In the past there were several people who used to cultivate grapes in the region, but for a long time they weren’t successful. The soil was not the best for winemaking, the climate was not proper, and many other factors contributed to their lack of success. Then one day, a local vineyard owner decided to try cultivation of the wine grape in his vineyard, and he was successful. He used to make wine from his grapes and he even shared it with some people, and it was very popular. Then he started to make wine from his grapes with the help of some experts, and the wine was even more popular than the one he made for himself. And now this wine, this wine is known as the Hungarian wine
The story of how this wine got its name is a fascinating one. It all began in the mid-1980’s, when a Hungarian winemaker named Kornel Osy found a way to cultivate a grape that wasn’t usually grown in Hungary, the Tokaji Aszú. This grape had been grown in Hungary before, but had been abandoned because it was so difficult to grow. Once the winemaker figured out how to cultivate it, his entire harvest was used to make this wine. As a result, Tokaji Aszú became extremely popular in Hungary, and is now a staple of the country’s wine industry.
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The Tokaj area, in Hungary’s northeast corner, is home to a complex maze of wine cellars. Tokaji Asz, one of the world’s most renowned dessert wines, is made there, among the earthy smell of oak barrels.
“Nothing else on the planet can naturally focus the energy of the sun and the soil like Asz,” says István Szepsy Jr., a winemaker at the Szepsy vineyard in Tokaj. The almost 500-year history of his family-run company is inextricably linked to Tokaji Asz.
But what is it about this wine that makes it legendary?
Cultivation techniques, the microclimate of the area, and centuries-old winemaking traditions all contribute to its unique flavor.
Botrytis cinerea, often known as noble rot, is responsible for the wine’s sweetness and acidity balance. Grapes shrink and concentrate their juices as a result of the fungus. Noble rot is possible in Tokaj because to the interaction of volcanic clay soil and a particular environment, and Tokaji Asz has been produced for generations.
It’s unclear when Hungarians first began making this renowned sweet wine. However, it was first mentioned in a gentry Garay family inheritance document in 1571.
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Tokaji Asz was served in royal courts throughout Europe and was dubbed the “wine of kings, king of wines” by King Louis XIV of France at the beginning of the 18th century. It was regarded as sacred by popes, emperors, and artists alike.
A slew of disasters followed the worldwide triumph. Phylloxera destroyed nearly 90% of the vines in Tokaj in 1885. Two World Wars and a Communist government wreaked havoc on Hungary’s winemaking heritage in the twentieth century.
Tokaj, on the other hand, has seen a resurgence since the 1990s. Modern Tokaji Asz is being created by forward-thinking producers who are also promoting the wine style and area across the globe, in addition to showcasing the dry bottlings that the region can produce.
At Szepy, botrytized grapes / Photo courtesy of Szepsy Kinga
Making the Perfect Tokaji Asz: The Ins and Outs
In order to make Tokaji Asz, only six grape varietals are allowed to be used. The most common kinds used are Furmint and Hárslevel, but Sárga Muskotály, Kövérszölö, Zéta, and Kabar may also be utilized.
Each botrytized grape must be assessed and selected to create Tokaji Asz. The ideal grape, according to Szepsy, looks like “a little rotten raisin with the consistency of day-old chewing gum.”
To put it another way, in a recent study, experts from Hungary’s Eszterházy Károly University collaborated with a Szepsy winery to identify the finest Asz grapes.
Botrytization is divided into four stages, according to them. The unbroken, ripe berries are the first phase. Brownish/purple dots appear on the grapes in phase two. In the third phase, the grapes begin to shrink, and in the last step, the grapes become purple, shriveled raisins.
Furmint grapes in phase four, according to the research, are the finest grapes for Tokaji Asz.
“Because Asz wines have such a high sugar content, it is critical to get an optimum amount of acidity in the berries to provide a harmonious taste,” explains senior author Dr. Kálmán Zoltán Váczy. While phase four berries may be found as early as September, the researchers believe that the ideal circumstances are only present for a few weeks in late October and early November.
Szepsy winery’s vineyard in Hungary | Photo courtesy of Szepsy
How Is Tokaji Asz Made?
The grapes are gathered in tanks with a tap on the bottom after harvest. Some of the berries are crushed as a consequence of the increasing pressure and weight at the bottom of the tank, releasing an extremely delicious, golden liquid of free-run juice. After years of fermentation, this concentrated juice, known as Essencia, produces a rare and costly Tokaji wine with a residual sugar content of at least 450 grams per liter.
After removing any essencia juice, the botrytized asz grapes are macerated for 12 to 60 hours with a base wine or fermenting grape must made up of nonbotrytized or late-harvest fruits. After maceration, the combination is pressed, the juice fermented, and then stored for many years in oak barrels or subterranean stone caves.
Tokaj, Hungary’s unique basement system / Getty
The Difficulties of Producing Tokaji Asz
Too much rotting may be caused by heavy rains or fog. However, without enough rain, the grapes do not develop noble rot and shrivel. Even for dry wine, the grapes cannot be picked if either situation occurs. Because the whole crop is lost, Tokaji Asz is one of the world’s most uncertain and expensive wines to produce.
“You have to emotionally digest the fact that you labor for something for a year and then find out at the end of November that there is no Asz,” Szepsy adds. “You’ll be able to produce excellent Asz in three years instead of ten.”
While the technique of producing Aszu in Tokaj has mostly stayed constant over the years, new investors have been interested in the area, and they are wary of the region’s low chances of a good vintage. As a consequence, regulations are sometimes changed. Furthermore, some vineyards prioritize production above quality and heritage.
The greatest approach, according to Szepsy, is to stick to quality and tradition.
He claims that if you ask someone anywhere in the world to name their three favorite red or dry white wines, Hungary is unlikely to come up. “However, if you asked them to name their favorite sweet wines, Tokaji Asz would almost certainly be on the list.”
Did you know…that in Banyjan, a town in the Baranya region of Hungary, there is a large vineyard called Porgeráns that produces a wine rarely seen on shelves of your local wine store? The vineyard is a family-owned business run by an 83 year old winemaker named Dániel Száraz. He is the first to mention that the secret of his wines is their distinctive taste. He uses only the finest grape varieties to produce his wines, and at the peak of his career, he opened a tasting room for his customers where he could sell his wines at full retail price.. Read more about tokaji aszú and let us know what you think.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- royal tokaji
- best tokaji wine
- tokaji aszú
- tokaji eszencia
- imperial tokaji