If you are heading to Prowein next week then you might want to get yourself there on time on the last day in order to hear leading wine critic and commentator, Tim Atkin MW, revisit for the first time the subject that helped him become a Master of Wine, and his dissertation on the intricacies of Hungary’s iconic wine region, Tokaj. Here Atkin shares just what it was – and is – that has enchanted him so much over the years.
With so many wine regions and countries to discover it is perhaps not surprising that Tim Atkin MW has not been back to the region he based his MW dissertation on. But now he has rediscovered Hungary’s Tokaj he’s bound to be back soon.
Researching the seminar about Tokaj I’m giving at Prowein next week has been like sitting down with an old friend you’ve not seen for years. I wrote my Master of Wine dissertation about the region in 2001 and haven’t been back since. I’ve changed in the intervening period – you don’t eat and drink the amount I do without adding a kilo or two – but so has Tokaj.
The biggest change has been in the perception of the dry whites, once referred to as “Cinderellas”. Now they are regular attendees at the ball, as it were, regarded as some of Europe’s most exciting wines. What was once seen locally as a grudging necessity has become a blessing. Furmint, like Riesling, is now recognised as a world-class grape that can make great wines in a range of styles.
There have been other changes too. Tokaj has been certified as a UNESCO world heritage site – recognition of a history that stretches back to the 11th century and possibly earlier – barrel ageing requirements have been reduced for Aszú wines and their production is more tightly controlled and defined. The area under vine has increased a little, too, and now stands at 5,747 hectares. After all these years, Tokaj has aged better than I have.
There’s less discussion about modern and traditional styles – a contentious topic back in 2001 – but still no lack of diversity. Tokaj is small, but it has six different grape varieties and a range of terroirs and meso-climates. The six wines we’re going to taste during the seminar (ProWein FORUM @Hall 13 / F25 – F27), – from dry to 6 Puttonyos – will illustrate this. It’s also worth saying that Tokaj produces some of the best-value sweet wines of all.
For all their excellence, botrytis-affected wines are a labour of love to produce and not just in Tokaj. Great Aszú vintage are still the exception rather than the norm. But what delights they deliver on the nose and palate. I think I’m falling in love with the place all over again.
- You can hear Tim Atkin MW share his memories and insights on Tokaj at Prowein on March 19 at 10:00am-10:45am in Hall 13, F25 – F27. Where he will take visitors through his assessment of Tokaji Aszú and an opportunity to understand more about this distinct sweet wine style. To register for this tasting click here.