Posted by: tomciocco | April 6, 2014

HARSLEVELU: THE MINOR HALF OF THE WINE OF THE HUNGARIAN KINGS

It’s really a pity that there aren’t more Hungarian wines on the market because Hungary, after Georgia, is the most wine-oriented nation in Eastern Europe. It’s also a pity that there aren’t more Hungarian really good wines that actually live up to this country’s great potential for fine wine, but the many reasons for this is the subject for another post. In any event, I can unequivocally testify that this one is one of the good ones, and from Hungary’s oldest and most famous wine region.

The region about which I speak is located in the northwestern corner of Hungary and it bears the name Tokaji, which despite the orthography, is pronounced “TOH-kai”. Tokaji is one of the undisputed pinnacles for the production of sweet wine in the whole world. Tokaji is made primarily from a grape called Furmint, this evening’s hero, Harslevelu (pronounced HARSH-leh-veh-loew), with the possible fractional addition of a local sub-variety of Muscat. Sweet Tokaji ranges in sweetness from the medium-sweet designation Szamorodni all the way up to the approaching syrupy-sweet Essenszia, half-bottles of which can cost $250 and up.

Wines that contain these sugar levels, untasted, might sound beyond the pale even for drinkers with the sweetest of sweet teeth, but here’s where acidity enters the picture. Harslevelu, and especially Furmint naturally possess nearly astronomical levels of acidity and sweet Tokaji is a wine whose constituent grapes are always and intentionally infected by a particular type of mold called botrytis cinerea that also carries the most evocative common name “noble rot”. In addition to having the effect of naturally desicating the grapes, and lending the final results a wonderfully distinctive flavor profile, this mold also has the effect of further boosting the acidity of these two already acidic varieties which ultimately serves to balance the intense sugar levels of Tokaji.

As it turns out, Harslevelu, whose name incidentally means “linden leaf” in Hungarian, is a name that doesn’t so much suggest a mirroring of the leaf shape of this vine, but rather the spicily aromatic smells of the leaves and blossoms of this flowering tree. Just as an aside, some recent in-depth genetic analysis has determined that Harslevelu is actually the “child” of Furmint and another very obscure Hungarian grape variety, making this evening’s wine a dry example of one of the constituent parts of the oldest officially-designated wine region the world (dating to the mid-16th century), and truly part of this regal lineage of this “Wine of Kings”.

I paired this very distinctive wine with a first course of a traditional type of Hungarian fritter called langos, with this particular iteration of said filled with dill-flavored caramelized cabbage and onion with apple cider vinegar, and drizzled with a thinned and garlic-infused sour cream sauce, followed by a skewered and grilled chunks of chicken breast marinated with onion, garlic, marjoram, caraway, sweet paprika, allspice and white wine, with a side dish of asparagus in a roux with tarragon.

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Patricius Tokaji Dry Harslevelu 2011

Bright, pale golden color with green reflections. Strongly-scented nose of apricot, apple, pear, lemon zest, ginger, green tea, marzipan, and intense yellow flower notes. The palate is medium-full, with a fresh, minerally, tightly-wound and “nervous” structure, and piercing acidity with flavors of white currants, dried pineapple, gooseberry, curacao and Shiitake mushrooms. Long, quinine-flavored finish.

 

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