Tokaji Aszú … The world renowned Tokaj Aszú! Often referred to as just Tokaj (pronounced: toe-kai) . The most sumptuous and most delectable Aszú made only in one place in the world, Tokaj, Hungary; the region is Tokaj-Hegyalja. But what grape is it? It is usually the Furmint varietal, but can also be made from other indigenous grapes in Hungary. One of my favorite Aszú styles is made with the Hárslevelű varietal.
It can be confusing reading the label because the largest eye catching statement is TOKAJI. The region is actually Tokaj and the ‘I’ at the end is possessive meaning from that region. So look at the word following Tokaji Aszú, which means Aszú from Tokaj. In summary, the style of the wine is Aszú, the region is Tokaji and the varietal is usually the Furmint, but could be one of 5 Hungarian varietals (Furmint, Hárslevel, Sárgamuskotály (yellow muscat), Zéta, Kövérszőlő or Kabar.
Aszús can be high in alcohol, but a very fine Aszú is usually low in alcohol, i.e., 10%, high in acidity so the sweetness dissipates and the lingering finish takes on other flavors and the finish can often be semi-dry; even though it is a dessert wine.
You’ll also see a number followed by the word "puttonyos" (pronounced 'pou-tone-yosh'). The Aszú wines are measured by the number of puttonyos of Botrytis grapes/berries used during the wine making process; generally about 1 to 6 puttonyos. A puttonyos is a 25 kg basket used during grape harvest. Botrytis cinera, aka noble rot, is the mold that forms on the grapes and dries them while increasing the sugar content and creating a high enzyme honey like nectar inside the raisined berry. The long, sunny and humid autumns encourage the Botrytis, but not every year produces enough
Botrytis to make high quality Aszú wines; therefore, increasing the value of these cherished Aszú vintages. Aszúeszencia is above 6 puttonyos. It is the sweetest wine, yet if from the Mád mountain area within Tokaj the wines have enough acidity to balance the sweetness so you don’t experience a sicky sweet taste.
They are amazing delectable wines and many have a shelf life ranging from 100 to 200 years or more. A decent reference to read more about Aszú wines is on Wikipedia. Most wine encyclopedias give a decent background, but the current state of the Tokaj region is usually incorrect. The area is thriving and wineries are independently owned. Enjoy!
Katy Bendel, Founder of CarpathianWines.com, is located in San Diego, CA. They import, distribute and sell online extraordinary boutique wines they have hand selected from their exclusive portfolio of Central European producers.