Your Tokaj Wine Guide - This Month's Explorer's Club
Welcome to this month's Novel Wines Explorer's Club, the UK's most exciting wine subscription for the curious drinker. Each month, we will introduce you to a new wine region as part of our promise to deliver no two wines the same for a whole year. Not a member yet? Subscribe here.
Looking for an older guide? See all the Explorer's Club guides here.
What's in this month's Explorer's Club?
This September, we're visiting Hungary's most important wine region: Tokaj. We're sharing these Tokaj wines partly because this month we celebrate six years since we started trading at Novel Wines and our very first bottle was a Tokaj wine (if you're interested, we still sell it: Kardos Tundermese 'Fairytale' Tokaji Late Harvest), and because they really are some of the best wines of Central and Eastern Europe.
Let's get this out of the way now, because I know you're thinking it already... Yes, this is a case full of just white wines. And no, while we're talking about Tokaj, we've not included any sweet wines. But don't panic on either front. Red wine lovers, you'll discover whites that are full and velvety with packs of flavour; and sweet Tokaj fans, you'll discover just how great the dry wines of this world renowned wine region can be.
If you have any specific questions about the wine, you can get in touch with our team here. However, we've got lots of info on the wines below, so pull the cork and get stuck in!
First up in your case is the exceptionally good Demetervin Estate Furmint 2017 (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter) and what better way to start exploring Furmint than with one of the best? Owned by Dr Endre Demeter - the "tattooed winemaker" - and his family, Demetervin has access to some of the finest premier and grand cru sites in Tokaj. These volcanic hills with excellent drainage and idyllic growing conditions for Furmint, the main grape of the region, means the resulting wine is one of profound intensity and character.
Straw-coloured with aromas of sliced apple. On the palate the wine is richly flavoured with notes of red apples, peach and quince. It's mineral and racy too, so the finish will stay with you for a while. This is the 2017 vintage, which Demeter describes as the "best for three centuries", so make sure you savour it!
It will pair really well with thyme-grilled pork chops, oily fish like mackerel, wild boar stew, or roast duck.
Next, we have the limited edition Gizella Furmint 2018 (included in The Globetrotter only). This wine is by the experimental and exceptionally talented winemaker Laszlo Szilagyi. This is also from a great Tokaj year, 2018, although it was much warmer so the wine is richer in fruit, as opposed to being quite as mineral as Demeter's 2017.
Gizella Furmint showcases the delicious acidity and ripe orchard fruits that are so classic of the variety Furmint. As a twist, there's also a dollop of the grape variety Harslevelu, another local Tokaj grape, that adds more structure, an oily texture, floral aromas and a hint of honey. The wine is matured mostly in stainless steel to preserve fruitiness, but 10% is matured in new oak barrels.
Try it with risotto, pasta bake or Applewood cheddar.
Now we come to the boutique winery SanzonTokaj, owned by Erika Racz. We've got two wines from Erika in this month's Explorer's Club case. The first is the SanzonTokaj Fleur 2020 (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter). This wine is made with a grape called Sargamuskatoly, or yellow Muscat. You might be familiar with Muscat, but if you're not then it's usually a floral and plush white grape that makes for very soft, very easy-drinking wines. Erika has done something a bit different here, as her vines are planted on rockier soils and are picked earlier, resulting in a zingy, vibrant and citrussy take on this classically floral white wine.
Drink this chilled by the glass with a bowl of your favourite snacks, or try it with sheep's cheese.
The second entry with have from Erika is the SanzonTokaj Classic Furmint 2019 (included in The Globetrotter only), an organic white wine made entirely from Furmint. Before we chat more about this one, let me tell you a bit more about Erika's winery. SanzonTokaj is a very small, boutique winery in the heart of the Tokaj wine region. It can be found in the lovely village of Erdőbénye, northeast of Tokaj village and surrounded by woodland. Rocky topsoils produce wines with brilliant acidity, meeting Erika's philosophy to showcase the freshness and rawness of the region's terroir. Erika co-owns the winery and vineyard with her husband Gergely Jánosi, slowly growing it from the original plantings of 0.3 hectares across three main vineyard sites: Rány, Meszes and Nyakvágó.
This Classic Furmint is an oak-aged, rich yet taut white wine with lots of flavour. Stone fruits, honey and subtle smooth oak character is supported with a backbone of juicy lime, hints of smoke and a grippy finish. Pair with poached salmon, or chicken wrapped in bacon.
Tokaj Nobilis 3 Gracia Furmint x Harslevelu 2018 (included in The Globetrotter only) is something quite different. Complex and yet so approachable, it's bound to be a winner. This delicious blend is a collaboration by three winemakers: Sarolta Bárdos of Tokaj Nobilis, Judit Bodó of Bott and Stephanie Berecz of Kikelet. Combining three vineyard estates on loess volcanic soils, the selected Furmint and Harslevelu grapes make for a characterful expression of Tokaj as a whole. Expect aromas of red apple, orange blossom, pear and lemon. Peachy on the palate with a mineral, plush finish and notes of apple skins. Just like great Viognier, this goes so well with prawns in garlic and sweet chilli.
Now for something very different, the rare Peter Pince Kabar 2019 (included in The Rambler and The Globetrotter). Péter is a family business with five hectares of vines on the border of the Tokaj and Tarcal villages within the wider region of Tokaj. They grown indigenous grapes as you'd expect to find, such as Furmint and Harslevelu, but also very rare varieties such as Kabar. The fruit is grown on two historic sites: Thurzó and Mézesmály, both of which have an exceptional microclimate that leads to the quality harvests year on year. Nicknamed the "honeypot" vineyards, you get lots of flavour (and alcohol) from the grapes that grow here.
Kabar's trademark high acidity is tempered by a rich, nutty palate with opulent yellow fruits and apple notes. The finish is long and satisfying with lashings of warm spice. Unlike anything we've tried before, this is a wine that delivers on every level for the curious wine lover. Try with smoked haddock fish pie or a lentil bolognese.
Tokaj: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Tokaj, once under the Pannonian Sea, was formed throughout centuries of earthquakes, seismic activity, volcanic eruptions and erosion to create a diverse range of soils and plots. In fact, as far as vineyards go, Tokaj is one of the most diverse wine regions outside of Burgundy.
In 1737, Tokaj was bestowed a royal charter to protect its growing area by a French King and was the first wine region to receive such an honour - and before the Great War it was making some of the world's most expensive sweet wines.
Today it has had to reinvent itself. Led by Istvan Szepsy, the father of modern Tokaj and its dry wines, the region has moved away from quantity and focused on quality winemaking that reflects Tokaj's diverse terroir. You'll discover the character and variety even in these six wines, and hopefully it will inspire you to venture out and taste more wines from this great region.
Eating with dry Tokaj wines from Hungary
Almost all of Tokaj's wines - even its sweet wines for that matter - are high in acidity. This freshness is tempered by the intensity of the wines achieved by planting on volcanic soils. You'll notice the richness of even the most aromatic, fresh smelling wines. They linger and coat the palate and leave your mouth watering.
When you're awarded with such acidity, food that's salty will work very well. Think of pates, cheese, fish and seafood. Even meats like bacon, breaded chicken, or well-seasoned thin cut frying steaks. These dishes offset some of the acidity and bring out the fruit and freshness in the wines.
One of my favourite matches with dry Tokaj is risotto. Even if you faff up the risotto and its a bit bland, pairing it with a good Furmint would bring it alive. Those buttery, creamy and cheesy notes temper so well with the piercing flavours of the wine.
Where can I find out more?
Want to know more about Tokaj's fabulous wines? Read our blog as it's full of interviews with winemakers, vintage reports, and more!