Types of White Wine: Tokay

Types of White Wine: Tokay

Tokay is a word which can refer to any of several different grape varietals, wine-producing regions or types of wines, but it is most commonly used to refer to a type of wine which is produced in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region of Hungary.  This region encompasses a small plateau which is located near the Carpathian Mountains.  The soil where the grapes are grown is volcanic in nature and contains high concentrations of iron and lime.  The area enjoys Indian summers, which means there is additional time for the grapes to ripen.  The wine manufactured there is now labeled as Tokaji, but is still commonly called Tokay by many of its enthusiasts.  When shopping for Tokay, you’ll be looking for the Tokaji label, not the word “Tokay.”

The Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region of Hungary is so important to that country that the Aszú Tokay which is harvested and manufactured there is mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem!  This Tokay is legendary; it is a form of sweet white wine which is affected by noble rot, a kind of grey fungus which can produce a particularly sweet concentrated flavor.  According to local legend, the very first Aszú Tokay was made in 1630 by Laczkó Máté Szepsi, but it has since come to light that Aszú Tokay was produced at least as early as 1576.  The 1576 reference was made by Fabricius Balázs Sziksai in the Nomenklatura.

cepagesSix different grape varietals have been approved officially for use in the production of Tokay including Furmint, Hárslevelű, Yellow Muscat, Zéta, Kabar, and Kövérszőlő.  About two thirds of all Aszú Tokay wines use Furmint.  Nearly a third use Hárslevelű.  The rest of the grape varietals are only used seldomly.  As Furmint grapes ripen, their skins become transparent, allowing the sun to penetrate the skin.  The additional heat which reaches the interior of the grapes evaporates their liquid and leaves behind a higher concentration of sugar.  During the long Indian summers in Tokaj-Hegyalja the grapes continue to ripen and develop noble rot.  Oftentimes they aren’t harvested until December.

There are many types of Tokay wines produced in Tokaj-Hegyalja.  These include dry wines, Szamorodni, Aszú, Eszencia, Fordítás, Máslás, and other sweet wines.  The most celebrated of these types of Tokay is Aszú, a topaz-colored liquid with a high concentration of sweetness.  Tokay is considered to be a dessert wine, and is best served at a temperature of about 47-50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most people serve Tokay relatively cool, but if you serve it too cool you’ll lose a lot of the flavor.

What foods should you pair Tokay with?  Since Tokay is a dessert wine, a lot of people choose to have it instead of a dessert, though some people choose to pair it with some type of dessert item such as chocolate or fruit.  Tokay can also accompany cheese nicely.  As with any type of wine, it will take some experimentation to discover your personal preferences for serving temperature and food pairings.  Enjoy indulging in a sweet glass of Tokay!


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