What's the meaning of the numbers 3 through 6 on the labels of Hungarian Tokaji?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the meaning of the numbers 3 through 6 in the names of Hungarian Tokaji? Is it a measure of sweetness? I notice that the higher the number, the more expensive is that vintage of Tokaji.

—John P., San Francisco

Dear John,

Yes, that number on a bottle of Tokaji, which ranges from three to six, is directly related to the wine’s level of sweetness. Three is sweet, and six is really, really sweet. Originally, the number referred to the number of puttonyos, or buckets, of sweet botrytis-affected grapes called aszú that were added to a dry wine. The more that were added, the sweeter the final wine would be.

The days of counting buckets have passed, so now the number refers to the wine’s residual sugar. Three puttonyos means a minimum of 60 grams per liter of residual sugar, all they way up to the 6 puttonyos classification, which refers to a minimum of 150 grams per liter of residual sugar. If that’s not enough residual sugar for you, you should keep an eye out for bottlings marked “Eszencia,” which are made entirely from aszú grapes. These are some of the rarest and most expensive bottles of wine in the world.

You’re also correct that there is a direct correlation between the sweetness and the price of a Tokaji. Making wines with botrytis comes with a set of risks and expenses, but if you ever get a chance to try it, it’s pure nectar.

—Dr. Vinny

Hungary Sweet Wines Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Why are beers aged in wine barrels? And what's a "foeder"?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why large, used wine barrels, or "foudres," have …

Sep 16, 2020

Can I recycle wine bottles that have metal or plastic capsules on the top? Is it true that some capsules contain lead?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for recycling wine bottles and handling older …

Sep 14, 2020

Half of a broken cork ended up in my wine bottle. Is that OK?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for what to do when a cork breaks.

Sep 11, 2020

Are all wine barrels toasted?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why oak barrel staves are toasted.

Sep 9, 2020

Why is “smoke taint” a problem? Don’t they clean the grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how smoke taint works, why it can't be "washed …

Sep 7, 2020

How do I know if a wine will be good before I buy it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for finding the wines you'll love.

Sep 4, 2020