits
Very delicate, grapey nose – liquorice and clove. Palate is more fruit driven with pear drops and pineapple. High sweetness with cutting acidity. ‘Legs’ are particularly pronounced.
Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2002 – Patricius
Warm golden colour. Honeysuckle and beeswax nose is inviting – texture is round and luscious but the cutting acidity is refreshing.
Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2005 – Beres
Intense, ripe, complex sweetness. Hints of toffee and lime, with peach and confected pear. Really zingy acidity – a sense of minerality cuts through despite the high glycerol.
Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2004 – Grof Degenfeld
A real rustic nose. Texture is waxy and a little oily. Dominant fruits are Muscat-like – very grapey, floral, perfumed. Palate sweetness lingers.
Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2003 – Dobogo
Coppery, iron-led nose – Dried fruits and herbs, almost slightly medicinal. Acidity is akin to grapefruit, but for such a sweet wine, the finish is particularly drying.
Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1999 – Disznoko
Intense coppery orange. Concentrated nose shouts development– oily, petrolly, very Riesling-esque. Very high acidity and tartness. Mature texture and sweetness, gives off coffee and cedar.
Tokaji Aszu Mezes Maly 6 Puttonyos 1999 – Royal-Tokaji
Again, very coppery in appearance. Lush and lemony with noticeably understated acidity. Citric fruit dominates – a sense of youth. Not particularly opulent, but quietly expressive with drying finish.
Tokaji Aszu Essencia Imperium 2000 – Chateau Dereszla
A darker shade of orange, with a nose of marmalade and honey. Lacks a little acidity, but the palate weight is impressive – perhaps the lightest of the range. Softer texture and restrained sweetness make a the finish quite refreshing.
Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2003 – Bodvin
Nose is a little muted and understated. There’s a streak of freshness running through the dried apricots and lemon peel. Acidity is the exciting feature. Palate depth is impressive, but alcohol is quite noticable.
Interview with Hugh Johnson
New video: How to Serve Wine, with Steven Spurrier
Written by Adam Lechmere, and John Abbott