Tokaji has an identity crisis. You may have never heard about wines from this area of eastern Hungary. They are white wines and mostly all are sweet. And sweet wines are hard sell. Yet the Tokaji wines remain fresh, with bright acidity — even after years of aging. No cloying, overly sweet wines here. This makes Tokaji highly drinkable – and not just for dessert. Therein lies Tokaji’s issue. While it is a perfect after dinner drink, the wine, thanks to the crisp acid, pairs beautifully with all sorts of dishes, and not just creme brûlée or chocolate.
The Tokaji region is most famous for the wine knowns as Tokaji Azsu, which is harvested by hand, single berry by berry. The grapes look more like raisins, because something called botrytis cinerea, which is basically a good mold, causes them to shrivel.
The cool thing about that is the juice inside becomes very concentrated and higher in sugar — creating a naturally sweet nectar. When it is fermented, magic happens, and the result is one of the most noble wines of the world.
Recently I was invited to visit the Tokaji region, which you can read about here????. I came away an enthusiastic fan of these wines. When you see Tokaji or Tokaji Azsu on the wine list or on the shelf at your local wine retailer, here are ten reasons you should give it a try.
1. Open a bottle of Tokaji and you’re drinking history. Tokaji is from the oldest recognized wine region in the world. Yes, this little corner of Hungary became the first to have its wines officially recognized and protected by name, in 1737. Tokaji was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
2. Tokaji is a noble wine. Don’t think of it as just a dessert wine. It is the “king of wine and wine of kings.” Sip some Tokaji and you’ll be in good company with French Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV, Madame de la Pompadour, and emperors Peter the Great of Russia and Napoleon, all lovers of this truly unique wine.
3. A cheese plate’s best partner. Elevate that boring cheese plate with a glass of Tokaji Aszu. It pairs best with salty, hard cheeses like Gouda, Manchego, aged Cheddar, Parmesan Regiano and any blue cheese.
4. You can drink Tokaji in a regular wine glass. No fancy small dessert wine stemware necessary. Just pour about half of what you would for a dry wine.
5. You can open a bottle and drink one glass tonight, recork, refrigerate and enjoy it all week long. Because of the higher sugar content Tokaji doesn’t oxidize like dry wines. So if you open a bottle and don’t want to finish it, no worries, the wine will still be fine in a few days.
6. Tokaji is versatile enough to serve with spicy dishes. Try it with Indian curries, Malaysian noodle dishes, peppery Thai cuisine or fiery Vietnamese fare. It’s a perfect wine for Chinese Schzewan takeout too. The sweetness tames the heat.
7. Compared to Sauternes it’s a steal. When most people think of famous dessert wines, they think Sauternes, the great sweet wine of Bordeaux. Tokaji is sold in 500 bottles, a little larger than the 375 ml bottles you often see Sauternes in. And it is usually much less expensive for comparable quality.
8. Tokaji is like no other wine in the world. The aromas and flavors are complex and intoxicating. If you like candied orange peel, dried apricot, chamomile flowers, black tea and caramel, this is the wine for you. It is seductive and if you’re not careful you may become hooked. That’s not a bad thing.
9. Lead, don’t follow the crowd. Want to be the coolest person in the room? Introduce your friends to a glass of Tokaji Aszu. The wine has a great story, and once they taste it they’ll be very impressed that you are in the know and poured them such an exciting wine.
10. Liquid dessert. While you can drink Tokaji Aszu with any appetizer or entrée course, some times you just want something a little decadent at the end of the meal, without having a heavy dessert. Tokaji on its own satisfies that sweet tooth craving in all of us.
Thank you to Disznókó and AXA Millésimes.