A B O U T T O K A J I A S Z U
There are those who believe that Tokaj Aszú “grows” from particular grapes. Both ideas are false. Aszús are not produced every year if the conditions do not warrant it. Aszú can only be produced from grapes that have an affinity for “Botrytis Cinerea” mold. Tokaj Aszú comes only from the Tokaj-Hegyalja region, where it is a blend of Furmint and Hárslevelü (Limeleaf), occasionally from Muscat and Oremus varietals.
Aszú berries develop only during long, warm autumns. After a rainy, wet summer, the berries are attacked by Botrytis. With the advent of dry, sunny weeks, the mold spreads to the unaffected berries. The sugar content of the berries is raised. In constant, rainy weather the Botrytis does not attack, instead a normal rot occurs, destroying the berries. Hail, the second enemy of the vines can dessicate an entire vineyard.
In sunny weather humidity from the rivers Bodrog and Theiss encourages the Botrytis to spread. Thinning and softening the berry skins, evaporation then occurs, shrinking the berries until they reach the driest (concentrated), most desirable state.
Acidity, thus limited, is replaced by fine aromatic and fruity tones which are the earmark of a fine Tokaj wine.
The noble rot also encourages the development of substances important to the wines’ character. The high sugar content competes with the characteristic acidity. In years when little Aszú developes, the “Szamorodni” or high quality white wines can be cellared.
At harvest, the shriveled berries are sorted. A talented grape picker can pick 8-10 kg grapes daily. The berries are then placed in an open tub and with the help of a wine mixer crushed into a dough-like consistency, without macerating the grape seeds.
Then three, four, five or six puttonyos is placed in a Gonci barrel (ca. 136 liters) to which new wine is added. Stirring occasionally, the mass is left to soften (16-48 hours). After pressing, the juice is filled into wooden casks, leaving air room at the top of ten to twenty centimeters.
During the first year in the cask, the Aszú is transferred once again into another cask, in the second year it is transferred twice and in the third year it is transferred three times. The time of ripening is limited to a total of three to four years to conserve the fruitiness of the wine.
Bottled in a ripened state, the Aszú continues to develop even further. The higher its puttonyos, the longer it can remain in the bottle. The best Aszús can remain 200-300 years in the bottle without loss of quality but they cannot be considered for sale.
In earlier centuries, vinters prepared 1-2 puttonyos Aszús; presently the style is 3-6 puttonyos. The greater the puttonyos, the high the sugar content, producing sweeter Aszús.
The sugar-free extract is approx. 30g/l for the 3 puttonyos Aszú and for each puttonyos 5 g/l higher. Thus the 6 putt. Aszú registers 45 g/l extract. The Aszús contain a mixture of Furmint, honey, nut, yeasty bread crust, yellow melon, apricots and peach aromas with a very long aftertaste. It is not a liquer wine as many imagine and is not a fortified wine, such as Port, Marsala or Madeira wines. On the contrary, Aszú is a naturally sweet wine.
Tokaj Aszú complements goose liver (foie gras) or goose liver paté as well as blue cheeses. It is a wonderful accompaniment to many desserts and sweets (e.g. chocolate). One can also drink it as an aperitif. A glass of Aszú can brighten a dreary day! Once opened, and unlike other opened wines, the bottle of Aszú can be corked and placed in the refrigerator or a cold place, without damaging the taste of the wine. Both Aszú and Aszú-Essencia can keep for decades in the bottle. The Muscat-Aszú although of lesser fame, also finds a place in the hearts of gourmets.
Our direct neighbor in Mád, Hungary is Royal Tokaj Winery, founded by Hugh Johnson in the 1990′s. An excellent video has been produced capturing the vivid beauty of the region and the mystery of the ancient cellars: Royal Tokaj video about Mád, Hungary.