Humans love comparing. No matter what the topic is, we keep finding something familiar to place aside the new experience. Tokaj and Sauternes are two wine regions often compared to each other, though from the moment you understand the concept of terroir, you realize that comparing two unique terroirs does not make sense.
The same blessed infection
Tokaj wine region lies in the north-east of Hungary, whereas Sauternes is part of the world’s number one wine territory: Bordeaux. Tokaj’s main grape varieties are Furmint, Hárslevelű and Muscat Lunel, whereas Sauternes grows Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. What is the common then? Both wine regions produce sweet wines with the help of noble rot, namely Botrytis Cinerea. If you ever happen to walk there at dawn in Sauternes, you will feel the soft humidity on your face from the river Le Ciron, the humidity that gives life to the important ‘infection’. In Tokaj rivers Tisza and Bodrog are responsible for the same Botrytis.
The same struggle against ‘fitness reality’
Once in Budapest there was a tasting of botrytised Sauternes and Tokaj wines. The organizers had wanted to taste them blind, but there was a strong opposition from Sauternes, thus finally the wines were tasted not blind and were well separated in the masterclass. The difference was obvious: these wines are simply impossible to compare! Tokaji Aszús with their high and firm acidity shone brightly in our opinion, maybe the French praised the luscious richness of the palate of Sauternes wines – we cannot make justice, but one thing is certain: these two appellations are both miraculous, both great, and nothing have in common apart from sweetness and botrytis. Except for their crisis of sales. We live in a sugar free world where calorie is the evil itself, therefore sweet wines are hard to sell. Obviously sweet wine producers want to make end meets and as a consequence they make compromises – and produce dry wines as well. In Tokaj dry Furmint wines were the first pioneers, then came other single varietal or blended wines, and even méthode traditionalle sparkling wines are becoming more and more common as we wrote last week.
Dry Sauternes is the next thing
As Britt Karlsson Sweedish wine writer (living in France) wrote in her BKWine online journal: ‘We do not drink enough sweet wines. I think many of you are like us. We like sweet wines and appreciate them a lot when we drink them, but these occasions are rare. Many sweet wine regions in the world struggle and now even the most famous of them all, Sauternes, is contemplating changes to keep up with modern times. The Sauternes appellation in Bordeaux produces only sweet wines and with very strict rules regarding yields. Many growers are very small and they find it hard to reach a profitable production.’
Britt Karlsson reported that the change is just about to be introduced: ‘Some time ago a discussion started in Sauternes concerning the possibility of creating a new appellation, a Sauternes Sec, that is dry sauternes. That debate is on hold at the moment but a new one has taken off instead. A report on the future of Sauternes that was published recently proposed the introduction of a new appellation called Coteaux du Sauternais. This would be a cheaper and easy drinking sauternes with higher permissible yield (45 hectolitres per hectare instead of 25) and lower sugar content. Nothing, however, is yet decided and many people will probably want to have a saying in the matter. After all, the risk of the Sauternes brand being impoverished is at stake. Read more: vitisphere.com’
Some great dry Tokaj wines
Tokaj already has an existing regulations on dry wines, though debates rise here as well. An expert called Attila Fiáth argues that putting so much effort to make the grape Furmint famous is a mistake, because Furmint is not a registered trademark, not origin protected, it can be grown anywhere. And Hárslevelű grape is at least as exciting as Furmint, still it gets much less limelight. He claims that Dry Tokaj appellation would have made much more sense. Maybe he is right, maybe not, what we suggest is that you should try our great dry Tokaj whites and continue the discussion afterwards…