Sweet Ending: Tokaji Azsú - One of the World's Greatest Sweet Wines

Hello Friends,

This week’s sweet ending brings us to a delicious dessert wine that palates around the wine world refer to as one of the best sweet wines bar none. The golden nectar Dezel speaks of is no other than Hungary’s own Tokaji Azsú. Tokaji is a region in Hungary that is rich in history and well known for its sweet and sumptuous wines made namely from furmint grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, also referred to as noble rot when results are positive. Simply putting it, noble rot is a fungus; yes, I said fungus, which causes the grapes to shrivel on the vine and become raisin-like, concentrating the sugars and intensifying the flavors. These noble rot affected grapes produce intense, mouth filling, elegant golden wines with layers of complexity and depth of flavor (usually). Tokaji wines have been around since the Roman period and were served at the table of excellency and royalty during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, even laymen like us can indulge - isn’t life grand! However, depending on how sweet and refined you prefer your Tokaji, it may cost a pretty penny for a 500ml bottle. Before getting to what is inside the bottle, let’s chat more about Tokaji Azsú and the sweetness / price factor.

Although we will focus on Tokaji Azsú here, there are several types of Tokaji wines, even some which are dry. Azsú is the most popular of the wines, and a rare wine called Essencia is the most rare and expensive of the Tokaji wines. Essencia is said to be cellar worthy for upwards of two centuries, and able to retain its quality and gain complexity over the stretch. Essencia is often described as intense and syrupy, with powerful flavors packing such a high sugar concentration that the alcohol level usually never exceeds 3%. Technically, I do not think this can be called a wine, but this is some sweet nectar I hope to one day try.

Wooden Tub and Botrytis Affected Grapes

In a nutshell, Tokaji Essencia is made from a very small amount of juice per individual (noble rot) grape, hence the price it demands ($400+). These golden droplets of concentrated juice naturally run off by the weight of the botrytis-affected grapes stacked atop each other in vats. I mentioned Tokaji Essencia because the same grapes that give up a sweet golden droplet for Essencia are used to make Tokaji Azsú, at least traditionally. These botrytis-affected grapes are placed in wooded tubs called puttons (50-55lbs of grape per putton) and kneaded into an Azsú paste. A dry base wine is made in a 136 liter cask with non-affected grapes and the puttons of Azsú paste are added, mixed and soaked to extract maximum flavors and sugar concentration. Therefore, when a wine label states three, four, or five puttonyos, you know how many wooden tubs of the sweet Azsú paste was added to the dry base wine. The higher the puttonyos, the more intense, sweeter, and richer – in more ways than one the wine will be. A six puttonyos can sometimes be hard to find, but three, four, and five puttonyos examples can readily be found at most wine stores. I suggest starting with a 4 puttonyos example, which sells for around $30, and if you like it, move up to a five or six puttonyos example ($50 - $80) and have the bottle for a special occasion - or be selfish like Dezel and have it all to yourself over the course of a few days. Now that we have chatted a little about this precious and rich dessert wine, let see what’s in the bottle.

1999 Tokaj Hetszolo Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos

Review: The 1999 Tokaj Hetszolo Tokaji Azsú 6 Puttonyos is an attractive deep yellow gold color with honeyed-laced citrus and stone fruit flavors with underlying hints of pineapple and lemon zest. This wine is deliciously thick and voluptuous with an inviting complex bouquet. Sweet she is, yet, there is enough acidity present to keep all of her sugar in balance. Decadently rich, this wine is capable of long term aging. Enjoy this gem as a dessert on its own, or with a fruit pastry, vanilla crème brûlée, or fresh berries.
Price: $69.99 Alcohol Percentage: 11% Enclosure: Real Cork

Verdict: Buy and reserve for special dinner guests or a special occasion. This wine was purchased at Unwined Gourmet Wine and Cigars in Alexandria, VA.

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