Winemakers do like to experiment. That’s not confined to still wine either. I’ve tasted sparkling wine that has been aged under the sea, Cava that has used Sherry as the sweetening ‘dosage’, and Champagne where the base wines were fermented in Georgian clay qvevri. These experimental cuvées sometimes have an eye to the future – with climate change meaning different grapes or ageing techniques might become necessary – and sometimes hark back to the past.
Hart of Gold is the English Sparkling Wine label of Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, who also owns Domaine of the Bee in the Languedoc. Wines are made at Ridgeview from grapes grown in Herefordshire. Hart of Gold has been reviewed favourably on these pages before, but Justin has just released intriguing new wines for which he has collaborated with the Royal Tokaji company of Hungary.
The wines use small amounts of sweet Tokaji as the dosage, the liqueur that is usually added to traditional method sparkling wines to adjust their perceived sweetness. Justin explains: “In the 19th century, it was common to add all sorts of things to the dosage liqueur – brandy, molasses, honey, cassis, etc. The rules still allow for a good deal of leeway, and I have always loved playing around with flavours.”
The Tokai Connection
It was after an experimental session blending Champagne with various different sweet wines that Justin realised “we were on to something exciting.” A tasting was held with Hugh Johnson (co-owner of Royal Tokaji) to determine which Tokaji, and at what concentration, would work best. Two blends were chosen, one based on Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2017, the second on the rare and precious Royal Tokaji Essencia 2008, both being added to the Hart of Gold 2016. The wines were disgorged on the 15th September 2022 after more than five years on the lees.
Essencia is the almost mystical, unctuously sweet Tokaji wine, often sold in tiny bottles and taken with a spoon. It is so concentrated and thick, with up to 800g/l of sugar, that is essentially a syrup. It is the product of fully Botrytised grapes from the bottom of a hopper of grapes, that have been crushed naturally by the weight of the fruit above. They release juice that is so rich in sugar that fermentation takes weeks or months, and even then achieves only a few percent alcohol by volume. Just 4ml of essencia was added each bottle, and 15.2ml of the 5 Puttonyos wine.
This is a very limited edition of just 99 bottles of each Tokaji wine. they are available singly or as part of a wooden case of three wines (along with a Zero dosage bottling), direct from hart-of-gold.co.uk.
So the big question of course, is whether or not the Tokaji dosage can be identified in the wines. In truth, I am not sure I could have picked that out in tasting, though both wines are excellent, with lovely balance. Did I perhaps pick up just a little of the influence in my tasting notes? Answers below!