Tokaji Aszu: the rare sweet wine of Hungary
Are you a sweet wine fan? Did you know there are six ways to make sweet wine?
- Drying the Grapes (ex: appassimento)
- Freezing the Grapes (ex: Icewine)
- Removing Yeast by Filtering (ex: Moscato d'Asti)
- Removing Yeast by Fortifying (ex: Sherry, Port)
- Blending with a Sweet Liquid (ex: Sherry)
- and then the method we're talking about today...
Introducing Tokaji Aszu (pronounced "toe-kai ah-jew")
Today I want to talk to you about making sweet wine from grapes infected by "noble rot". We call the rot botrytis cinerea and with specialized climates (like those found in Sauternes region of France and Tokaji in Hungary) with special care, this fungus can be used to produce wines of exceptional sweetness and quality. The most notable are Sauternes and Tokaji Aszu.
I used to think that Tokaji Aszú was basically Sauternes from Hungary. Au contraire! While both are dessert wines made from botrytis affected grapes, capable of aging for 200 years, there the similarities end.
The fungus infects the grapes and saps the water from them, but leaves a honeyed flavor. Many people have heard of Sauternes wine from France, which is famous for this type of wine but more rare and expensive are the wines of Hungary's Tokaj region. Tokaj hand picks all the grapes and only produces wines of Aszu quality about 4 times every decade.
- Tokaj - the place
- Tokaji - the wines
- Aszu - the wine style and the grapes
- Puttonyos - how much residual sugar is in the end wine
- Furmint is a white grape native to Hungary used in many Tokaji wines
Making of Tokaji Aszu
Slightly different from how Sauternes is made, Tokaji Aszu is made by mashing the botricized grapes to a pulp, they then are mixed with a base wine for a few days, removing the solids and aging the mixture in small casks for years in underground tunnels where yeast form a film over the wine similar to the flor in Sherry.
While Sauternes are known for using Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Tokaji Aszú is produced from Furmint and Hárslevelű.
The number preceding the word "puttonyos" traditionally indicated the number of puttony (25-liter wooden tubs) of aszu grapes added to the mix. Today it's more a measure of the residual sugar in the end wine. They higher the number, the sweeter the wine.
Below is a chart indicating how much residual sugar is in each sweetness level. As a reference point, Sauternes often have between 80 and 120 g/L.
🍯3 Puttonyos - 60 g/L
🍯4 Puttonyos - 90 g/L
🍯5 Puttonyos - 120 g/L
🍯6 Puttonyos - 150 g/L
🍯Aszú Eszencia - 450 g/L
In 2013 the region eliminated the 3 and 4 designations. While sweeter than Sauternes, these wines are so well balanced with vibrant acidity that they are so enjoyable!
Late Harvest Tokaji Wines
Many late harvest Tokaji wines are made with a significant percentage of botrytized grapes. This is a less expensive way for you to try the style and see if you like the flavors. It's also more approachable for people who don't like the thick cloying sweetness of Sauternes and Tokaji Aszu. I'm a fan! It's why I've included a sweet late harvest Tokaji wine in my latest club shipment. I hope my members enjoy!
Have you tried Tokaji Aszu before? Sauternes? What about a late harvest from Tokaji? What did you think?