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Every Bottle Tells A Story

by Arthur Tan, BBA 1992

A Poet and His Wine

Anyone who has had more than a few glasses will readily attest the wine and its magical alcohol bring a person’s consciousness to a different plane. They lose inhibition, evokes mostly happy emotions and may even help in inspiring the mind and soul with poems and ideas. Feelings and thoughts that do not occur when you are dead sober in the day.

Figure 1: Wineponder.com

Egri Bikavér : A Story of Heroism Against Huge Odds

Figure 2: Wineponder.com

The words “Egri Bikavér” meant “Bull’s Blood of Eger”. Eger was a city in Hungary. In 1552, half of Europe was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire led by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Eger was strategically important as it was the gateway to gold and silver mines. It was also an important alternate route for the Ottomans to march Westwards to dominate Europe. With 35,000 to 40,000 men, the Ottoman army laid siege to Eger. The city was guarded by a Hungarian Captain named István Dobó, who commanded 2,000 soldiers, peasants and women. After being in a blockade for a few months, they ran low on wine supplies. Knowing that the consumption of wine was important to the fighting spirit and morale of the Hungarians, he ordered the local populace to use local grapes to make wines. What turned out was a very dark red wine that made the clothes and beards look so black when consumed in large quantities. So terrifying the Hungarians appeared to be that the Ottoman scouts and spies reported in panic and dismay to their camps that these barbaric Hungarians were drinking the bull's blood and worshipping the devil. With 2,000 against 40,000, the Ottoman army ran away. Why did the Ottomans think of Hungarians as barbarians? You would have to go back in history and find out that Hungary was founded in the 9th Century AD by Mongol descendants of Attila the Hun. At that time, Árpád united 7 tribes and travelled Eastwards till they reached Hungary and settled down there. Today, Bull's Blood wine can be found all over the world. Even in Singapore!

Figure 3: Wine Tatler

Tokaji Aszú: A Wine Born Out Of War

We are back to the war waged by the Ottomans 500 years ago. In the Northeast of Hungary, there was a region called Tokaj. Because of the constant fighting, the rural folks fled for their lives, and only when the war abated a bit, did they return to the villages and vineyards. It was near Christmas, and way past the normal harvesting time in August and September. The grapes had shrivelled and botrytized. But the people decided to harvest them anyway and made them into wines. And out came a sweet glorious white wine that was so delicious and complex that through the centuries, the Tokaji Aszú wines have been called “Wine Of Kings, King Of Wines”.


Figure 4: tastehungary.com

Figure 5: tastehungary.com

Many writers and composers like Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Goethe, Johanne Strauss II, etc., were big fans of this wine. European royals like King Louis XIV of France, Gustav III of Sweden, Napolean III of France, Peter The Great of Russia. The list went on. In the micro climatic condition in Tokaj, a unique mold grew on the grapes, which enabled them to botrytize into raisins with lots of residual sugar, leaving the essence and complexity within them. Even within the cellars, these molds helped the wines to age beautifully. Look at the photo of the cellar above. You will see the walls covered by this mold. Usually, very sweet wines would be cloying, and most people would not be able to handle more than a glass. But not a Tokaji Aszú wine as the Tokaji region had numerous volcanoes 10 million years ago, and hence the soils were full of volcanic minerals. These minerals were absorbed into the shrivelled grapes, which had high acidity. They balanced out the sweetness and yet retained all the complex flavours of honey, apricots, peaches, plums, figs, brown sugar, and flower essence. 

In the past, the weight of the Tokaji Aszú wine was the equivalent of gold, and only the privileged had access to such exquisite wines. Fortunately, today we would be able to afford one or imagined ourselves as royalty from the past. A 500 ml bottle in Singapore would only set you back by $70 and upwards, and if appropriately kept in a wine chiller, the bottle can be cellared for more than 20 years. This wine is one of my favourites. I suggest that the wine be cooled to about 9 degrees Celsius before drinking and paired with rich cheeses like blue cheese, morbier cheese, meats like char siew (Cantonese styled grilled pork), barbecued sweetmeats, foie gras or sweet desserts. Enjoy!


Credits:

Figure 1: Wineponder.com

Figure 2: Wineponder.com

Figure 4: tastehungary.com

Figure 5: tastehungary.com

Copyright Wine Tatler LLP 2021. All Rights Reserved

Figure 6: Wine Tatler






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