Last year’s visit to the Füleky Winery was eye opening. You could say it was the full Tokaj experience: a boat ride on the Bodrog River, strolling down Tokaj Hill’s sea of vines, cooling off in a cellar and having an outdoor wine dinner. In fact, my nearly exclusive relationship with red wine ended with that visit; whites grace my shelves now, too.
Today, nearly a year later, I’m finally understanding Tokaj’s true magnetism. I’ve never lived so close to a world-renowned wine region, and the discoveries here are seemingly endless. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tokaj is comprised of 27 villages around the Zemplén Mountains and the Bodrog River. 700 years of wine making has formed this land into a place of legends, both in the hills and underground. With each visit I meet yet another foreigner, or Hungarian, who’s so passionate about Tokaj they’ve dedicated their life to unlocking its mysteries. So when my brother returned to Hungary recently, I knew I had to share Tokaj with him. And I knew just the right place: Füleky Winery in Bodrogkeresztúr.
Familiar Flavors, New Faces
Spring had just arrived in Hungary, the air teeming with floral scents. Undulating hills and fields of vibrant green rolled alongside highway 37 in north-east Hungary’s Borsod County. My brother Paul, Anita and I drove through the Mád junction, and past the Sárga Borház . It was a typical April day in these parts: one moment warm and sunny, then stormy in an instant. I drove along the Bodrog River before turning up a narrow road where Füleky’s unmistakable angular roofed winery came into view.
We were greeted by Szabolcs Harai, a young winemaker recently brought on by Füleky. With dark hair and a wide smile, he appeared relaxed and genuinely happy to see us. Szabolcs led us through the familiar, award-winning building: past the towering stainless-steel holdings tanks, past barrel filled rooms and into their cellar. Paul was noticeably tired after his journey from Santander, Spain. I saw his eyes light up, however, around the impressive winemaking equipment. Szabolcs dipped his wine thief into a barrel and poured us a sample of Füleky’s 2015 Úrágya Hárslevelű. It was fresh and acidic; a very young wine but already bearing Tokaj’s famed mineral richness.
Established in 1998, Füleky has 62 acres of vineyards in some of Tokaj’s most prized appellations. Their current site was purchased in 2006 and has been painstakingly renovated. An exhibit displaying the process can be seen inside their baroque mansion. Read my write up about our first visit here.
Szabolcs led the way as we left the production building, crossed a pavestone courtyard and entered the mansion. Upstairs, we sat down at a beautiful wooden table. Inside, Füleky’s mansion exudes an air of royal luxury. French bleu style fabric and elegant furniture blend with the mansion’s original oak stairs and tile work. Szabloc’s laid-back nature and obvious passion set the tone for our tasting.
Aside from our earlier barrel samples (Tokaj Muscat 2015, Úrágya Hárslevelű 2015, Late Harvest 2015), this was the lineup:
Tokaji Furmint 2013
I’m a big Furmint fan and Füleky’s could just be my favorite. This estate blend is very floral and fruity with some herby notes. There is a fresh cut grass element as well. If I had to choose one white wine for the remainder of my life, this might be it.
Tokaji Furmint Mestervölgy 2013
From Tokaj’s Tarcal slope. Something unique in this wine. Fermented in new oak barrels creating a very drinkable and enjoyable bottle. One of my favorites from last year, and still is.
Tokaji Muscat 2013
There is a serious dance between delicate and pronounced features in this muscat. Beautiful elder-flower nose with a dry, punchy flavor. From the loess soil of northern Tarcal.
Tokaji Kabar 2013
A relatively new variety in Tokaj. Kabar is a blend of Hárslevelű and Bouvier. This magnificent stuff transports you to a sunny garden filled with flowers and ripe fruit. Think acacia blossoms, peaches and complex flavors with a hint of sweetness.
Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest 2013
Things are about to get a lot sweeter. I wouldn’t call myself a lover of sweet wines. In fact, I almost never buy them. If you’re like me, then Pallas Late Harvest will suit you well. From over ripe grapes bursting with concentrated sugars. Excellent introduction to sweet wines; not overwhelmingly sweet. You’ll find acidity, a slight bitterness and a healthy dose of classic Tokaj honey-sweetness.
Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszú 2007-
Challenge International du Vin 2012: gold
Decanter World Wine 2011: silver
International Wine Challenge 2011: silver
The cream of the crop and one of the world’s most prized varietals. A Puttonyos is a type of basket used in grape harvests. The number of puttonyos–4, 5 or 6–indicates how many baskets of Aszú grapes (overripe and infected with botrytis, a noble mold) went into a cask. These grapes are individually selected and maximize flavors and sweetness. Weather conditions need to be just right. These wines can mature for decades or even centuries. 6 puttonyos is the top shelf of Aszú wines, and Füleky’s take on the “king of wines” is nothing short of magnificent. With 201 grams of sugar per liter, this is serious stuff. A rich golden color impresses upfront and acidity, a touch of bitterness and sticky, herby sweetness comes together to create a harmonious masterpiece. You can’t visit Tokaj without trying this wine.
This was a truly unexpected treat. I didn’t know what to expect when Szabolcs offered us a sample of Tokaji Esszencia. I had heard of it, but only as some kind of mythical creature. Esszencia is not you’re average wine. In fact it’s something altogether different. When Aszú berries are piled up in a huge vat, gravity works its magic. A highly concentrated liquid is slowly squeezed out and drained over a couple of days. Esszencia has only 5-8% alcohol content and is more a syrup than a wine. Orange blossom honey is what came straight to mind after sipping this rarity. If sunshine were bottled, this would be it. All I can say is that I feel privileged. Thank you Szabolcs.
Tokaj has always fascinated me. From my first visit in 2008 it’s held a mystical appeal. Yet, until that day with Paul I hadn’t shared Tokaj with anyone. Since that visit to Füleky, I’ve also recently brought my dad for a wine tasting and tour. In July I’ll be sharing the magic with my mom, too. Like everything else worthwhile in life, Tokaj is an experience best when shared.