Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I'm Tokay, You're Tokay

I'm Tokay, You're Tokay
A true geek, in order to survive, must consume a certain number of trilogies throughout his or her life.

Some return, over and over again, to the same trilogy, like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but others may seek out new trilogies and new fantastic sci-fi/fantansy stories. A few years ago, the trilogy that sustained me for several months was Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, which begins with The Golden Compass, continues with The Subtle Knife, and ends with The Amber Spyglass. It is ostensibly a children's series, but it's darker and far more existential than anything I read under the age of 12 (except for Ray Bradbury's The Veldt, which scared the bejesus out of me). While the adventure tale of an alternate universe can't quite displace Tolkien (and activates the Annoyed Vein in Foodgoat's forehead that usually comes out when talking about George Lucas), I confess, I enoyed it.

But this isn't a book blog. However, the very first chapter, "The Decanter of Tokay," did spark a food adventure. In it, we are introduced not only to the charming protagonist Lyra Belaqua, but also to the mysterious Lord Asriel, who is partial to a particular wine: Tokay.

Tokay, I learn, is a Hungarian wine. In fact, it is known as one of the world's best sweet white wines, and comes from the area around the town of Tokay (known as Tokaj in Hungarian), located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in northeastern Hungary. Warm summers combine with the humidity from the streams and rivers can create an environment where a particular mold called "noble rot" ( or botrytis cinerea, which Hungarians call aszĂș) develops. This rare condition is what enables Tokaj to produce the legendary late-harvest dessert wines, sweetened within the grape before it is picked.

Now, what I knew from before, and what was confirmed at Wine 101, is that I love sweet wines. So what with Lord Asriel and the Master going on and on about how lovely the Tokay was, even in their alternate universe, I looked for it.

Many months later, we enjoyed a bottle of Tokay with, appropriately enough, traditional Hungarian dishes stuffed cabbage (which, oddly, has no cabbage in it) and cream of spinach (which has the non-traditional, but extremely tasty, addition of feta cheese). The recipes for those excellent things will have to come another time, as Foodgoat is out band-practicing. But it all tasted quite nice together.

Having just attended a wine class, I was able to decipher the wine label a little better: The vintage was 1996, the region was Tokaji, the grape variety was Furmint, the vineyard Oremus (the site of the first Tokay to be made in 1650).

And the taste? As hoped, quite sweet and fruity. Light and dessert-y. Which is definitely my style.