Stuart George

Lost in the Maze

In Restaurants/wine and food on October 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

To commemorate the launch of the 2005 Disznókő Kapi, Christian Seeley, MD of AXA Millésimes, hosted a dinner at Maze on 4 October.

I adore Tokaji – it is, or can be, one of the world’s greatest wines. I have happy memories of my one and only visit to Tokaj in (I think) April 2002. There was a wine fair in the town’s main square and the local police were sampling more than anybody. A huge rainstorm emptied the streets. Much to the amusement of the locals, I sheltered inside a phone box.

AXA purchased the Disznókő estate in 1992. “The transformation in Tokaj since (then) is quite extraordinary”, said Christian.

Made from a small plot in the Disznókő vineyard, Kapi has been bottled as such only once before, in 1999, when it was sold mainly in Hungary and the USA. For the 2005, however, it was decided to spread the spoils more generously. There are only 6,000 bottles available.

A few other wines were tasted before dinner. The 2008 Tokaji Late Harvest was honeyed and raisiny, verging on unctuous.

As clean as mountain air, the 2000 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos was mellower and finer. The Aszú 5 Puttonyos of the 2001 vintage was day to the 2000’s night, with a much lighter feel to it and less of the honey and raisin flavours. I smelled a little bit of chlorine and wondered if there was some TCA here. But it could be part of Tokaji’s character that I’m not familiar with – I don’t taste it very often, alas.

No such queries with the 2002 Aszú 5 Puttonyos. It was excellent – richer, albeit more cumbersome, than the 2000.

The 2009 Tokaji Dry Furmint was – well – dry, with pear flavours and some flesh (tannin, indeed) on the finish. An interesting wine that some people would perhaps find too esoteric.

The food and wine pairings this evening were extremely daring. The Dry Furmint was drunk with some very decadent dips – saffron, salmon, cream and truffle, and spicy aubergine. Then it was tried with Salcombe crab, brown crab and toast sorbet, sea herbs, pickled black radish and apple vinaigrette. No complaints here.

Turning nutty on the palate, the 1993 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos was mature and as smooth as glass. This was the first Tokaji vintage of the “new era”; happily, it was a great vintage too.

The ’93 was drunk with, would you believe, tea-smoked trout, apple, cauliflower, various radishes and apple vinaigrette. It worked because of the wine’s superb, terpsichorean acidity. The nuttiness also matched the smoked fish. To paraphrase my fellow Midlander Samuel Johnson, drinking Tokaji with smoked fish is done well, though you are surprised to find it done at all. (I ate mine before remembering to take a picture, so here is Tom Cannavan’s plate in the distance).

Finally to the Kapi, or 2005 Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos in full. (I find Magyar impenetrable – I cannot remember a single word of it from my backpacking days in Hungary). It was superb.

Made only from Furmint – the other Aszú wines here also had spicy and full Hárslevelű in the blend – it smelled grapey rather than rich and sticky.  For a 6-putt wine its 160g/ltr sugar is relatively low – they can go up to 180g/ltr.

Perhaps my judgement was swayed by the magnificent wines, the relentless plates of outstanding food and (of course) the congenial company but the Kapi did seem to work with the Suffolk pork cheek and belly, mostarda of pear and swede, quince purée and choucroute. Only the choucroute was objectionable – I don’t like it but I can force it down.

We (not the royal we) often eat pork with sweet sauces. So why not put it with a sweet wine? Maybe it’s not so outrageous to drink meat with Tokaji after all. This evening I was happy to be a guinea rather than Suffolk pig but, on the whole, I don’t think I’d try this at home.

The pièce de resistance, or whatever it’s called in Magyar, of tonight’s dinner was a decent-sized glass of Disznókő’s 2005 Tokaji Eszencia, also made from the Kapi vineyard. This extraordinary wine is so rare that I ought to explain what it is.

Perhaps the rarest and most overwhelming of all sweet wines, Tokaji Eszencia is a lightly alcoholic syrup made from the small quantity of juice that drips from the Aszú grapes before they are mashed to a paste. One litre of Eszencia juice can be made from 100kg of Aszú grapes. This juice is so high in sugar that it ferments extremely slowly, taking decades to achieve even as little as 5-6% alcohol. It is usually intended for blending with other wines, but occasionally, in the very best years, producers will bottle some Eszencia by itself.

Like Sir Donald Bradman’s batting average, the figures for Disznókő’s Eszencia astonish: 650g/ltr sugar, so 65% of this liquid is pure sugar; 20g/ltr or so of total acidity (I forget the exact figure) – much above 8g/ltr in a dry wine is unbearable; and just 1% alcohol, so strictly speaking this is not a wine at all.

A “few hundred” 500cl bottles were made of this wine – or rather grape juice – of simply astonishing sweetness, concentration and length, and one that supports the legend of Tokaji as an elixir capable of raising the ill from their bed. At any rate, I was glowing all the way from Mayfair to Stockwell.

 

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  1. […] Read about the entire tasting here. […]

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