Tasting Hungary at The Little Nell

After the Aspen Food and Wine Classic I finally found some time to put together a little tasting/class on Tokaj and Eger. We’ve had some bottles left over from previous year’s FWC and FurmintUSA was kind enough to let us have a couple of bottles each. In addition to that, thanks to Blaine Christian the Denver-based importer of Nimrod Kovacs wines from Eger, we were able to taste some of the best wines from the region, wines that essentially never make it to Aspen.

I’ve invited mainly my colleagues from the Sommelier team and Food and Beverage department and extended the invite to all sommeliers in town.

Obviously everyone knew Tokaj, however they almost never got to experience the dry and/or dryish wines from the region, especially not such a wide range of them. So it was a great opportunity to freshen up on some of the aspects of what we’ve learned about Tokaj. Geography, climate, history. Through the wines and the story of the wineries and winemakers hopefully I was able to bring the region a little closer to everyone in the room.

We’ve tasted 6 dry or dryish wines and a superb 5 Puttonyos Aszú from the Béres Winery from 2007.

The first 7 were:

  1. Holdvölgy Vision Dry Selection 2013
  2. Béres Tokaj Furmint 2014
  3. Erzsébet Pince Estate Furmint 2012
  4. Basilicus Estate Cuveé 2012
  5. Majoros Deák Single Vineyard Furmint 2013
  6. Barta Öreg Király Single Vineyard Furmint 2012
  7. Béres Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2007

The overall judgement of the wines was very positive. However, here is the deal: we’ve tasted 7 different wines (including the Aszú) and they were made in 7 different styles. It was somewhat confusing for someone who is not familiar with Tokaj. Going through dry, single varietal Furmint blended from different plots as an estate wine, through dryish Furmint/Hárslevelű/etc. blends,  or single vineyard, single varietal wines, dry, off-dry,  in a reductive style, with new oak or used. You can see how this can be looked upon as the beauty of diversity for a small region, but this can create difficulties for marketing and sales as well. And then there are the top products of the Tokaj product pyramide: the Aszú, the Szamorodni and the Eszencia.

Carlton compares Furmint mainly with Chenin Blanc if asked. It indeed has many similarities in terms of charachteristic and of course the styles it shines in. This resonates with the opinion of Attila Fiath, hungarian wine expert. He says, there needs to be a strategic decision whether the region is about Furmint or Tokaj, preferably for the latter. Saying that Furmint can be grown elsewhere (just like Chenin), but there is only one Tokaj. And the notion or strategy of putting your bets on Furmint and Furmint alone, predetermines the lifespan and the status what the varietal by itself can reach.

The Aszú from Béres Winery stood out, there is no question about it. Chris Dunaway, Head Sommelier at The Little Nell was amazed by the value of such a high quality wine for just under 40$ a bottle. Whereas we are currently selling the 2001 Chateau d’Yquem 375ml for 1650$ on our wine list. So there is that to think about.

As I mentioned the dry wines were all made in a different style. It was good to see that everyone found something that they liked, whether it was a reductive blend or a single vineyard, single varietal Furmint where battonage was implemented.

The region needs to come up with a concept on what comes behind the sweet wines. There is a product pyramide introduced by the gentleman mentioned above, which puts the sweet wines up top, followed by single vineyard wines, village wines and region wines. This puts Tokaj definitely on the right track, but there are many more questions to be answered within.

I’m for one am a big fan of the varietal Hárslevelű and think it works great in the blend – whether sweet, off-dry or dry – and in the right hands in the right style as a single varietal wine. I do believe however that the future for Tokaj is bright, but there is a lot of hard work ahead both in the vineyards, the cellars and in the “front-of-the-house department.”

Published on: 11/07/2017