Tokaji: some like it dry

The fame of Hungary’s Tokaji wine region dwarves any of the country’s other fine wine appellations, and indeed most appellations in Europe. The historical sweet wines have been famed for centuries: there are records of the region producing aszú grapes (Botrytis-affected shrivelled grapes) from 1571, and it is as one of the world’s greatest sweet wine regions that Tokaji’s reputation has conquered the globe.

dry-tokajiIn recent years, however, the production of dry table wines from the grapes of Tokaji has really taken off. It’s hard to say if this has been a conscious decision because sweet wines have proved harder to sell, or is simply a commercial move to supply wines that the world wants – crisp, dry whites – in a more reliable fashion, not subject to the vagaries of climate and the development of Botrytis. But it is certainly a discernable ‘movement’ with several samples of dry Tokaji landing on my tasting desk in the past few weeks.

The main grape of dry Tokaji is also the main grape of its sweet cousin: Furmint. Grown on the volcanic soils, at some altitude, near the Carpathian Mountains in the east of Hungary, the thick-skinned Furmint grape tends to produce dry wines with a bit of phenolic bite, though winemaking can of course emphasise or play-down that aspect, and winemakers are adopting different techniques including barrel-fermentation and ageing, or long ageing on the lees, as a certain amount of experimentation continues.

Most of these wines are pitched around the £10 mark on UK retailer shelves, and whilst differences are very apparent as you will see in my notes, I did find the quality level of the wines to be pretty even too: very good white wines of their style, though with nothing leaping out of the crowd at this stage in the progress of a new wine style for the world. I suppose the barrel-aged example from Arvay, at twice the price, points the way that some producers see – or hope to see – the style developing.

The Wines

(2016) A different wine from Royal Tokaji's 'Dry Furmint' or Vineyard Selection it appears, this blending Furmint with another Tokaji main grape, Hárslevelű. It is very dry, pithy, apple core and herby on the nose, the merest hint of something more peachy. On the palate the story is the same: crunchy apple and citrus just reveals an underlying layer of more unctuous stone fruits, but then the searing core of acidity pushes on. Sippable, fresh and seafood-friendly in a bone-dry style.
(2016) From the volcanic soils of Tokaji, this is a seriously bone-dry interpretation of the dry Tokaji style, with some delicate floral and mineral salt aromas and lots of apple fruit, but then a bitter lemon grip of acidity, that's pithy and searing through the mid-palate, just always constraining the juiciness of the fruit, clamping it in a youthful, hugely vigorous grip. In some ways reminiscent of a premier cru Chablis with its hints of flint and its rigour. Intense stuff that might well age quite nicely for a few years.
(2016) From an estate under the same ownership as Château Clinet in Pomerol, and from clay and volcanic soils, this is a fragrant example of the dry Tokaji style, more aromatic and lifted than some with floral notes and nuances of peach, as well as fresh green herbs and lemon zest. A vibrant and tangy palate too, not as rigorous as the Dry Furmint 2015 from Disznoko for example, but with a little more 'prettiness' and delicacy. Another lovely wine from Megyer to follow their fine 2013. £11.70 for Daily Drinker club members. Watch the video for more information and food matching ideas.
(2016) A blend of 85% Furmint with the local Hárslevelű and Muscat, this is a highly aromatic wine with floral hints amongst the very ripe orchard fruits, but the weight and fullness of the texture comes as something of a surprise given that character, filling the mouth with peach and ripe apple flavour impressively. The sheer ripenss of fruit leaves a sweet impression on the well-balanced finish, but it is definitely dry with a core of grapefruit the final impression.
(2016) From volcanic soils, there's a touch of honey to apple fruit, and it's a very nutty opening too, the wine fermented and aged in French oak barrels from Seguin Moreau. There's a lot of pear and apple fruit on the palate too, plenty of texture and richness, and it has a long and saline finish. Whether it distinguishes itself enough to be worth twice the price of other wines here is a moot point.
(2016) Majoros is a new Tokaji name for me, and this is a delicious dry Tokaji. I think it must be fermentation in oak rather than just extended lees ageing that gives this plenty of butter and almondy richness and a relatively deep buttercup colour, but it is lovely against the citrus and baked apple, giving a quite Burgundian character. In the mouth fine clarity and that open, vanilla and nutty roundness, fine bittersweet citrus and grapefruit pithiness, a touch of herbal quality and a long, decisive finish. A really enjoyable wine and an enjoyable style.
(2016) There are a number of confusingly similar wines in the Royal Tokaji dry collection, the more widely available Dry Tokaji (not this wine), 'The Oddity' where Furmint is blended with Hárslevelű, and this Dry Furmint 'Vineyard Selection', a cuvée which is a selection of grapes from the top vineyards of Royal Tokaji, aged eight months in barrel. Such a different beast from the Disznoko for example, nutty, nicely oxidative, with cream and butter and a bold apple fruit ripeness. The palate is deliciously pert and fresh with its racing acidity, but it has generosity and weight too, a certain viscosity with its 14.5% alcohol, and is delicious. Sadly this 2011 appears to be no longer available,


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