Boston Wine Expo '99
RTWC '93 Tokaji Tasting

hosted by Hugh Johnson

All wines are from the Royal Tokaji Wine Company; the seminar which accompanied the tasting gives some details about Tokaji in general, as well as the views of Royal Tokaji Wine Company and Hugh Johnson (part owner of the RTWC) regarding the production of Tokaji. All reviews are mine, except for comments noted specifically in the text. The group voted for their favorite wines, and my unofficial count indicated that Szt. Tamas came in first, with second place being roughly a tie between the Nyulászó and Mezes Maly. I don't think that the Red Label or Birsalmás had any first place votes. My personal ranking (from 1 to 5) follows each note before the letter grade. The wines are listed in the order tasted.

RTWC Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos Red Label '93--Johnson noted that this is the biggest seller for RTWC, and that it is identical to the "Blue Label 5 Puttonyos '93"; the two wines were just packaged slightly differently because they were intended for different markets. He said that this wine was made from young vines, or from batches of wine which were felt to be "atypical" of the style of the vineyard from which they came. The residual sugar level is 120 g/l. The wine was dark gold, and had aromas of honeyed fruit, with slight oxidation evident. I noticed a small hint of a musty note; this bottle may have been very slightly corked. The palate was full of dried apricot and golden raisins. The finish came in two stages. First, there was an intense but short burst of dried fruits, which were quenched by a lively acidity. After the first stage, some raisin flavors, with a bit of rancio character, coated the mouth for a very long time. (My 5th place wine.)

RTWC Tokaji Aszu Birsalmás '93--This vineyard was rated a "second growth" in the 18th century classification mentioned in the report on the seminar. According to Johnson, this wine sees some new oak, and is a 5 puttonyos level wine. This wine was a darker gold/brown than the Red Label. First came rich unctuous honeyed aromas of quince and fig, with a slight hint of red tea. In the mouth, this wine had an oily, viscous texture, but wasn't as sweet as I would have expected given the nose; it was not as sweet as the Red Label, either. The palate had good dried apricot and fig flavors, along with a slightly smoky element, but again wasn't as generous as my nose had led me to expect. The finish was long and rich, with sweet raisin flavors, along with smoke, spice and vanilla; plenty of acidity to cleanse the palate. (4th)

RTWC Tokaji Aszu Szt. Tamas '93--This vineyard was rated a "first growth", and according to Johnson, it had sugar levels which would allow it to be labelled as a 6 puttonyos wine. The wine was dark gold with honey/botrytis aromas leading to a modest amount of fig, raisin and a hint of tea. This wine was less aromatic than the Birsalmás, and may have been shut down, as the nose seemed to improve with air. However, this wine really delivers in the mouth, with an oily, viscous texture, and lots of honeyed apricot, fig and raisin flavors. The experience ends with a medium-length finish of vanilla, apricot and good acidity. (2nd)

RTWC Tokaji Aszu Nyulászó '93--This wine, made from a vineyard near Szt. Tamas, was also 6 puttonyos level according to Johnson. He translated the name as "rabbit warren" or "catching rabbits", but another source has told me that the name means "hare's leap." In any event, it seems clear that the vineyard name has something to do with long-eared mammals, and apparently they heard where to get good grapes. This wine was slightly lighter in color than the Szt. Tamas, but still dark gold. There was plenty of botrytis evident in the nose and on the palate. Generous honeyed fig, quince and coconut aromas led to an elegant mouthful of fruit, including dried fig and quince. This wine wasn't as viscous as the previous two, and showed more acidity on the midpalate. The finish was medium length, with good acidity, and seemed more complex than the other wines, with lots of apricot, coconut, and honey. The elements of this wine seemed to be in sharper focus than those in the other wines; there was plenty of power here, but the good structure and balance made the wine seem more elegant than I would have expected. (1st)

RTWC Tokaji Aszu Mezes Maly '93--This vineyard, which Johnson translates as "honeycomb", was considered the best vineyard in Hungary by the 18th century classification, which set it apart from the first growths as, "first choice for the table of the king." Johnson made it fairly clear that this was his favorite of the single vineyard wines, and noted that this 6 puttonyos level wine had spent one year longer in barrel than the others. The color was a darker gold than any of the previous wines. The nose was quite unusual with some honeyed fig notes, but also a pronounced mushroom aroma. In the mouth, there were more earthy and mushroomy flavors. It wasn't as forward and fruity as the other wines, though some honeyed fig flavors showed through. The finish seemed rather short, even though there didn't seem to be as much acidity present as in the other wines. The wine seemed a bit tightly wound, and I'd like to see what a few years in the bottle will do to it, as there seems to be a lot going on. This wine is definitely distinctive, but not my favorite of the day. (3rd)

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Copyright 1999 Marcel Lachenmann. All rights reserved.