Friday, May 6, 2011

Spotlight on Chateau Pajzos: The Essence of Hungary

Hungary is home to many storied wines. One fable relates the etymology of the country's most famous red Egri Bikaver or "Bull's Blood of Eger". During the 16th Century Ottoman Wars in Europe, a siege befell the castle in Eger. The invading Turks believed the resistance of the small number of soldiers was the result of their having mixed bull's blood into their red wine. How else could they explain the strength and courage of defending troops? After 39 days of bloody, brutal and intense fighting the Ottoman Army withdrew, beaten and humiliated.

This is all good and well, but one Hungarian wine is a legend in its own right and that wine is Tokaji, a sweet dessert wine that is unlike any other in the world. Hailing from the northeastern Hungarian region of Tokaj-Hegyalja, Tokaji is a made from grapes afflicted with Noble Rot (the same fungus responsible for the creation of Sauternes). The wine is usually amber-colored, unctuous and rich; with age, it can gain levels of complexity rarely found in other dessert wines. So important was Tokaji in times past that it holds the distinction of being one of the world's first demarcated wine appellations (other contenders include Chianti and the Douro Valley) as noted in a royal decree from 1757. If that weren't enough to cement its reputation, Tokaji is even mentioned in Hungary's national anthem!

One of the most famed Tokaji producers is Chateau Pajzos. Pajzos led the Renaissance of Tokaji that followed the fall of Communism in Hungary. In 1991, the estate was privatized after years of neglect by the state; today it is owned by the Laborde family (who also owns Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, France). In addition to its many sweet wines, the estate also makes a dry Furmint, which is the same grape variety used in the dessert-style Tokaji. This dry Furmint is made from hand-harvested fruit and slowly fermented in stainless steel tanks.

The Chateau Pajzos Estate
The stars of the show are, of course, Chateau Pajzos' sweet wines. These Tokaji's are sometimes referred to as Aszú (which means "dried" in Hungarian); this is reference to the fact that the grapes that have undergone Noble Rot look shriveled. It is not uncommon to see a label on bottle of sweet Tokaji state that the wine is Tokaji Aszú. Additionally, the levels of sweetness in Aszú wines varies from 3 puttonyos (a puttony is a bucket of Aszú grapes traditionally added to the wine to increase sweetness) to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos.

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia 1993  is their flagship wine. This is a wine so unique and rare that it's sold in 100 milliliter bottles. One of the world's finest and rarest dessert wines, Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia is produced from the free-run juice of Aszú grapes - in fact, one 100ml bottle is the result of an entire hectare. Both the nose and palate are incredibly sweet but display perfectly balanced notes of lime, peach, pineapple and honey. Wine critic Robert Parker described Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia 1993 as "virtually perfect." Considering one can try it for less than a $100, it is definitely a wine worth seeking out and trying at least once; the experience is legendary.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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