Have you ever thought of the fragrance and taste of the festive season? Sweet spices, cinnamon, vanilla, dried fruits. Impressions just if we had spoken about the Aszú wine of Tokaj. Tokaji Aszú wine is an excellent choice on all festive occasions, including Christmas. But are we familiar with the uniqueness of this wine type at all?
A special microclimate in Tokaj wine region facilitates growing aszú berries, which is unique and not found in any other wine regions; indeed, the initiator is actually a special fungus, Botrytis cinerea. The vicinity of the two rivers, Bodrog and Tisza has a crucial role in the process, the morning haze caused by the large water table, as well as the dry weather daytime both support formation of aszú berries. The noble rot attacks healthy and ripen berries and initiates botrytisation process. Botrytis makes the skin of the berries thinner, thus the moisture content of the berry can evaporate, so sugar, acids and aromas become more and more concentrated inside. Furmint is the most important local grape variety with its tremendous acid condition yields, but all the other grape varieties of the wine region are also able to be botrytised well.
Since botrytisation within the bunches is uneven, therefore, aszú berries should be picked several times throughout the whole harvesting season. This process demands enormous and careful manual labour, so that even an experienced picker cannot collect more than 6-7 kg aszú berries a day. Depending on the vintage, it may take several harvesting rounds in the same plot. Only the well-botrytised berries should be collected, so pickers need to return even 4-5 times back to a single plant during the harvesting season. Even this particular harvesting method can explain the higher prices of these wines, which requires enormous amount of manual labour, and it is unique all over the wine regions making sweet wines in the world.
After the moisture content of the berries has been evaporated, aszú berries are soaked either in wine or in a fermenting must of the same vintage for 1-2 days. Regular stirring helps to disrupt the berries and release their inner content. At the end of soaking, the generated material known as “aszú dough” is collected, then it gets pressed, and the extracted must is fermented further into Tokaji Aszú wine. Tokaji Aszú wines should be matured at least 18 months in barrels followed by 12 months in bottles before being commercialised.
The number of “puttony” (basket) is the “mystic” indicator showing the sweetness, i.e. the concentration of the Tokaji Aszú wine. This name originates in the traditional making process of Tokaji Aszú wine. It refers to the number of 25 kg-baskets full of aszú berries to be added to the wine or must in each barrel of 136 l (known as “gönci” barrel in the region) in order to get fermented together. The regulation of the wine region in force has been changed since the vintage in 2013: it is not compulsory to indicate the number of “puttony” on the label anymore, and the amount of residual sugar should be measured at least 120 g/litre after fermentation – which is equivalent to a Tokaj Aszú wine of 5 “puttony” according to the former regulation.
Ageing and storage potential of these wines is an obvious and frequent question. Under adequate conditions – and it is by far not the top of the cupboard – Tokaji Aszú wines can provide a delightful experience for decades. Their high sugar and acid content guarantee long life, and they are still maturing even in the bottle. It is a great experience to taste a well-stored, 20-year old Tokaji Aszú wine: aromas has been continuously changing during the storage period, it is getting richer and deeper and even new layers appear in the taste and fragrance, so it is no wonder that even serious wine collectors are fond of this wine type.
Photo: Furmint Photo