The Sweet Sensation of Hungary's Tokaj

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LIQUID GOLD: The wines at Disznókó

A growing interest in eastern European gastronomic culture, and the premium attached to anything produced by artisanal methods, have been very good news for Tokaj (or Tokay) — the enormously sweet, complex wine produced only in Hungary's northeastern Tokaji region. Made from individually picked grapes that have shriveled and botrytized — a oenological term for the "noble rot" mold infection that intensely concentrates the fruit's sugars — Tokaj suffered from cost-cutting production methods during Hungary's communist era, but fresh investment (some of it foreign) is rectifying the situation. (See 10 things to do in Moscow.)

Tokaji, sheltered by the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, has a singularly balmy microclimate. Long, warm autumns combined with the humidity of the Bodrog and Tisza Rivers favor the development of noble rot — much as in Sauternes. Unsurprisingly, the French have a presence in the region. AXA Millésimes — the winemaking subsidiary of the AXA insurance company — is behind Disznókó, the largest and arguably the most forward-looking single-estate Tokaj producer. The label is pioneering a fresher, crisper, more elegantly structured and less oxidized style of Tokaj that ages better in the bottle. Aymeric de Gironde, international sales director of Disznókó, is confident that Tokaj has the potential to double its sales over the next decade. (See 10 things to do in Rome.)

If you're new to Tokaj, assessing the variety's food-matching potential will provide plenty of enjoyment. Its tropical-fruit, floral and walnut notes make it an excellent match for Asian cuisines, but go equally well with game and of course strong cheeses. And once you're smitten by Tokaj, the next experience to hanker after is Eszencia — a sort of super-Tokaj and the color of burnished gold. Because it is produced from naturally running juice (and not pressed juice) it is only available in minute quantities. It also ferments very slowly, due to an exceptionally high concentration of sugars. Presently very much a connoisseur's choice, Eszencia offers a taste of just how sweet life can be.

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