Tokaj Aszú is one of the most special and unique Hungarian wines, which definitely belongs to the greatest sweet wines of the world.
Thanks to the special microclimate of Tokaj the onset of Botrytis cinerea or noble rot responsible for the shrivelled „aszú” berries is an almost certain occurrence each year. This is why the proximity of two rivers, Tisza and Bodrog is so important, the morning fog ascending from the rivers followed by dry sunny days create ideal conditions for the production of aszú berries. When this fungus infects healthy and ripe berries it sets off the process of aszú production.
Botrytis punctures the grape skins thereby assisting the evaporation of liquid matter and by doing so increasing the concentration of sugar, acidity and flavour compounds.
Furmint is the most important of the local varieties and its characteristic acidity pays dividends in this process but the other varieties are not far behind in terms of producing aszú berries.
However this is not a uniform process so the shrivelled berries have to be picked one by one over a prolonged period. This is an extremely labour-intensive process; even experienced pickers can gather only 6-7 kilograms a day. Depending on the vintage the same vine might have to be revisited 4-5 times in one harvest period as only the properly shrivelled berries can be picked.
The enormous manual work demands of the harvest should well justify the higher price of aszús in itself; you won’t find a similar process in any other sweet wine producing region in the world.
Once the liquid matter has evaporated the aszú berries are macerated in the fermenting juice or base wine of the same vintage for 24-48 hours with regular stirring for proper extraction. With the maceration completed the aszú paste is removed, pressed and the resulting must is fermented to arrive at Tokaj Aszú. A Tokaj Aszú goes through 18 months of barrel ageing followed by 12 months of bottle ageing before its ready to be sold.
The somewhat perplexing number of puttonys is actually an indication of the sweetness and concentration of an Aszú. Traditionally this number was determined by the number of puttonys (baskets) holding about 25 kilograms of aszú berries added to one Gönci barrel (136 l) of wine. The new regulations in effect since 2013 prescribe a post-fermentation residual sugar content of at least 120 gramm/liter which is equal to 5 puttonys in the traditional system and it is no longer mandatory to indicate the number of puttonys on labels.
As we wwrote, 2017 marks the 15th anniversary of UNESCO awarding the Tokaj wine region with a World Heritage membership, in the category of cultural regions.
Source: Wineglass Communication