Posted On: 01/04/2017
The dessert wines of Tokaj (pronounced TOH’-kay) are so revered in their motherland that they’re called out in the Hungarian national anthem. They’ve been famous for so long that Tokaj has some of the oldest official appellation controls preventing copycat winemakers from using the name to attract consumers. And though others have the same nickname, King Louis XIV of France supposedly called Tokaji the “wine of kings, king of wines.”
Louis was sipping on Tokaji made from late-harvest grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea (the fungus affectionately nicknamed “noble rot”) when he crowned them king. As the story goes, Tokaj pioneered the counterintuitive practice by accident when a winemaker had to delay harvest due to the threat of invading Turks. Instead of throwing out the Botrytis-infected grapes, the winemaker had them pressed and vinified separately for the greatest gross-out discovery before penicillin. Noble rot dehydrates grapes, concentrating their juice and leaving a higher sugar content for dessert wines brimming with complexity and depth.
It’s not all sweet on the stems in Tokaj, however. The main varietal in Tokaji wines, furmint, is ambidextrous – capable of turning out equally compelling sweet and dry whites. Here, four bottles that showcase the versatility of Tokaji on the table.
2013 Royal Tokaji The Oddity Furmint
So named because this dry furmint is plucked from the vines before its sweeter cousins, The Oddity pulls you in with apricot and honey on the nose, then hits the palate with peach, subtle oak and a crisp mineral finish. $26. Union Loafers Cafe and Bread Bakery, 1629 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.6111, unionloafers.com
2013 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec
Kiralyudvar translates to “the king’s court,” and this dry white doesn’t disappoint. Bursting with bright notes of orange zest, grapefruit, honeysuckle and white pepper, it pairs beautifully with charcuterie and grilled vegetables. $24. 33 Wine Shop & Bar, 1913 Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.231.9463, Facebook: 33 Wine Shop & Bar
2012 Kiralyudvar Pezsgo Henye
This vibrant 85-percent furmint, 15-percent harslevelu goes through a secondary fermentation (called methode traditionelle in wine speak) for added effervescence. Aromas of natural honey and stone fruit jump from the glass, and a creamy mouth feel and toasty, dry finish make this great with apple pie. $33. Reeds American Table, 7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.899.9821, reedsamericantable.com
Evolúció Late Harvest Furmint
The late harvest furmint grapes in this dessert wine offer some lovely peach, apricot and white flower notes. Furmint’s naturally high acidity creates a complex, balanced sweetness on the palate. $10. The Wine Merchant, 7817 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.863.6282, winemerchantltd.com
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