Tag Archives: Furmint

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!

 

 

 

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.

Wines from the volcano

Somló wines are quite distinct in character. Sticking your nose into the glass, you can often tell at first sniff that they have been produced in Somló. A whiff of smoky volcano tends to dominate the nose. They are rather high in acidity and can be lacking in fruit. Although the best examples combine ripe fruit and smoky stoniness.

2015-04-20 17.18.38Last week I attended a tasting of twenty Somló wines presented at the Gellért hotel. I am usually quite a fan of well-made Somló wines, enjoying the combination of minerality and juicy fruit. However, on this occasion, I was a little disappointed by some of the wines, finding them rather tart, overly acidic and somewhat ‘fruit backward‘. I particularly enjoyed the following wines:

Györgykovács Imre’s 2012 Hárslevelű – A potent, mouth-filling 2015-04-26 12.14.44concoction of ripe peach and mandarin, with aromas of honeysuckle and hazelnut, tempered with a little saltiness and lingering in the mouth with a long elegant finish. Delicious.

Kreinbacher’s 2012 Öreg Tőkék (Hárslevelű, Olaszrizling and Furmint) – Produced from old vines, this wine showed flavours of honey, baked spiced apple, apple, lemon and mandarin. A touch of salt and a lingering finish.

Zsirai’s Somlai 2011 (Olaszrizling, Juhfark and Hárslevelű) – Having visited the Zsirai winery in Mád a few weeks ago, it was great to have the chance to try one of their Somló wines. One of fruitiest of the wines tasted today – baked apple, spicy vanilla, with a touch of salted almonds. The rich fruit balanced the acidity nicely.

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Fekete Pince’s 2009 Juhfark – Juhfark is a variety typical to Somló, probably an acquired taste in many cases, but definitely worth seeking out if you want to try something unusual. A pale golden wine with a pronounced intensity. In some ways rather austere, with a good dose of smoke and flint, but a lot of ripe stone fruits – apricot and peach –  and some honeysuckle helps to balance this. Some lovely tertiary flavours of marmalade and honey coming through and, leaving the best to last, a bit of cat’s 2015-04-20 18.27.29pee (probably what makes Juhfark a bit of an acquired taste! Can be a bit pungent sometimes.). A slightly bitter, but not unpleasant finish.

Somlói Apátsági Pince’s 2013 Juhfark – An off dry full-bodied wine bursting with ripe mandarins, pears, apricots and peaches. A slightly waxy nose with some hints of vanilla.

T2015-04-20 18.28.11ornai Pincészet’s 2013 Premium Juhfark – A complex, oily wine with orange, peach, pear and grapefruit, some floral and vegetal characteristics and a long slightly bitter, stony finish.

Somló Kincse Kézművés Kispince’s 2013 Bolyongó (késői Olaszrizling) – A dry late harvest wine with bags of fruit – apricot, pear, marmalade, spiced baked apple, nuttiness, honey and a pinch of salt. A waxy complex wine with a touch of botrytis; it has the waxy bitterness of an orange wine.

The tasting was presented by the Somlói borok boltja, where you can buy these wines, indeed they stock over 160 types of Somló wine if you develop a taste for it.

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!

Furmint Február

Going to a major wine-tasting event with still relatively blocked sinuses is not really conducive to sniffing and t2015-02-05 15.43.20asting ability. However, it is Furmint Február and this also means the annual Nagy Furmint Február Kóstoló held at the scenic Vajdahunyadvár in Városliget, so I gave it my best shot.

Seventy-nine producers from around Hungary and across the border were offering up their wines for our delectation. With five hours to taste, not much chance of trying them all, but I managed to taste a fair few – from around thirty producers, mostly from Tokaj or Somló, but also one or two from elsewhere, such as Eger. Dulled senses prevented me from being overly analytical, but still got a good impression of the quality and range of wines on offer.

I didn’t really taste any of the sweet and aszús, concentrating mainly on the dry and off-dry offerings.

Some highlights:

A 2013 blend from Bott Frigyes, Super Granum, which included not only Furmint but also Hárslevelű and Juhfark. The Juhfark had been macerated on its skins for four days giving it notes reminiscent of szamorodni or orange wine. Delicious.

A fruity, crisp mineral Kikelet 2013 Váti Furmint.

A rich, fruity, honeyed off-dry 2009 Csontos Furmint from Bott Pince bursting with ripe stone fruit.

The interestingly named 2013 Furmintage from Portius – a mouthful of minerally peach, quince and tinned pear.

The concentrated and complex Demetervin Király Furmint 2013, produced exclusively from grapes harvested from the Király dülő’s upper slopes.

If you missed out on the ‘Grand Tasting’ and want to get stuck into some Furmint, there are still plenty of other Furmint-related events happening in February – http://www.furmintfebruar.hu/hu/programok/ (only in Hungarian – the English does not appear to work).

Furmint

furmintAs it is currently ’Furmint Februar’ here in Hungary, this is as good a time as any to introduce you to one of Hungary’s key white grape varieties. Although Olaszrizling is more widely planted, Furmint is perhaps more emblematic of the country’s wines. It is one of the main varieties to be found in Tokaj, which could be considered its homeland, and is usually one of the principle elements in the aszú and szamorodni wines produced in the region, along with Hárslevelű and Sárga Muskotály (Muscat blanc à petits grains). As well as Tokaj, it is typically cultivated in Somló and can be found in some areas around the Balaton and elsewhere in the country.

Outside Hungary, Furmint is also grown across the border in Slovakia (previously part of the Hungarian Tokaj wine region) and in Slovenia, where it is known as Sipon. In the past, it was prevalent in the Austrian Burgenland, where it was used to make Ausbruch wines until it was pretty much abandoned in preference for Welschriesling, as Olaszrizling is known in the German-speaking world. Although it is enjoying a bit of a revival now. Here it is known as Zapfner.

A late ripening grape variety, Furmint is capable of producing a wide range of complex sweet and dry wines. Serious acidity means that even the sweetest of late harvest and aszú wines are not cloying. It is also susceptible to the development of botrytis cinerea, noble rot, producing the wonderful orange marmalade, apricot and marzipan flavours to be found in aszú wines.

As the taste for sweet wines is waning, larger volumes of dry and off-dry Furmint are being produced. Typical flavours found in dry wines are pear, quince, lime peel and a steely smokiness.