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Edward Peters


Personal Dessert Wines

Tokaji I: Royal Tokaji ‘95

True Hungarian Tokaji, spelled in English “Tokay”, but pronounced with a long “i”, offers one of the simplest and most reliable quality rating systems in the world of wine. Botrytized Furmint and Muscat grapes, mealy with noble rot, are crushed into a paste, and the resulting batter is divided into “puttonyos”, an enchantingly arcane measure of weight. To a simple base of characterless Furmint wine, at least three puttonyos of this botrytized paste are added. Tokay makers, with little encouragement, often add four puttonyos to the base wine, and sometime five, raising the sugar levels proportionally thereby. At times, they can even be convinced to mix in six shares of joy to the base before setting the wine down to re-ferment in oak. True Tokaji Aszú (ie., sweet, as opposed to dry Tokay) will indicate how many puttonyos were used in making the wine, and that number will always be between three and six. Higher ratings get higher prices. We have seen 3 putt. Tokay at $ 18 for 500 ml (note the atypical quantity for bottle, which bottle also usually has a stretched neck) while 6 putt. wines inhabit the $ 40 to $ 50 range.

            There are currently only a half dozen or so Tokay producers selling in North America. We have had great luck in serving the Royal Tokaji Company’s 1995 Tokay Aszú, 4 putt., to our port friends, whose affinity for viniferous sweetness easily transferred to this fine dessert wine now well on its way to revival in the West.

            In our house, it is de rigeur to tell the story whereby the bishop of Zagreb presented a glass of Tokay to Pope Pius IV during the waning sessions of the Council of Trent. The pope savored the wine in silence a moment, and then exclaimed “Talem vinum decet summum pontificem!” or, “Now this is a wine that well suits the Supreme Pontiff.” I, like the Tokay masters above happily adding more puttonyos to the base, need little encouragement to parley this story into Tokay having been thus made the official wine of the Council of Trent! +++

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