It takes something special.
Something special to attract people from across the globe to a rural village in Hungary. That’s not enough, however, the people themselves must be of a certain breed: adventurous, passionate and full of irrational optimism. In Hungary’s north-east, one finds both. Part of the famed Tokaj Wine Region, the vineyards in Mád produce some of the finest white wine on the planet. This village’s modest appearance belies an international community of people diligently honing their craft— creating exceptional dry and sweet white wines. At Tokaj Classic Winery, I discovered yet another team of impassioned souls under Tokaj’s irresistible spell.
It was the end of May and the weather was perfect. Bright, warm and sunny. A slight breeze, blue skies and a kaleidoscope of flowers at every glance. My dad was along for his first Tokaj wine tasting. “All these plants along the roadside,” he said. “They’re so familiar, they remind me of my childhood in Ireland.” It was mid-afternoon and we sped past fields of red poppies and over the Sajo and Hernad, rivers fattened by recent rains. My little Opel Corsa struggled to meet my desired speed. Tokaj’s conical extinct volcanoes appeared on the horizon. We drove through Szerencs, before curling through a roundabout. I pointed out the Öreg Király dűlő (Old King’s Slope) as I steered us into Mád.
There’s a beautiful thing taking place in Hungary. In a country overflowing with architectural masterpieces, it’s sad seeing many of them crumbling to the ground. Fortunately, the inspired are restoring selected structures to their former glory. Along Mád’s humble Rákóczi Utca, one can witness this happening today. I parked in front of one of these construction sites, and my dad and I headed towards a stone arch. Letters affixed to the wall read “Tokaj Classic”.
“As a Hungarian living in Germany for the past 30 years, I have to admit I didn’t know Tokaj wines. I knew only the Communist era Tokaj Wines,” Andras Bruhacs told me. “If you want to lose a girlfriend, you know, get rid of a girlfriend, take her out for a Szamorodni and she’ll never want to see you again,” he said with a chuckle. “That was the style.”
My dad and I had just walked into Tokaj Classic’s sun drenched courtyard. We were immediately greeted by Andras and his wife Phyllis. Local guide and wine expert, Gergely Somogyi, was also along for the tour. Andras’ infectious charisma had me entertained from the get-go.
“I read an article in 1992 in Newsweek about Tokaj wines titled the ‘Uncut Diamond of Hungary’. I thought if the Americans write about Tokaj, I better get to know it,” Andras told us. “My family had a small winery in Szekszárd . We exported to Germany. I came to Tokaj, asked around and was sent to Szepsy’s address. He was out in his vineyard and brought us into his cellar to taste,” he continued. “After that I was just finished, I mean I was hooked. And I asked Szepsy if I could buy some wine. He said ‘No, it’s all sold out.’ And I said, then why did you have us taste? His reply was ‘I just wanted you to know what’s possible here.’ “
Phyllis and Andras Bruhacs met at a music festival in Croatia in 1969. Andras, a retired professional cellist, was performing. Phyllis, who’s from New York, was attending the festival. Soon after they moved to Germany. Phyllis worked for the U.S. government there and Andras continued his music career with the Wiestbaden opera orchestra. In 1993 they began purchasing small plots in Hungary’s Tokaj Wine Region. After that initial visit with Istvan Szepsy the Bruhacs’s, and two other musician friends, teamed up with local Imre Galambosi and began their quest for Tokaj perfection.
Tokaj Classic’s estate was originally owned by a Jewish family of butchers, who stored meat in the cellar. Today, Andras and his team create their Tokaji masterpieces here. It is a small, unassuming cellar which produces 25,000 bottles per year from their 7 hectares. They export around Europe, U.S. and Canada, and will make their first shipment to China this year.
Tokaj Classic focuses on the region’s flagship product—Tokaji Aszú. And their efforts have been extremely well received. From 2000-2006 they were awarded “Champion of Hungary” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. Their 1999 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú is sold in Harrod’s of London. In short, their sweet wines (95% of production) are considered some of the best in the world. I was about to find out why.
Back at ground level, we entered the tasting room. All stone and wood, it’s a rustic and inviting space. Here, at a long wooden table, we began what was to be one of the most memorable wine tastings I’ve had anywhere.
2011 Villa Makar kékfrankos Rosé – Made with grapes from Eger. “This is my favorite for summertime wine drinking,” says Andras. Very fruity with nice acidity. Kind of a rose perfume-y nose to it . I’m not aboard the ‘brosé’ wagon yet, but this rosé was very agreeable.
2012 Tokaj Classic Furmint- Citrusy and chalky with pronounced minerality. Somehow also smooth. Like most Tokaj wines, Furmint has great aging potential. 5, 10 or even 15 years is “nothing” Andras told me. A very balanced and clean wine.
2009 Tokaj Classic Muscat Lunel – Very dry with high acidity. Lingering delicate flavors with a restrained bouquet. Muscat isn’t my favorite, but I do like the smell of it!
1999 Király Dűlő Tokaji Furmint – Possibly the most interesting—and I mean that in a good way—wine I tasted at Tokaj Classic. Nose almost like a late harvest. More depth and oxidized notes than younger Furmint. 17 years of character building. Hints of dried fruit. We went home with a bottle of this.
2007 Tokaj Classic Late Harvest Cuvée – 100 gr of residual sugar. 75% Furmint, 20% Hárslevelű and 5% Sarga Muskotály. Made from shriveled berries bursting with flavor. Silky sweet and rich. Honey and acacia blossom scents and dried apricot flavor. Very drinkable. “Tokaj for beginers” according to Phyllis and Andras.
2010 Tokaj Classic 3 Puttanyos Tokaji Aszú – 110 grs of residual sugar. An initial lemon burst leads to a silky honey and orange blossom body. Aszú training wheels.
2012 Tokaj Classic Tokaji Szamorodni- “Prelude” – Not much on the nose. Kind of an herby, floral and dried fruit experience. Well balanced and complex. While Szamorodni isn’t too popular, I’ve taken quite a liking to it. And this is a good one.
2006 Tokaj Classic 6 Puttanyos Tokaji Aszú – Now we’re in the big leagues. 180 grs of residual sugar. Rich nose with hints of medicinal herbs, grass and citrus. I find these high level Aszús difficult to analyze; the sweetness can overpower your senses. This doesn’t fall into that category. Tokaj Classic’s Imre Galambosi seems to have mastered Aszú. Rich peach and apricot flavors and a lengthy, sticky-sweet finish.
2002 Tokaj Classic 6 Puttanyos Tokaji Aszú – Serious wine for special occasions. Dried plum aromas. A deep, rich and complex creation. Sweet, sour, bitter and layer upon layer of subtle herby notes. Excellent.
“Why should I put my money into a bank. All I get is one percent interest,” Andras said. “When I can put my money into these wines which only get better and better.”
Sweet wines like these are an acquired taste. Yet I believe everyone should experience a Tokaji Aszú at least once in their lifetime. Andras put it this way: “You can choose to drive an old, beat up Volkswagen all your life, or you can try a Rolls Royce every now and then.”
For winery visits and purchasing:
Rákóczi u. 45, 3909 MÁD, Hungary
Tel: +36 20 323 4467
Fax: +36 47 348 201
For guided tours around Tokaj’s best: