Category Archives: Aszú

Prestige Reserve Club Awards

Prestige Reserve Club is an organisation devoted to supporting Hungarian wine and promoting its image. It not only confers awards to premium wines which represent outstanding quality on a semi-annual basis, but also supports other endeavours in the Hungarian wine world, such as wine events, restaurants, wine hotels, marketing initiatives and winemakers, giving awards in these areas. However, if there is a year where there is no deserving candidate for the award, then it will not be awarded.

prestige3The award for wine marketing for 2016, which was first won by Kreinbacher for its introduction of sparkling wine, was scooped up this year by Balatoni Kör (Balaton Circle) and accepted by Bence Laposa. The Balatoni Kör was a small group of businesses which grew into a regional project with community products, a regional brand with its own design, labels and unique, homogenous image. Initially conceived by Bence Laposa, Gábor Kardos and Tamás Kovacs, Balaton Bor now consists of a complete quality classification for wines made from Olaszrizling from around the lake. The long-term plan is to offer an alternative to the state quality system. 21 wineries qualified to make Balaton Bor this year. Indeed, it is already seen as a brand, guaranteeing the quality of basic wine. The example was given of a consumer simply asking for a glass of Olaszrizling as Balaton Bor in a restaurant without even mentioning the winery or variety, thus already showing respect for the brand.

The Wine Event award was picked up by Borjour Magnum. Borjour, a youthful prestige-5organisation, brainchild of Sebestyen Nagy, Gábor Toth and Sara Megyeri, which just grew and grew. The event, held each February, now attracts around 2000 visitors. Size matters here, as they also organise smaller events throughout they year entitled mini, classic and extra. They have been operating now for ten years to positive feedback from consumers and wineries, but to date had won no awards, so were delighted to have their success recognised by this award, say Gábor Toth, who picked up the prize.

prestige-7Bock Hermitage in Villány won the Wine Hotel award. This hotel, winery and restaurant offers its guests affordable, good quality rooms and meals in a pleasant, intimate atmosphere. The hotel is also active with events, e.g. the Villány Franc conference held in November.

The Wine Restaurant award was won by the St Andrea Wine and Gourmet Bar in Budapest. This is an award for a restaurant which concentrates not only on the food, but also on what wines are on offer, whether the staff are knowledgeable about wine and combines this with fine dining. St Andrea Wine and Gourmet Bar is personal and thoughtful dining experience prestige6offering ‘Hungarian flavours open to the world’. It is, of course, connected to the Eger St Andrea Winery.

The Hedonist award went to Péter Fritt of Best of Budapest. Presumably related to how much me has had to consume, in both food and wine, to assess restaurants over the last 22 years. His award was a glass so big that it has capacity for three bottles of wine!

prestige2The Winery award went to Tokaj’s Disznókő. This is a clear and objective assessment of the quality of the winery and its wine; it is foreign-owned, so in this case, there can be no subjective association with a ‘figurehead personality’. Many winemakers have worked here, so there is no tight association with one particular winemaker; indeed teamwork is extremely important at Disznókő. There were many who believed that they would never be successful with such a name – Disznókő means ‘pig stone’ in Hungarian. However, they have been proved wrong, even taking risks such as selling an Aszú which could not be sold as an Aszú as is it didn’t meet the requirements, so confident were they in the quality of their wines. For them, Aszú is king, as this is why Tokaj has been famous for many centuries.

Following the award ceremony, those present were able to sample the wines that had won awards in 2016. Click here for a the lists of those winning Medaillon d’Or and Vinum Bonum awards

Aszú, a drop of golden nectar for the festive season

2016-06-02-18-54-34Advent, and Christmas, will soon be upon us and the question is what sweet tipple you should imbibe along with your mince pies or festive biscuits. Although not usually one to drink much sweet wine, I have learned to appreciate the delights that aged port, tawny or ruby, have to offer. Of course, in the UK, you would be tempted to go with a port, or maybe madeira, a drop of Sauternes or an unctuous sweet sherry; however, I currently reside in Hungary and there is something just as delicious and precious on offer, indeed many would claim far more precious. Tokaji Aszú, dubbed the Wine of Kings and the King of Wines.

What makes Aszú so special? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is perhaps one of the mostbotrytised-grapes labour-intensive wines in the world and it’s made from rotten grapes to boot. I can see the uninitiated beginning to pull a face right now. However, this isn’t just any kind of rot, it’s ‘noble rot’, a special type of rot called ‘botrytis cinerea’, which attacks the grapes, thinning the skins, sucking out the moisture and concentrating the sugars and flavours in the grape whilst not breaking the skins. The grapes, hence their must and the ensuing wine, also gain additional flavours from this botrytisation process. Aszú is also generally made principally with the Furmint variety, which is known for its high acidity, thus allowing a wonderful balance between all that unctuous sweetness and some fresh, zippy acidity.

The Tokaj region, where Aszú is produced, lies in the northeastern part of Hungary, sandwiched between and around the rivers Bodrog and Tisza, which give rise to morning mists in the autumn. Why is this important? Well, in order to develop, botrytis needs warm, damp conditions, and the microclimate in this area is just perfect for this. The morning mists are burned off by warm sunshine – just right for botrytis to develop and spread their fine fungal threads over the bunches of grapes.

_zmp0343-misolataTokaji Aszú has been made for centuries in the region. The story goes that the region was under attack by the Turks and the grapes were therefore left out on the vines long past the normal time as nobody set foot in the vineyards to do any work at this time. After the danger had passed, the large quantity of ‘rotten’ grapes were then used to make a late harvest sweet wine, the descendent of which we now know as Aszú. Legend has it that this wine was produced by the Calvinist preacher László Maté Szepsi, forebear of the prominent Szepsy family still residing and making wines in the region.

Firstly, the botrytised grapes, outwardly reminiscent of raisins, are picked individually from each bunch at harvest time. Women work through the vineyard in several tries, selecting and picking only these ‘rotten’ grapes; this is an extremely labour-intensive and costly process. Then, the grapes are placed in vats, where they are stored before perhaps being trodden into the consistency of a paste known as ‘aszú dough’ or simply processed. During this time, any extremely concentrated and sticky must that drips out of these perforated vats under the weight of the berries themselves will be bottled as ‘escenzia’, an even sweeter, and somewhat expensive treat, generally enjoyed by the spoon rather than by the glass!

This aszú dough or berries are then macerated in must, frementing must or wine from the same vintage_zmp0362 before being pressed and the resulting extremely sweet must transferred to oak barrels or vats where it will ferment slowly in a cool environment, perhaps for as long as several years; it will spend at least 18 months in Gönczi barrels before it is released for us to delight in.  You can find a visual representation of this process on WineSofa – Aszú-making infoposter.

So, what does this delicious, unctuous wine taste like?

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of the Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013, which I believe may be the one awarded gold and an incredible 97 points in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, so I’d like to share my experience of that here with you.

Grand Tokaji Aszú 2013

grand_tokaj_tokaji_aszu_2013(Alcohol content 9.5%, Sugar content 170.8 g/l)

The wine was made with 100% procured aszú berries. It was an excellent vintage so the berries were high quality and completely infested with botrytis. The aszú berries were mainly Furmint and Hárlevelű as well as smaller amounts of Zéta, Kabar, Kövérszőlő and Muscat grapes. The base wine was 100% Furmint and the aszú berries were added to the fermenting base wine after steeping for 24 hours. After pressing, fermentation took place in vats. The wine was then aged in new 500-litre barrels for a minimum of 18 months in the Szegi Cellar.

Tasting note

Attractive golden colour. Aromas of exotic lemon, acacia blossom, spice, ripe apricot, white peach and a herbal note. A balanced elegant wine with lively acidity, flavours of citrus, grapefruit, candied lemon, dried pineapple, honey, sunlight, almond, stone fruits and hay with a long, slightly salty finish. A concentrated, tangy wine with a long future ahead of it.

This was only one wine, and a relatively young one at that. If you are interesting in finding out more about the characteristics of Aszú, then check out this Aszú flavour wheel or get your daily dose of Aszú throughout Advent by following #KoccintsAszuval on Facebook, although you will probably need some Hungarian to do the latter!

 

 

 

Purcsin

So, has anyone heard of Purcsin? Otherwise known as fekete purcsin, gerzset, kék purcsin, királyédes, kisfekete, kökényszőlő, partinka, pelyhes, porcsin, purcsény, römer blauer, schlekentraube, purchinok, purczinok, tokaj barleana, tokaj di barlessano…

I hadn’t either until very recently.

Antal Kovács of Pincearon alerted guests at one of his tastings that a small quantity of Purcsin had been made by Zsolt Sándor and he would be making bottles available, but only to his mailing list…. Curious, I resolved to subscribe for a bottle. However, I was subsequently on holiday and missed the mail.  Thwarted yet again in trying an interesting wine from Zsolt!

However, Antal fortunately then planned a tasting of three winemakers, one of which was Zsolt Sándor. There would be four wines from the winemaker from the Bükk: a Cserszegi fűszeres (the next vintage of the wine I previously missed trying!), two Zweigelts and, yes, the Purcsin! I signed up immediately…

2015-11-11 20.02.40What is Purcsin? As you can see, it is a grape of many names… For legal reasons, he couldn’t put Purcsin on the label at the moment, so he put all its other names!

It is a local variety that was prevalent in Tokaji, the Mátra and Oradea before phylloxera struck. It was mentioned for the first time in the context of the Tokaji-Hegyalja region. Apparently, you can also make aszú from it too, which is probably why it ended up in Tokaji, as a result of its susceptibility to botrytis.

It has pretty much died out now, but for a couple of rows at the Oremus winery in Tokaji, from which this curiosum was made.

Purcsin has not been commercially available for more than a hundred years, so it was a kind of honour to have the chance to try it. Only 53 litres were produced, although Zsolt has now planted three hectares in the Bükk from which he plans to produce Purcsin in the future. He also plans to plant Balafánt, another local variety.

The wine was macerated for 25 days on its skins and produced a fruity yet complex wine with bags of plum, blueberry, raspberry, cherry and blackberry. It has a lovely floral note reminiscent of parma violets, underlaid by a leafy, tobacco element and a cool minty note. Soft tannins and lively acidity complete the picture.

I am looking forward to trying the wine from his own vines in the future!

 

 

 

 

Repositioning Tokaji aszú as a premium brand

Would you pay upwards of €1000 for the luscious amber nectar that is Tokaji aszú? Maybe in the future you’ll have to.

Until now you would have paid €80 for a bottle of István Szepsy’s aszú, but maybe in the future, you’ll have to fork out €1000-€2000 for a bottle, a ten to fifteen-fold increase. István, in an interview with Borbrand, says that people will need to decide what is the best sweet wine in the world.

All Szepsy’s wines will maintain the same quality, the difference will be in the quantity. The ‘normal’ Szepsy wines are made from three grape varieties, whereas the ‘luxury brand’ will be made from single varieties, using the best grapes from the very best vineyard plots. It’s obvious, he says, that wine from such a premium parcel should make its way onto the world market. The first year released will be the 2013, followed by the 2015.

Great Tokaj Wine Auction

P1110830Last November I was fortunate enough to be in Beaune during the weekend of the P1110851auction of the Hospices de Beaune. I had the chance to attend various events connected with this, including various cellar visits, tasting of the auction lots from the barrel at 8am with the locals, an impromptu informal tasting with Gina Gallo and Jean-Claude Boisset, and the Sunday evening ‘Diner de Gala aux Chandelles’. Quite an experience!P1110859

For the past couple of years, a similar event has been organised in Tokaj as part of the ‘Tokaj Spring’, taking the ‘Vente de Vins’ as its inspiration. This year will be the third occasion that the auction has been held. It will take place on the weekend of 24-26 April and offers a unique opportunity to sample some wines that are not on the open market, from dry white wines right up to 6 puttonyos aszú.

Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014So if you have some surplus cash and fancy investing in a barrel of Tokaj of your own, Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014here is your chance!

Of course, if you don’t have that much cash to splash around, you could always just take the opportunity to enjoy what should be a unique weekend in Tokaj.

Start off on by travelling style and taking the ‘Tokaj Express’ to travel to Tokaj. A heritage train with the opportunity to thumbs_tokaj-grand-02try some wines even before you arrive in Tokaj. Take part in one of three guided tours led by winemakers, one of which will be led by Mr Szepsy himself.

Great Tokaj Wine Auction 2014On Saturday you’ll have the opportunity (if you have registered, that is!) to taste the auction lots in Sárospatak castle, followed by a picnic lunch. It will initially be a blind tasting, so you won’t know whose wine you are trying. You’ll only find that out later, when there will be the oppportunity to retaste the wines.

You can find a list of the auction lots on the Tokaji Bor Lovagrend website. I unexpectedly had the chance to try the Zsirai Betsek Furmint from the barrel when visiting their cellar in Mád on Saturday.

A gala dinner dance will end the day and on Sunday you can visit participating producers.

A portion of the income will go towards supporting the Tokaj wine regon – a UNESCO world heritage site; so definitely a worthy cause.

At Tokaj Grand last weekend, we were able to taste some of the wines auctioned in 2013 and 2014. If these are anything to go by, if you do head off to Tokaj, you are in for a treat.

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Tokaj Grand 2015

tokaj_grand_logoA unique opportunity to try all the Tokaj wine region has to offer is coming up in Budapest shortly.

Tokaj Grand’ will take place on 28 March at the five-star Corinthia Hotel. It is being organised for the first time by Winelovers and promises to be a remarkable event.

Most people are familiar with Tokaj because of the sweet, botrytised aszú wines. However, kesei_szuretelesu_furtTokaj also produces some fabulous dry whites and some late harvest wines too. Tokaj Grand will give you the chance try some of these as well as the more famous aszú.

In addition to the opportunity to walk around and try the wines (over 200!) of more than seventy producers, if your Hungarian mesterkurzus_foto_graselly_balazsis up to it, you could also choose to attend one of the eight thematic masterclasses on offer during the day. Of course, you could just go along to the classes in order to try some great wines in a more relaxed environment! You’ll need to buy tickets for these in advance though.

Choose from themes such as:

  • Dry Tokaj wines and their international rivals
  • Mádi Kör selection
  • Disznókö 5 Puttonyos aszú vertical tasting
  • Szepsy masterclass
  • Tokaj Kereskedőház masterclass (in English)
  • Wine, intoxication…Bénye
  • Tokaji autumn
  • Mindszent Havi Mulatság

See you there!

Botrytis cinerea – the Jekyll and Hyde fungus

Caroline’s thoughts on Botrytis, including the following remark: ‘Historically speaking, botrytis cinerea would have been a widespread challenge to winemakers ever since wine was first made. But evidence suggests it may have been the Hungarians who first documented deliberate use of noble rot in winemaking in Tokaj in the 16th century.’

Caroline Gilby on Wine

And on the eve of heading to Hungary to talk Tokaji at VinCE in Budapest , here is my latest piece for The Wine Society blog on the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Botrytis cinerea

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