12 Facts You Can Steal: Bordeaux, Cork Taint, Transylvania, Tokay and more

cozy culinary mystery about wine and winetasting

As readers know, the Winemaker Detective series offers an immersive experience in both French countryside and winemaking, with some gentle mystery on the side. In the most recent addition to the series—Tainted Tokay—Benjamin Cooker travels abroad to Hungary while his trusty assistant Virgile stays at home. In this one, I learned a number of fun facts, as usual. Here are twelve of them.

  1. Some Bordeaux wine estates have cupolas—those are dome-like structures on the top of a building. These were once used to watch for thieves during the grape harvest.
  2. In the city of Bordeaux, the cupolas served to spot the arrival of merchant ships.
  3. The Prince of Transylvania gave King Louis XIV of France a bottle of Tokay wine from the Tokaj region in Hungary, which gave the wine the reputation of being the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings.
  4. Since 2007, only wines from the Tokaj region of Hungary can legally be called Tokay.
  5. TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is responsible for cork taint.
  6. Pastry chefs who make Vienna’s favorite Sachertorte here go through more than a million eggs every year, plus eighty tons of sugar, seventy-five tons of chocolate, thirty-seven tons of apricot jam, twenty-five tons of butter, and no less than thirty tons of flour. (Benjamin Cooker tells the full story of the Sachertorte, with princes, apprentices, rivalries, litigation, and a supreme court ruling in Tainted Tokay).
  7. In the 1980s, some Austrian winemakers laced their wines with antifreeze to make them sweeter and more full-bodied. The fallout plummeted the whole Austrian wine industry.
  8. At Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Vienna, which is dedicated to the first king of Hungary, there is a relic of the saint’s hand, which is paraded around town once a year.
  9. In the Tokaj region of Hungary, the region’s seasonal wetness and the foggy weather create prime conditions for noble rot. The infected grapes, if picked at just the right moment, produce an especially fine and concentrated sweet wine.
  10. Winds from the great plains of Russia contribute to raisinating the grapes, that is drying them up like raisins, concentrating the sugar content. In northeastern Hungary, the interplay of moisture and sunshine stoked by the winds of the Ural Mountains produce the only grape of its kind in the world, as well as the most expensive. Its name is aszú, meaning desiccated.
  11. Tokay has more residual sugar than any other wine. The great Yquem vintages have 100 to 150 grams per liter, while the sweetest Tokaji—the eszencia—has more than 450 grams per liter. Some exceptional vintages can have as much as 900 grams per liter.
  12. Tokaj has a network of cellars carved out of solid rock between the years 1400 and 1600, where the wine ages.