Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thirsty For Wine From Hungary

In the U.S., it’s probably a safe bet that the name Tokaji doesn’t register a very high recognition factor - even with wine aficionados.  The Tokaji region of Hungary is best known for the sweet dessert wines produced using grapes which have been blessed with botrytis - the noble rot which causes the grapes to be ultra ripe and super sweet.  So beloved is this type of wine, it is name-checked in Hungary’s national anthem.  I do not speak the language, but I am told the name is pronounced "TOE-coy."

The area does produce dry wines, too.  I recently had the opportunity to order one by-the-glass at Manhattan Beach restaurant Post.  The South Bay hotspot is in a repurposed post office building a couple of blocks from the beach.  I don’t often ooh and aah over restaurant food, but I did join my table mates in a round of high praise for each small sharing plate that was brought to us.  It’s very popular, but I was told they hold 40% of their tables for walk-in traffic.  We were able to sit right away at about 6:00 on a Saturday evening.

From the wine list I was attracted by a Hungarian wine made from Furmint grapes, the premier grape of the Tokaji region.  Furmint grapes have very thick skins initially, but as the growing season progresses, the skins become thinner.  This allows the sun to evaporate the moisture in the grape, making for more concentrated sugars.  A second skin then grows to protect the grape from botrytis, although the noble rot will eventually make its mark on the grape.  For dessert wines, the grapes may be harvested as late as December or January.

The dry 2011 Furmint I had was produced by Royal Tokaji, and is a 100% varietal wine made from estate grapes.  The winery’s first vintage for this type was in 2003, so it's still a newborn by European wine standards.  The wine costs $10.50 by the glass at Post.

The wine is a pale straw color with a bit of a greenish tint, very fresh looking.  On the nose, fresh pears and herbal scents are backed up by a strong sense of minerality.  The palate shows a beautifully refreshing acidity and a very fresh collection of fruit flavors, notably pear, apricot and citrus.  The wine finishes with a lemon-grapefruit zing and leaves a slightly nutty sensation, much like a Roussanne does.  I paired the wine with diver scallops, Hoisin sauce green beans, grilled Brussels sprouts and an amazing bacon and cheese biscuit  with no problem at all.  It was perfect for each dish.

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