I have a theory question for you: Tokaj has a solid reputation creating sweet wines from the Aszu grapes. So why are recent trends veering toward dryer wine styles? Describe the grapes and winemaking methods used to produce the dry wines of Tokaj and describe a typical example of a dry Tokaj wine in the form of a tasting note. What are the marketing opportunities for this style of wine for the region?
These are just a few things I was thinking about when I tasted through my first dry Furmint from Hungary. My analysis of the wine follows my Top Tokaj 10.
Spoiler alert—this amp goes to 11…
TOP TOKAJ 10
- Brief History: The Communist regime ended in 1989 and, luckily, most vineyards remained in private hands, so Tokaj ‘easily’ rebuilt its winemaking business. It also helps that the early 1990s there was an influx of foreign investors as well.
- Winemaking continues to evolve— fresher, fruitier Aszu, new generation of high-quality dry wines, and new styles such as Late Harvest
- Climate: moderate continental climate: summers are warm; winters are cold, but the regions is sheltered from the worst of the cold, northerly winds by forested mountain peaks
- Vineyards: planted on slopes, reducing risk of winter frost damage; slopes face south, SW, and SE to maximize sun exposure.
- Weather: low rainfall, but half of it falls during the growing season so irrigation is NOT permitted.
- Soils: “region of hundreds of extinct volcanoes”—various soil types; most important:
- nyirok—a volcanic soil said to produce most powerful wines
- loess—sandy silt with high clay content said to produce lighter more delicate wines.
- Soft volcanic rock means vines can root deeply (water stress and nutrient deficiency are rare); it’s also ideal for digging cellars for aging wine, which are famous for the grey black fungus Zasmidium cellare, said to help regulate humidity
- Grape growing: Aszu berries have to be dried on the vine, thus yields are very small (2-3 hL/ha) AND to ensure quality, yields for dry wines are also kept low (30-40 hL/ha).
- Main grape varieties: Furmint, Harlevelu, Sarga Muskatoly
- Wine styles: Dry, Aszu, Eszencia, Late Harvest, Szamorodni, Dry Szamorodni
- It’s the Biz: Aszu accounts for 10% of production; Dry wines make up 21% production; the rest is inexpensive, non-botrytis wine made in a semi-sweet style destined for home market (and other Eastern EU countries); exports around 40% of production
What would you add to your Tokaj Top 10?
For basic info on the Tokaj region and Tokaji wine production, see Hungary for Tokaji (based one WSET Level 3 knowledge).
WINE: Oremus Dry Furmint Mandolas 2018
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium (+) intensity: lemon, lime, peach, apricot, blossom, bread dough, hint petrol, mandarin
Palate: dry, high acid, medium (-) body, medium alcohol, medium intensity of flavors: lemon, lime, green apple, green pear, under-ripe white peach and apricot, blossom, bread dough, hint petrol, mandarin; there’s a touch of texture on the tongue (a hint of phenolic bitterness); finish is medium
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) I’ve concluded that this is a good wine. The flavors are at a solid medium providing a range of ‘just ripe’ fresh fruits including lemon, lime, green apple and pear, under-ripe peach and apricot, as well some floral aromas and a hint of secondary characteristics such as bread dough indicating, perhaps, some time on fine lees. None of these flavors are overly dramatic and, in fact, on the palate the extremely high acidity seems to take over and actually masks some of those flavors, which is why my aroma was at a medium (+) and my palate at simply medium. Because of this, I do think the wine is slightly out of balance. And it is that acidity that holds through and cuts off the finish at a medium length. I can’t deny that there are a range of flavors and aromas (when one can find them) and I did detect a hint of the lees aging as stated, thus there’s a certain level of complexity here. But for the imbalanced structure and lack of finish, I cannot rate the wine any higher than good.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) This wine is clearly intended for early consumption as indicated by the refreshing quality of the wine overall. There is nothing structurally that could lend the wine to longevity and, I fear, that with time, the delicate fruits will fade even further into the background, and thus the wine will become even more imbalanced than it is right now.
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