A dozen wines from Tokaj


Two weeks ago I thoroughly enjoyed a tasting tutored by Ronn Wiegand, an American MW who moved to Tokaj, Hungary in 2010, where his wife manages her family’s estate winery, Erzsebet Pince.

Here are my notes, bearing in mind that my previous experience with Tokaj was very spotty:

2000 Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos
C: pale amber, and not much deeper core
N: understated, with hints of sultanas, vanilla, and caramel, with little evidence of botrytis
T: light on its feet and not honeyed, with good acidity. Elegant, but not long.
Brown sugar notes with some minerality to counteract the sweetness. Seems more semi-sweet than sweet, which is probably an illusion.

Château Dereszla
2008 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
C: molten gold
N: strong botrytis, funky and fresh with some herbaceousness and a little gunflint (sulphur?)
T: rich, but lively, medium-long tangy finish with decent length and a good mineral finish. Somewhat reminiscent of Riesling.

1999 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: copper/amber
N. untanned leather, mirabelle plum – more penetrating than complex
T: seems an old-fashioned style, with marked acidity that draws out the aftertaste. The palate is much more interesting than the nose. Some dryness on finish. Subtle wine with an interesting balance. Perhaps a tad too much acidity even so. But this may come into its own in a few decades!

2008 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: pale silvery-gold
N: leatherlike smell here as well, and lacks complexity at this stage
T: medium body with marked sweetness and then a large dose of oak. Sweeter than most. It might age into something much better, but for the moment it is top-heavy and too oaky.

Erzsébet Winery
2008 Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos
C: very pale gold and tobacco juice color
N: musty, gunflint
T: better on palate with richness, good fruit, and excellent development. Lively, glorious sweetness tempered by healthy acidity.
Deeply satisfying. Gorgeous candied fruit, but not cloying.

2006 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: brilliant gold and pale tea color
N: fine, grassy, beeswax, and men’s club (leather armchairs and Havana cigars) overtones. Subtle with some oak.
T: soft and pillowy inside an acid framework. Obvious oak. Built to last, but would have done better with greater richness. An acidity on the finish that wakes you up.

Demeter Zoltan
2002 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: pale amber
N: simple broad-based botrytised aromas, slightly cosmetic
T: middle of the road, not a great of personality, and the acidity is not pleasant at this time

2007 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: bright yellowish-gold
N: some stink (sulphur) and herbaceous notes
T: herbaceousness again, some celery, but successful nevertheless.
Dryish finish, perhaps due to oak ageing. Balance not among the best.

2003 Tijahu Aszy 6 puttonyos
C: medium-deep amber gold
N: bit smoky, with fresh, subtle honey overtones
T: very rich and sweet, more Sauternes-like. Sensual, with good use of new oak. Acidity marries very well with the sweetness. Very long aftertaste. One of the best.

Royal Tokaji
2003 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: amber-gold
N: caramel, crème brûlée, smells old-fashioned with some leather notes
T: lovely silky texture underpinned by vibrant acidity. Classic, clearly sweeter than most. Frankly sensual, bordering on decadent…

2008 Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos
C: looks much younger, pale old gold
N: tobacco nuances - fresh, forthright, and modern with iris overtones. Subtle, with good oak
T: touch too much oak on the palate, but clean and focused. Maybe a little too “technical”, rather than terroir-driven. But great long, fresh aftertaste… Tail end too dry though.

Tokaj Kereskedohaz
(Tokaj Crown Estates)
2007 Tokaji Esszencia
C: beautiful medium-deep amber
N: layers of subtle aromas. Nothing strong but tremendous depth and nuances of old leather, dried fruit, Havana cigar, etc.
T: luscious bordering on syrupy, heaven for the sweet-toothed, nice oak influence. I can only compare it to L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne. Gooseberry flavors and lip-smacking length. Coats the palate. Very long and backed by acidity. A unique experience.

Best regards,
Alex R.

Alex -
I haven’t heard of many of these producers, but thank you for posting nonetheless.
It’s always nice to get a take on a region many feel is neglected in coverage.

I loved reading this too, Alex. Many producers unfamiliar to me. Delighted to see the 07 Esszencia is already delivering such pleasure. I can imagine that 99 Disznoko will need a decade or two. I’m pretty sure I’ve had the 03 Royal 6 putts and if yes that it was sweeter than most Tokajis. Again, thanks for posting your thoughts.

A bientot, j’espere.


So glad to read these notes as I actually have the Hetzsolo and the Patricius you list. :slight_smile:

appreciate the Hungary coverage as well.

Have been wanting to try some Demeter Zoltan myself, sorry to hear the '02 didn’t show very well.

Hi Alex, your notes are not inconsistent with mine but you’ve mixed a lot of vintages of varying quality and also 5 and 6P wines. So it’s not really an apples to apples comparison although it’s a nice overview.

Hétszolo has never produced a really great wine in spite of their resources and ditto with Disznókő. Derezsla is one of the best values IMO - they cost a little less than most of the others and they’re usually as good or better than many.

Degenfeld is considered OK by many but I have issues with it since the owner kind of screwed us a few years ago so I’ll refrain from comment.

Erzsébet is one of the locals as opposed to the French investor wineries and consequently lacks capital and distribution but deserves more.

Patricius is one of the newer wineries that’s backed by Hungarian wealth, rather than French. They do clean, commercial, well-made wine that’s usually quite good and generally better than things like Hétszolo, Royal Tokaj, etc.

Dobogó is another - they’re owned by a wealthy Hungarian family known for making a very popular Hungarian liquor. It’s sometimes a pretty good wine, but again, they’re part of a portfolio more than an obsession.

I think you meant Sauska? He worked in the US, made some money, and moved back home. He has a vineyard in Villány as well as Tokaj and is someone to watch, as he’s committed to making ever-better wine. I drank a lot of his reds while in Hungary a few weeks ago and the wines are better each year. IMO, that’s what Hungary needs more of, rather than foreign investors looking to pick things up cheaply.

I’m not sure what you meant by “old-fashioned” but if any of the producers deserves that description it’s Royal Tokaj. That is a producer that is, well, at least beloved by the British. I guess they figure that if Hugh Johnson was involved it’s got to be good. But I never found the wines particularly great and once on a cold, wet, nasty day while drinking a bottle of their wine I realized that they were really making a good version of Soviet-era style wine. After asking around, I discovered that most Hungarians don’t rate them nearly as high as the Brits and the Americans.

Zoltan’s wines can be great. He’s a small producer but passionate about restoring the glory of the region. There are many more like him, some smaller, some a little larger, but of the particular group that you tasted, that’s the winery to watch if you’re interested in artisanal wines.

Barta - well, you got me. It’s one that I don’t know much about and I haven’t had their wine over the years. But now they’re on my radar and I will try them.

The Crown Estates can basically be dismissed. It’s like the Two Buck Chuck of Tokaj.

Sauternes is generally sweeter, thicker, and ultimately less complex, (although I still love it), but the problem is that the best of Tokaj is rarely tasted and even more rarely compared to its peers, so it’s like comparing second and third growths of Tokaj to first growths of Bordeaux.

As of a few weeks ago tasting through a lot of the wines, some producers seem to have fallen off, some new ones have appeared, and all in all, it’s still a really troubled region unfortunately.

Good tasting though.

Greg, why was there such an onslaught of French to Tokaj, when they could have gone to places like Georgia or even other parts of the EU? Are there any of them you would recommend?

So who are the first growths of Tokaj, in your opinion?

Markus - in 1990 the new government needed money. People like Jeffery Sachs, an American economist, went to places like Hungary, Russia, Poland, etc., and advocated things like “shock therapy”, which meant sudden release of price controls, trade liberalization, and privatization, among other things.

In Russia, it created the oligarchs. In places like Poland and Hungary, it wasn’t quite so bad but it presented once in a lifetime opportunities for foreign investors. The folks in Tokaj had a heritage and centuries of knowledge regarding the best vineyards, etc., but much had been lost during the communist period. So foreigners who had guts and a clue came in. Most were French, but there was also Vega Sicilia, the Hugh Johnson group behind Royal Tokaj, Anthony Wang behind Kiralyudvar, and a few others.

The Hungarians eventually decided that they were selling their patrimony and they blocked foreign investment in the region. On joining the EU they had to remove those restrictions, but by that time, it was no longer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that it was in the early 1990s.

Today, many of the Hungarians, who are world-champion conspiracy theorists, will suggest that the French invested so that they could destroy the wines and preserve the market for Sauternes! I’ve had people cite the example of Chateau Pajzos as well as the others mentioned above as examples of such thinking.

It makes you scratch your head when you hear it and then it makes you a little bit sad. So much potential has been squandered over the past 20 years.

As far as Georgia or other parts of the EU go, perhaps those may have been scarier investments or less prestigious - honestly, I don’t know. But don’t forget that for the past fifty years while many people have forgotten about Tokaj and today it’s kind of a trendy place, it was once the place that produced wine that was coveted by the kings of Sweden, Poland, France, and England as well as the Pope and the Russian Czar. The vineyard classifications predate anything in France by at least a century and mention of their sweet wines predates anything in Germany or France.

Unlike say, Burgundy, those wines have always been luxury items.

So the investments were calculated risks. Two weeks ago I got to talk to some of the people from Vega Sicilia about their investment and they say they’re committed to the region. Their winery, Oremus, is definitely one of the better of the “foreign” ones. As a private company, not only do they have the resources but they also have the time it will take to iteratively improve the wines and develop the market. And against all of my expectations, their dry white from Tokaj is actually a pretty decent wine. Several years ago it was mediocre at best but they kept at it and it’s now something I might actually buy.

Dry wines from Tokaj are actually an entirely new and separate story and would deserve their own thread if anyone had any interest.

As far as who is the best or one of the best producers, that’s a great question. A couple years ago I might have suggested a few but it’s really an area that’s still in flux and I’d hesitate to suggest anything remotely definitive today.

For example, you have guys like Istvan Szepsy, who has to be in the top tier. I noticed that in his garage he had lots of d’Yquem and I asked if he was sampling the competition. He was a friend of Lur-Saluces and he’s been to their vineyards many times and knows their winemaking. He’s convinced that he’s every bit as good and frankly, I have to agree, having done several blind tastings of his wines vs theirs.

Again - I love Sauternes, so this isn’t a slam by any means! But there’s a tension that you get with the wines from Tokaj that you don’t get anywhere else. In any event, he’d be one of the top. However, even Szepsy is evolving - he spent a lot of his life under communism and he’s trying to make up for lost time every day and over the past few years his views have evolved and his winemaking has improved steadily. He also owns some of the best vineyards in the region, so he’s someone you have to watch. The evolution of his thinking has been fascinating.

But Szepsy is a one-off. He’s kind of like Mondavi, Mastroberardino, Antinori, Baudry, and Peter Lehmann rolled into one. In other words, he’s an icon who occupies a very unique position.

So mostly I’d watch the smaller producers. There are a lot of passionate, dedicated, almost obsessive producers that don’t have the budgets for big marketing campaigns and that fly under the radars of the various “expert” wine reviewers, but who are producing really great wines and they will be the ones to put Tokaj back on the world stage where it should be. Demeter Zoltan is someone to keep an eye on, Judit Bott for sure, guys like Attila Hommona, and a producer you can actually buy in the US, Alana. Careful thoughtful winemakers all. There’s a lot of ferment right now, as there is in places like Spain where you have producers who eschew the old time classifications of Reserva, Gran Reserva, etc. and who are pushing things forward.

And I’m by no means knocking the other producers. They have the money and wherewithal to do a lot but it’s just that they seem to favor safe winemaking and while I’m happy to drink their wines, they’re rarely “exciting”, if that means anything.

In any event, Tanzer visited once and now that’s going to be one of his areas of expertise; Kramer visited a couple times and he’s writing for WS and mentions Kiralyudvar every chance he gets, David S visited once and one day will publish his extensive notes from a few years ago, and Jancis and other Brits have mass tastings in London and review the wines. So lots of quality information to come!


Many thanks for your input. I hit the tasting with minimal knowledge and could only report from within my framework of experience.

Please allow a dissenting opinion about Sauternes. I think that only the great botrytized wines of Germany can reach the same heights, albeit with a very different taste profile - even if I must say that the quality of Tokaj I experienced was nipping at the heels of these great wines, it’s true.
But rare indeed is the Loire Valley wine that attains the same complexity.

Where does acidity fit in? For a start, Sauternes is not monolithic, and there is a pretty wide range of styles going from the rich bordering on syrupy to wines that display the tension you speak of in your post. Like Tokaj, Sauternes can age (and improve) for many decades.
To be clear about this, I am fortunate to be able to drink Yquem fairly often and insofar as the wines in that Tokaj tasting were representative, none was on the same podium.

But discussions like this (such as, yawn, is Burgundy “better” than Bordeaux?) tend to be sterile. I learned a great deal from the tasting and it makes me want to enjoy Tokaj more often - even if, like many wine drinkers, I don’t pull out a sweet wine to drink every day of the week…

Best regards,
Alex R.

It’s true Alex, and that’s why I tried to be clear that I love Sauternes! It gets to be tiring, or as you put it sterile, to say that this wine is better than that wine, etc.

The thing that I like about Tokaj is that at its best it’s light, delicate, and deep. I suppose if you were to make a comparison that I really hate, it would be Burgundy vs Bordeaux.

But you’re entirely right - that conversation is futile and ultimately kind of silly. Anyhow, one day we’ll have a few glasses of each together! [cheers.gif]

[quote=“Alex Rychlewski”] I learned a great deal from the tasting and it makes me want to enjoy Tokaj more often - even if, like many wine drinkers, I don’t pull out a sweet wine to drink every day of the week… [quote]

You don’t pull out a sweet wine to drink every day of the week?!? [shock.gif] What the heck are you wasting your time drinking on all those other days?!? [wow.gif]

As for the whole Sauternes vs. Tokaji debate, as the great philosopher Rodney King said: