The area where Tokaji wine is traditionally grown is a small plateau, 457 m
(1500 ft) above sea level, near the Carpathian Mountains. The soil is of
volcanic origin, with high concentrations of iron and lime. The location of the
region has a unique climate, beneficial to this particular viniculture, due to
the protection of the nearby mountains. Winters are bitterly cold and windy;
spring tends to be cool and dry, and summers are noticeably hot. Usually, autumn
brings rain early on, followed by an extended Indian summer, allowing a very
long ripening period.
Furmint accounts for 60% of the area and is by
far the most important grape in the production of
Hungarian wines. The Furmint grapes begin maturation with thick skins,
but as they ripen the skins become thinner, and transparent. This allows the sun
to penetrate the grape and evaporate much of the liquid inside, producing a
higher concentration of sugar. Other types of grapes mature to the point of
bursting, however, unlike most other grapes, Furmint will grow a second skin
which seals it from rot. This also has the effect of concentrating the grape's
natural sugars. The grapes are left on the vine long enough to develop the
"noble rot" (Botrytis cinerea) mold. Grapes than are harvested, sometimes as
late as December (and in the case of true Eszencia
(one of the world's sweetest wines), occasionally into January).
variety of Tokaji wine is called Aszú.
It is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem.
It is the sweet, topaz-colored wine that is known throughout the
English-speaking world as Tokay.
The original meaning of the Hungarian word aszú was "dried", but the term
came to be associated with the type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. "nobly"
rotten) grapes. The process of making Aszú wine is as follows.
Aszú berries are individually picked, then collected in huge vats and trampled
into the consistency of paste (known as aszú dough).
Must (freshly pressed grape juice that
contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruitis)
is poured on the aszú dough and left for 24–48 hours, stirred occasionally.
The wine is racked off into wooden casks or vats where fermentation is completed
and the aszú wine is to mature. The casks are stored in a cool environment, and
are not tightly closed, so a slow fermentation process continues in the cask,
usually for several years.
Unlike most other
wines, alcohol content of aszú typically runs higher than 14%. Annual production
of aszú is less than one percent of the region's total output.
The sweetest category
of Aszú is called
Eszencia. Also called nectar, this is often described as one of the most
exclusive wines in the world, although technically it cannot even be called a
wine because its enormous concentration of sugar means that its alcohol level
never rises above 5-6 degrees. Eszencia is the juice of aszú berries which runs
off naturally from the vats in which they are collected during harvesting. The
sugar concentration of eszencia is typically between 500 g and 700 g per litre,
although the year 2000 vintage produced eszencia exceeding 900 g per litre.
Left: A bottle of
Eszencia is traditionally added to aszú wines, but
may be allowed to ferment (a process that takes at least 4 years to
complete) and then bottled pure. The resulting wine has a concentration
and intensity of flavour that is unequalled, but is so sweet that it can
only be drunk in small quantities. Storage of Eszencia is facilitated by
the fact that, unlike virtually all other wines, it maintains its
quality and drinkability for 200 years or more.