Last June, I wrote about the effort by Gerry Oster and his sister Beverly Fox, children of Shoah survivor Suzy Oster née Zimmermann, to obtain formal recognition from the Royal Tokaji Wine Co. of the Zimmermann family’s contribution to Hungary’s most famous wine region. Happily, the family’s efforts have now born fruit.
Known as “the king of wines and the wine of kings,” Tokaji, pronounced “toe-koy,” is produced exclusively in the Tokaji-Hegvalja region of Hungary primarily from Furmint grapes. There are six grape varieties officially approved for Tokaji wine production, but Furmint accounts for about 60 percent of all plantings, with Hárslevelű taking another 30 percent of the vineyard allocation; the other four varieties make up the remainder.
Following the end of the Cold War, with the return of privatization and the active encouragement of new investment, noted British wine writer Hugh Johnson inspired a consortium of investors and with them co-founded the Royal Tokaji Wine Co. in Hungary in 1990. The company bought up prime vineyards and set up its base of operations all in the commune of Mád, in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County in northeastern Hungary.
Today it is one of Hungary’s most significant wineries.
As it happens Royal Tokaji’s acquisitions included the home, cellars and many of the vineyards that had been owned by the Zimmermann family for generations until the Nazi devastation brought Jewish life there to an abrupt and ugly end, followed by the Communist expropriation and nationalization. Indeed, the Zimmerman family home is now the central office of the wine company.
“Having discovered this,” noted Oster and Fox, “we approached Royal Tokaji about one year ago and asked them to acknowledge, both on their website and with a plaque on the building, this important part of the history of the vineyards and winery.”
As Oster and Fox informed me, “the company finally agreed to publicly acknowledge the Zimmermann family, both by revising historical material on their website … and by placing commemorative plaques on two of their buildings.” There will be a ceremony on June 24.
Sadly, there has not been a kosher Tokaji imported to the United States for some time now. To toast all this, I instead raise a glass of my favorite botrytis dessert wine to honor the role of the Zimmermans and other Jewish families in the Tokaji wine business.
The kosher version of Château Guiraud Sauternes 2001($150) is creamy, honeyed and full-bodied with butterscotch, apples and vanilla aromas that mingle within lush layers of apricots, peaches, baking spices and orange citrus. The intense sweetness, concentrated flavors and ideal balance last throughout the extended finish, easily making this one of the world’s finest kosher dessert wines.
Spirits-wise, I am not aware of any current, worthwhile, kosher Hungarian hooch, so I thought I’d settle in with a bracing shot of Slivovitz. Here are two lovely and refined American-made options I enjoy:
Clear Creek Distillery Slivovitz Blue Plum Brandy (certified kosher for Passover by Oregon Kosher; 40 percent abv; $30; 375ml bottle): Made from Oregon-grown Italian blue plums, this smooth, slightly off-dry, complex brandy offers notes of fresh, sweet, ripe plums and a little distinct pepperiness, with an absorbing, warm finish.
Mosby Kosher Plum Brandy Slivovitz (certified kosher for Passover by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Los Angeles; 43.3 percent abv; $55): With heady aromas of pure plum, more subtle notes of vanilla pudding, marzipan and overripe melon, plus a little pepperiness to tickle the palate, this Slivovitz is fruity, floral, medium-to-full bodied and surprisingly complex. The finish is a tad hot, but satisfyingly so. L’chaim!