Fine wine is at the heart of this book. That’s not an accident – one of my passions is the Hungarian wine Tokaji, the legendary pudding wine whose origins go back into the mists of time. Sadly I have yet to sell enough books to afford the very best, but I live in hope.

What’s unique about Tokaji is the way it’s made. Like many pudding wines, the grapes that go into Tokaji are affected with the fungus botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot” (the spores of which may be spread in the mists that surround the Tokaj hills in Autumn). This shrivels the grapes, concentrating the sugar. These rotten grapes are picked and put into baskets called puttunyos. This is like many pudding wines (There’s a great site all about it here).

But here’s the special bit – the natural weight of the grapes squeezes a tiny amount of massively viscous juice out of the basket. This is selected, allowed to ferment (it never gets beyond 2-3% alcohol – it’s too sweet), and bottled as eszencia, the absolute pinnacle of perfection in wine that sells for hundreds of pound for a half litre bottle and, vitally, will last for hundreds and hundreds of years. There are some wonderful insights at Tokaji online, including the legends of Tokaji’s life giving properties, and its heralding by Louis XV as Vinum Regum Rex Vinorum, the wine of kings and king of wines.

Which means that wine from the legendary year of the comet, 1811 (named after the appearance of Halley’s Comet), reputedly the finest year in history, is still, if you can ever find or afford a bottle, as close to a heavenly experience as it is possible to come.#

The finest vineyards in this tiny region of Hungary are Szant Tamas and Mezes Maly. Look for wines bottled by the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, fairly widely available, the Disznoko vinyeard, and Oremus.


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