Is it true that Tokaji dessert wine doesn't change with age?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Do Tokaj wines change when aged in bottles? I was at a Tokaj vineyard in Slovakia recently and was told that because they are allowed to oxidize in barrels they don’t. But are all Tokaj wines allowed to oxidize in barrels? And if they are, would a 1999 Tokaj taste the same today as it could have, say, seven years ago?

—Michael C., London

Dear Michael,

The dessert wine Tokaji, or “wine of Tokaj,” has a reputation for lasting a long time. (Strictly speaking, the term “Tokaji” refers to wines from Hungary; the similar wines from Slovakia are now called “Tokajský.”) You’re right that traditionally Tokaji is aged in barrels, and as the wine evaporates, the barrels are not refilled (or “topped off” in wine-speak), letting them oxidize and develop those wonderful nutty flavors. These days, winemakers are more likely to top off and control oxidation, but between the trace oxidation and high sugar content, these wines age very slowly.

Still, after 20 or so years, I expect you’d notice a bottle of Tokaji taking on more mature notes—perhaps the orange peel notes turn to marmalade or the color gets darker. As with all wines, storing your Tokaji in optimal conditions is best.

—Dr. Vinny

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