Tokaji, a sweet (wine) visit to Hungary
By Denise Medrano
I don’t exactly remember the first time I tried tokaji but I’m pretty sure it was a Disznoko tokaji as that’s the name that most sticks in my mind whenever I think of tokaji.
Tokaji comes from Hungary and is made from grapes that have been left on the vine for as long as possible. This results in botrytis which shrivels up the grapes but leaves them with a high concentration of sugar. They call them aszu berries and each one has to be individually picked. Tokaji is make up of three grapes, furmint, harslevelu and zeta. I was invited by Millesima to join in on the harvest for a day.
Unfortunately, the weather was rubbish, slightly rainy and not the best weather for picking. As a matter of fact, they can’t pick when it’s raining so instead of 100 people out in the fields picking the Aszu berries we found only one solitary worker carefully choosing the right berries to go into the blend in between the rains.
It can take many weeks and the average haul each day is 6 to 10 kgs, which is a fraction of a normal day’s harvest in other wine regions. The Aszu berries are something special however, being so dry that they have to be soaked in a base wine or fermenting wine before they can become a wine – something that is rarely done outside of Tokaji. When the berries are picked, they are kept in steel vats, often for weeks at a time and the run-off from this is called Eszencia.
We got to try the Eszencia later in the day as well as visit the cellar where it is stored. There is so little Eszencia produced that in the cellar we saw a demi-john labelled 2011 and that was pretty much all there is of that vintage. Eszencias are extremely concentrated and have only about 1%-3% alcohol.
They are so intense that Disznoko have even commissioned a special ‘Angel’ spoon to consume the Eszencia. The wine is so thick and sweet yet full of flavour, I loved it! But a teaspoon or two is really all that is required otherwise, you’d probably end up in a sugar coma.
Laszlo Meszaros, the director of Disznoko, was our guide during our stay. He’s extremely knowledgeable about the vineyards and he even gave us a tour and tasting of the cellars – tasting all the recent vintages in barrel was an interesting exercise. It was fascinating to taste not only the different vintages but also the different parcels that each barrel came from, the terroir of each parcel evident with each mouthful.
Afterward, we tasted through a vertical of Disznoko from 1993, the second vintage up to 2003. I was most impressed by their Kapi single vineyard 1999. An intense, complex and utterly delicious wine, I could drink this wine everyday, despite it’s sweetness, it’s still incredibly vibrant and a pleasure to drink.
After all that sweet wine, we sat down to a simple lunch of traditional Hungarian cuisine in the belvedere overlooking the vineyards. Watching the clouds shift in size and colour throughout lunch was better then any artificial audiovisual show and a wonderful way to end our stay at the vineyards.