During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.
It’s been too long since my last Tokaji post, but I’ve got a great wine for you. This is not a wine I tasted in Hungary, unlike the others in most of my past reviews, but one that I acquired elsewhere. I tried contacting the winery to ask for photos, but unfortunately they never responded, so you’re stuck with me taking pictures of my Tokaji bottle around my apartment (next time it will be with my favorite Etsy planks, I promise).
Sauska is a fairly recent winery that makes wines in both the white Tokaj and red Villany regions. According to their web site, founder Christian Sauska went back to Hungary in the late 1990s after achieving the American dream, and started the winery with his wife Andrea. I didn’t find a lot of material about the Sauska winery specifically, but here’s a slightly corny video about Hungarian wine that features several wineries, including Sauska around the 6:00 mark. It has subtitles, and if you watch it at 1.5x speed, it’s pretty upbeat:
I particularly like the quote from Anthony Hwang at Kiralyudvar: “Making wine at the edge rather than making wine at the center of the table”. Way to go, in my opinion — wine countries like Hungary or Georgia should embrace their traditions instead of making nondescript wines that try to imitate other regions.
The Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003 (note once again an anglicized spelling of eszencia) comes in a deceptive package. Though it’s shaped like a traditional Tokaji bottle, it’s got very thick glass and holds only 375 ml of wine instead of the usual 500 ml.
The grapes in this wine are of 90% Furmint and 10% Hárslevelü, and the residual sugar clocks in at 266 g/l, which is really quite high considering that the legal minimum for the Aszú Esszencia category is 180 g/l. TOKAJI.com informs us the category was created as an “official quality level” in the 1970s, but since consumers tend to confuse it with Esszencia, the Hungarian authorities decided to get rid of it as of 2010.
2003 was a hot and beautiful year in Tokaj. This allowed several winemakers to produce some Aszú Esszencia and Esszencia, wines typically only made with the best vintages. The previous such years were 1999 and 2000.
Here are some professional notes on the Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003 from Wine Spectator, who gave this wine 96 points in April 2013:
“A rich, sticky sweetie, tawny in character, offering a liquid mix of date, orange marmalade, tobacco and butterscotch notes that slowly give way to hints of spice and chalk. Drink now through 2035.”
This conforms to my own overall impressions, even if I’m not so sure about the chalk and am amused by the vague “hints of spice” (which spice?).
color: light to medium amber; so bright!
nose: dried apricot and figs
taste: figs and caramel, followed by apricot and candied orange peel
finish: very syrupy and seriously sweet, yet pleasantly acidic
This is a truly delicious dessert wine that shows what a Tokaji should be. At over $110 for 375 ml, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely worth trying. Next time I go to Hungary, I must remember to visit Sauska.