An icy wind drove pelting rain straight at my umbrella. I held it in front of me like a flimsy shield, walking against the blustery current. It was late April and I was in Budapest with my colleagues for a day of meetings. The temperature hovered around 3 Celsius. They wore heavy coats atop sweaters as we trudged back to our car near Erzsebét Hid. I wore a thin sports jacket and a thinner button up shirt. My jaw clattered uncontrollably with shivers. I cursed myself for not heeding the weather warning.
Sun beamed through the train’s window onto my lap. Warm and bright, I dipped my head into the golden rays and closed my eyes. It was the day after my self inflicted freezing on the streets of Budapest. The train ride from Miskolc to Tokaj is a mere 45 minutes and I was enjoying every minute. Being Friday, the train was full of students on their way home from Budapest; eyes hardly budging from headphone plugged smartphones. Mine scanned the landscape of freshly plowed fields, scattered settlements and the extinct volcanoes of the distant Zemplén Mountains. I thought about weather, its changeable and merciless nature: One day freezing, the next a glorious sun-kissed dream. I thought about vineyards, winemaking and of course winemakers. On my way to the first ever Tokaj Fair, sitting on that train, my appreciation for all things grew yet again.
I followed a small woman and a husky man with glasses down a tunnel. This was my first time in the historic Rákóczi cellar, a place which has witnessed much, including the crowning of Hungarian kings. Occupying a corner of Tokaj’s Kossuth Square, it’s a facade I’ve passed many times but never entered. I followed closely, not wanting to get lost. In an instant the tunnel spit us out into a cavernous chamber. The scene was something out of a medieval fantasy novel: ceremonial gowns, sashes and hats; a long table stretching from end to end; low, candle light flickering and a small crowd quietly watching a tiny stage.
Then there were of course futuristic looking baby strollers, camera crews and people in designer clothing. This was the Conférie De Tokaj intronization ceremony. A pageantry-rich event inducting new members into this exclusive wine association. The familiar faces of Samuel Tinon, his wife Matilde Hulot and Katherine Chapman were there, among others I probably should know by now.
We moved outside en masse into the bright afternoon sunshine. The Confrérie de Tokaj members then posed for a group photo in front of the Jézus szíve templom at Kossuth square. Then, in a parade like procession, we walked towards the Paulay Ede Theatre for the Tokaj Fair. Bunches of purple and white lilac along with flowering apricot, cherry and plum trees peeked over fences and walls.
This was the first annual Tokaj Fair, an event for wine professionals to meet and greet with Tokaj’s premier producers. Over 40 wineries were on hand from all corners of the region. Furmint and Tokaji Aszú masterclasses were also held. The Tokaj Fair was essentially a kick-off for the annual Tokaj Spring, which includes the Great Tokaj Wine Auction and a slew of festivities and estate tours. The 5th annual Great Tokaj Wine Auction turned out to be the most successful yet, with total hammer prices breaking the previous record by 20%. Here is the Official press release
Unfortunately I was only able to stay for a short time at the Friday afternoon Tokaj Fair. And in that short time I only visited a handful of stands. These were mainly members of the Mád Circle. I missed the Aszú masterclass with Ronn Wiegand, but was fortunate enough to attend the Furmint class held by Gabriella Mészáros. As I’m coming to realize when it comes to wine, and even wine from a single region, there’s simply never enough time for it all. In any case I was truly honored to be in attendance.
Mád Circle (selected notes from my tastings):
Tamas Gincsái (Holdvölgy’s winemaker) continues his magic with a lineup of superb dry and sweet wines. Despite his success, he remains extremely humble and I spoke with him at length about his ambitions.
2013 EXHALTATION- Tokaji Édes Sárgamuskotály Nyúlászo Dűlő
Late harvest Yellow Muscat with tropical and floral aromas. Some notes of spice also. Peachy flavors with a hit of added heat as well.
2008 INTUITION- Tokaji Édes Zéta Szamorodni Holdvölgy Dűlő
Straw yellow in color. Orange and spices on the nose and in the mouth. A beautiful creamy almond essence along with defined acidity balances the sweetness. Some botrytis berries used in the blend. Two thumbs up.
My first time experiencing their wines. Mrs. Demeter was especially charming and engaging.
2015 Király Furmint
Parcel selection from Mád’s Király Gran Cru. A little thin on the nose but balanced with nice acidity and minerality.
2015 Szent Tamás Furmint- Lively with a unique herby touch. I especially like their labels which resemble botanical illustrations.
2015 Nyúlaszó Furmint- A rich, layered and complex wine. Notes of apricot, peach and almond. Another winery with beautiful labels which illustrate local vineyard parcels.
While owner and winemaker Géza Lenkey didn’t speak much English, I found him to be a very kind and gentle man. He seems to do his own thing, which is allowing his dry Tokaji wines to mature much longer than is normal before he releases them.
2009 Hárslevelű- Matured in Zemplén oak barrels for 18 months. Bottled three years after harvest (if I understood correctly). Very complex acids and a nutty, almost rusty oxidized experience here. Perhaps not for everyone but I am certainly a fan of his style.
This was to be my second Furmint Masterclass in as many months. And, despite the grandeur of the class at VinCE, I found this one to be much more educational. The smaller space and class size meant it was more focused and engaging. It was also a compelling experience listening to Gabriella Mészáros speak about the topic she so obviously loves—Hungarian wine. Her display of knowledge and skill reinforced my recent decision to pursue higher education in wine. We tasted a handful of Furmints. From this already excellent selection, two stood out above the crowd:
Samuel Tinon Szent Tamás: Quince and red apple nose. Firm structure in the mouth and flavors of lemon and a touch of white pepper.
Szepsy Nyúlaszlo 2013: Citrusy and flinty aromas with an alluring wildflower component. In the mouth, more citrus and a defined display of minerality. Balanced acids and a creaminess to match. Excellent.
On the train ride back to Miskolc I witnessed a moment I won’t soon forget:
A 50-something Gypsy man sat across from a boy who was maybe 7, who I assume was his grandson. Questions continuously tumbled out of the boy’s mouth. Questions which had nothing to do with the current situation. The man answered none of them, cracking open sunflower seeds with his teeth and staring blankly at the boy. Finally he spoke:
“Halgass már” (Shut up now), he said. “Csak nézd meg a gyönyörű tájat!” (Just look at the beautiful landscape!).
Outside their window, the Tokaj hill’s vines swept down, gilded by the last rays of a spring Friday sunset. It was a serene moment, and the boy said nothing for all of about 10 seconds. Then the questions came pouring out in rapid succession. The man turned, looked at me, and we both shared a laugh.