In a recent blog post, I mentioned that the 2008 harvest had turned out to be a potentially great year for the unique sweet wines of Hungary's historic Tokaji region; the weather was perfect for the development of the botrytis, or noble rot, that dehydrates grapes and concentrates their sugars. The sweet Tokaji wines are made by adding these botrytis-affected, or aszú, berries to dry, or base, wines made from healthy grapes.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to taste a number of Tokaji wines from Disznókó´, one of the region's great properties, with estate manager László Mészáros. The French insurance company AXA—which owns Bordeaux second-growth Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Château de Suduiraut in Sauternes and Quinta do Noval in Portugal's Douro Valley—invested in the estate in 1992. Mészáros joined Disznókó´ at that time as an intern. He became a full-time employee in 1995 and has been making the wines since 2000.
Disznókó´ literally means “pig rock,” named for a large boulder on the property. What makes the estate unique is not only its large size (370 acres, with 250 planted to vines) but that it is one contiguous parcel. Most of the vineyards face south and are planted on clay, limestone and volcanic (rhyolite) soils.
While the region itself produces roughly 80 percent dry white wine, Disznókó´ makes mostly sweet wines, according to Mészáros.
Disznókó´ does produce a dry Furmint, from a selection of healthy grapes. The 2007 Furmint offered melon, floral and spice notes, all nicely balanced with a mineral accent.
For the aszú wines, Disznókó's style is slightly drier, with a little higher alcohol, than the sweet wines from many other Tokaji estates. (The level of sweetness is indicated on Tokaji labels as between 3 and 6 puttonyos, the number of 27-liter containers of dried berries added to the base wine.) Disznókó's 5 puttonyos, for example, is between 120 and 150 grams per liter of residual sugar, and the 6 puttonyos has more than 150 grams per liter residual sugar. Mészáros claims other estates' 6 puttonyos are often in the range of 220-230 grams per liter of residual sugar.
This profile gives the Disznókó´ Tokaji more power, but elegance too, as the high acidity typical of the wines has less residual sugar to buffer it. The 5 puttonyos comes close to Sauternes in style, yet has the distinct orange peel, apricot and mineral flavors typical of Tokaji.
Mészáros also pointed out another significant distinction in how the sweet wines are made. The aszú berries can be added to must before or during fermentation, or to the finished (dry) base wine.
|Aszú grapes with very fine, light botrytis infection, followed by dehydration and shriveling.|
|Aszú grapes affected by intense botrytis that occurs in more humid years, resulting in more fungi and less shriveling.|
William Gechtman — Charlotte,NC/USA — April 6, 2009 6:50pm ET
Lyle Kumasaka — Arlington, VA — April 8, 2009 10:30pm ET
Laszlo Meszaros — Tokaj - Hungary — April 9, 2009 5:03am ET
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