The Vintage grape for grape: king of wines, wine of kings Tokaji Aszú

A path between wine and legend, where, among the mountain valleys, you can behold unknown iron gates and wooden doors leading to the depths of the earth, as if they were the inlets accompanying us in hell .. or in heaven!

We will find out they are submerged tunnels and mazes that preserve a jewel of the time called Tokaji. Caves carved into the tuff, characterized by compact mold stalactites, incredibly balancing humidity and temperature so that to determine a perfect climate. A “out of place” wine featuring value, richness and extraordinary quality. Its noble presence is contrasting with the surrounding everyday life, made of wicker baskets filled with milk, onions and bread, in the hands of those humble people living near the rivers among the misty clouds in the land of Tokaji, as if they  were not aware of that kind of gold they own.

It is a consortium of the 1000: the laborers involved in harvest during the 10 days period at their disposal. They will have to collect berry by berry those sapless and  ‘wrinkled’ grapes in order to get an extraordinary enological work. Here is where the inspiration for the evening dedicated to Tokaji Aszú tasting, held  by the representative of Mantua Matteo Battisti, comes from. He led the audience through the centuries of praise and wars characterized by prestigious discoveries. Tokaji Aszú is a symbol of the white wines of Hungary, it represents only 4-5% of all viticulture, a real small niche of 5500 hectares of life and tradition. In the year 1630 the story tells how the noble Tokaji Aszú, made with botrytized  grapes, was produced methodically and not by chance  by the chaplain Szepsy Lacko Máté. Due to a turkish attack, the pastor was forced to postpone the harvest. The harvest was then done when the grapes already showed obvious and worrying signs of the mold effects. He decided however to try to make a production, which was then the subject of noble gifts and presents, recognizing him as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum,” that is, ‘king of wines, wine of kings’.

In 1655 the collection of dried and botrytized grapes of Aszú was regulated . Vineyards classification instead takes place in 1730, and three categories are recognized depending on the soil type, sun exposure and the potential growth of mold. In 1757 a decree established a closed Tokaj production area.  1886 was the year of phylloxera which led to the destruction of 90% of the vines. Hungary underwent a production stop which lasted over 100 years, due to phylloxera, as well as due to the communism development. The result was a dramatic economic collapse and isolation from the world of Tokaji. But it was only a temporary total eclipse during the communist era. In the 90’s, after the collapse of the regime, the Hungarian vineyards began to flourish again thanks to foreign investments. Father of the new revival of Tokaji Aszù was Istvan Szepsy forerunner of non botrytized dry vinification. Six indigenous varieties are approved for production: Furmint (60/70%) – Hárslevelü (20/30%) – Lunel or Sárgamuskotály Muscat (5/10%) – Zeta (Furmint and Bouvier cross) – Kövérszölö – Kabar (Hárslevelü and Bouvuer cross).

Tokaji wines are produced in the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region in a triangle located northeast of Budapest, near Sárospatak and Sátoraljaújhely. Zemplén mountains are of volcanic origin. Autumn mists rise from the rivers, in this way promoting the growth of Botrytis. The presence of loss is abundant and gives minerality and acidity to the wine. Vine training systems  are four-arm tree and the classic cordon. The harvest takes place in mid-September with the first collection of whole and healthy grapes, for the construction of the Tokaji Aszú base wine. Then there is the most delicate phase: the great wait for the mold attack, then the grape by grape harvest (grape for grape) will follow. Only the clusters partially attacked by the mold will stay on the vine and they will be collected and intended for the  production of Tokaji Szamorodni.

The dry or semi-dry wine is made from healthy grapes, with an indication of the grape, and it will create a powerful base for wine Tokaji Aszú. Tokaji Szamorodni  stays at an intermediate level; it is obtained from blend of botrytized  and non- botrytized bunches which are de-stemmed, pressed and fermented all together, to obtain a dry (Száraz) or sweet (Edes) wine, according to the sugar percentage. The Furmint  is the main grape in the area, the most widely used, it gives structure to the wine, it is characterized by a thin but strong skin, it ripens late (helping the noble rot attack) and it is rich in acidity, freshness and minerality. The’Hárslevelü, on the other hand, is stronger against the mold attack and features elegant floral notes. The Sárgamuskotály (Muscat Lunel) is rich in aroma. The Zeta instead allows an early harvest.

The production of the famous Tokaji Aszú is laborious. At the end of harvest the Aszú grapes, after a light pressing, remain immersed in cool must or in completely or partially fermented wine base, in the proportion of 1 kg per liter, in  order to make the aszú dough. The sweetness level is determined according to the traditional method, that is to say by the number of 20 litres panniers (puttonyos) of added aszú dough to each Gönci ( 136 liters barrel) of base wine. Today the wines are fermented in barrels of various sizes, or in stainless steel tanks. Three puttonyos are the equivalent of a German Auslese (at least 60g / l), while 4 or 5 puttonyos correspond to the same concentration as a Beerenauslese. Since 2013, the wine with 3: and 4 puttonyos are no longer produced.

Eszencia:

Pure liquid gold. The Eszencia is the juice of the Aszú berries, obtained by physical crushing of the grape berries into the botrytised grapes tun . 0.2 liters of Eszencia are obtained from 25 kg of grapes. Its alcohol content is the lowest of any other wine, due to the high concentration of sugars determining  only 2-3% alcohol. The sugar concentration is between 700-800g / l. It is used to fortify the Aszú wines, but it can also be left to ferment with a slow process, in large glass ampoules, for at least 4 years before being ready for bottling. This essence is silky, oily and penetrating, it has no limits in ageing. It features unparalleled intensity of scents and aromas and thanks to its extreme sweetness it can be enjoyed with a spoon. Praise and appreciation to Disznoko and Oremus wineries  for the great emotions that have been able to give us together with humility and style during the visit and for the incredible culture that we have been introduced to.

Tasting:

  • Dry Furmint 2015 – Disznoko

100%Furmint, dry white wine, classic golden color, with aromas of young citrus fruit, great acidity. A non-back boned structure returning alcoholic warmth. 13.5% alc / vol.

  • Edes Szamorodni 2012 – Disznoko

100% Furmint , 120 g / l residual sugar, intense straw-color  with bright golden shades. The nose hints of bright yellow fruit, pungent spicy and peppery notes. Citrine aromas, peach, dried fruit and saffron. In the mouth  a beautiful freshness and a great sweetness immediately raise, then broken by the sour notes of citrus. 13% alc / vol.

  • Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos’ 2010 – Oremus

Golden color. The nose polite overtones of citrus, spice, saffron and floral notes. In the mouth a beautiful sweet entrance, followed by citrine notes that stimulate the drink. The acidity gives clean sensations in the mouth and brings pleasant hints of citrus fruits, grapefruit, lemon, a very persistent wine. 12% alc / vol.

  • Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos’ 2009 – Oremus

Stronger amber colour that the 3 puttonyos vintage 2010. Blossom honey notes to the nose, very fine and gentle, non-invasive, notes of dried fruit and saffron. Wet stone shades and mineral notes follow. A very interesting wine with a good balance. In the mouth the 5 puttonyos are remarkably present, great sweetness but also great acidity at the same time and long finish. A wine that alone gives great emotions. 11.5% alc / vol.

  • Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos’ 1st cru mono-vine 2005 – Disznoko

100% Furmint. Amber color. To the nose pastry candied fruit notes with hints of spice, vanilla and raisins. Great persistence and elegance. High sweetness levels backed by an remarkable acidity. A great wine. 12% alc / vol.

  • Tokaji Aszú Eszencia 1993 – Disznoko

Pure amber color. Oily, thick as honey. At the nose dried figs, candied dates, chestnut honey notes, china and tamarind. Hints of citrus juniper berries. The velvety sweetness fills the mouth, but its acidity supports it with great balance. 11% alc / vol.

  • Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos’ 1972 – Oremus

Born in the Communist era, it is characterized by a slight fortification. Dark amber color, its edge is still bright yellow; caramel notes to the nose, spices and toasting reminding of pepper, not intrusive nor penetrating. Fruit, marmalade and cooked plum aromas in the mouth. The note of coffee and licorice comes back at the end. 12% alc / vol.

Traduzione a cura di Giuseppina Grazioli.

46 thoughts on “The Vintage grape for grape: king of wines, wine of kings Tokaji Aszú”

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