Friday, September 26, 2008

Royal Dessert Wine

Forget about Sauternes. SGN, no thanks. Eiswein, BA and TbA? Now we're getting closer, but not on my dime, thank you very much. Yesterday, I tasted through a terrific line-up of wines with Ben Howkins from the Royal Tokaji Wine Company. Let's just say that the Russian tsars and assorted other monarchs of the day, who bought tokaji by the cart-load, knew their stuff. The combination of naturally high acidity, high residual sugar and moderate alcohol makes for a finely balanced elixir to finish a meal. While I do have a sweet tooth, I am generally not much of a dessert wine fan, mainly due to the excess of alcohol and lack of acid balance in many of them. After tasting through much of the current Royal Tokaji Wine Company line-up, though, I was reminded of how delicious these wines are.

The Royal Tokaji Company is a collaboration between wine writer/living legend Hugh Johnson, author and port authority Ben Howkins and winemaker Peter Vinding-Diers. The wines (with the exception of the dry furmint) are a blend of late harvested, naturally botrytized Furmint, Harslevelu and Muscat.

Ben Howkins was on hand to guide customers and co-workers through the wines.

2006 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Furmint

A typically creamy peach and apricot Furmint nose leads to a fully dry wine, with yellow pitted fruit flavors, good richness and mouth-watering acidity. Nice soft texture as well. Persistent.

2003 Royal Tokaji Wine Company 5 Puttonyos

Orange and peach marmelade on the nose, with some honeyed botrytis notes. Candied orange flavors on the palate, more plush and lower acid than the terrific 2000 vintage of this wine (which I prefer slightly to this one) but the acidity is still apparent and remarkably in balance given the warm vintage conditions.

2000 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Betsek 6 Puttonyos

Now we are getting to the individual vineyard bottlings, which are site specific and contain higher amounts of residual sugar, due to the extra 'puttonyo,' or container of trampled, late harvested grapes. Betsek is the largest of their vineyards, located on a lower portion of the hills composed of a top layer of black volcanic soil. More creamy and complex aromas lead to a rich, sweeter and higher acidity wine (remember, while the higher number of puttonyos leads to more RS, the measurement of acidity often times goes up with these wines as well, so they don't necessarily seem a whole lot sweeter). The flavors bring to mind an intense, spicy reduced grapefruit syrup.

1999 Royal Tokaji Wine Company 'Nyulaszo'

One of my favorites of the line-up. According to Mr. Howkins, the nyulaszo vineyard contributes the most to the house style of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company. Another step up in aromatic intensity, with orange and toffee candy scents. Amazingly high acidity (I'd love to get the technical specs here, I'm going to guess at least 9g/liter) combined with ridiculous length and intensity. Apparently, this wine is often times a favorite amongst Burgundy fans. I can see why.

1999 Royal Tokaji Wine Company St Tomas

This wine is a return to a gentler and rounder profile. Historically, grapes from this vineyard have the highest amount of residual sugar compared to the company's other sites. Delicious, intense stone fruit jam with a bit less acidity on the palate.

1996 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Mezes Maly

There is a prominent reddish glint in this amber colored wine from what literally translates as the 'honey pot' vineyard. Wow, what a nose on this one! Hugely intense, volcanic spicy nose. Almost like horseradish. Hints of red fruits emerge as well. The palate is accordingly spicy, a bit cidery even. Hints of dried cranberry fruit. Extraordinarily well chiseled and defined. Amazing intensity, acidity and length. This is one of the most memorable wines I have ever tasted. Awesome.

1995 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Aszu Essencia

I was thinking that after the previous wine, it would take quite the wine to match the experience. Not that the aszu essencia was a downer, but man the Mezes Maly was a real game changer. The essencia is a blend of Nyulaszo and St Tomas fruit. 180g/l residual sugar. It surprisingly shows the most savory aromas, a blend of brown sugar sweetness and a good bit more maturity as well. Less of the orange/peach/apricot marmelade characteristics. On the palate the flavors are also extraordinarily concentrated with high acidity as well. The texture is butter soft and luxurious. Really compelling stuff, but tough to describe. Even tougher after the extraordinary mezes maly.

It was an incredible tasting, and a strong reminder of where my vinous sweet tooth resides: the hills of northeastern Hungary. Thanks to Mr. Ben Howkins, Wilson Daniels and our local distributor rep Greg Schuessler for sharing these amazing wines.