Holiday Meals: Part III
They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the “kids jingle-belling,” and all the rest. And if you, like many, are splurging on gifts and decorations, along with the foods and wine that you’re planning to serve for a big, festive Christmas dinner, then you probably agree.
I’m a little ashamed to say it, but to be totally honest, I’ve never had a Christmas dinner. Being Jewish, the stereotypical Chinese restaurant on Christmas has been the norm growing up, and I even needed to google “traditional Christmas dinner” to write this blog. But the thing I discovered is that there is no one traditional Christmas dinner at all, but rather a multitude of variations depending on country, region, ethnicity, and family traditions. So choosing one wine to pair with either your roasted turkey, baked ham, duck, roast beef, seven fishes, baked pasta, pigs in a blanket, etc., is impossible. However, finding a wine to pair with the array of snacks, appetizers, and desserts that will surely be present, regardless of wherever you come from or wherever you are now, was a challenge I could tackle, and the Lenkey Pincészet Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos is just the wine splurge of the season that will put cheer in your heart and on your palate.
So what is Tokaji Aszú you ask? Well, it's complicated, but I’ll try to sum it up quickly.
Produced in the far northeast of Hungary, the Tokaj region is most famous for its complex sweet wines, though dry wines are produced as well. The majority of wines come from the local grape Furmint, though Hárslevelű, and sometimes Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, make their way in as well. The aszú berries are ones affected by botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot, in which a beneficial mold pokes their filaments into the skins of the berries, causing the grapes to lose moisture and shrivel, concentrating sugars that can attribute to honeyed and marmalade aromas of the resulting wine. The berries must be individually picked by hand, as not all of the grapes will be affected by this advantageous mold, and sometimes three or four rounds of harvestings must be taken, often into November.
A puttony is a roughly 27 liter wooden tub, or hod, that was used to harvest the aszú berries. Now, the number of puttonyos is a representation of the amount of these hyper-sweet berries that will be added to a fermenting or fermented base wine of the same vintage to macerate before a gentle pressing, upping the residual sugar content of the final wine and adding to the complex aromatics. The number of puttonyos is still written on the label to represent the level of sweetness, between 3-6 puttonyos. A 3 Puttonyos wine must have a minimum residual sugar level of 60 g/l, 4 puttonyos a minimum of 90 g/l, 5 puttonyos - 120 g/l, and 6 puttonyos - 150 g/l. Beyond that, Eszencia is the hyper-sweet, syrupy wine from free run aszú must that often cannot ferment above 5% abv, leaving an exorbitant level of residual sugar - not for those with diabetes. A minimum of two years in barrel and one in bottle are necessary before a Tokaji Aszú release, but aging can often be much longer.
The 2000 Lenkey Pincészet 6 Puttonyos is 100% Furmint, aged 32 months in barrel and two and a half years in bottle before hitting the market. Deep amber in color, this layered and complex wine is filled with notes of honey and beeswax, spice, marmalade, orange zest, and toasted almonds. The palate, though sweet, isn’t cloying at all, but rather balanced in its intensity of aromas and acidity. Paired with holiday favorites from stilton and roquefort, to foie gras, Christmas cakes with dried fruit and nuts, crème brûlée, pineapple upside down cake, almond tarts, and more, the wine shines as nuances become highlighted with each variation in pairing you take.
Regardless of the holidays you do or don’t celebrate this season, wine pairings like this one, when shared with friends or family, do make this the most wonderful time of the year - even if there won’t be “much mistletoeing” due to health concerns. Cheers!