Tokaji Wine Review: Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 4 And 6 Puttonyos 2000

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

Tokaj - Disznókő Winery

Disznókő is a winery located on the road between Tokaj and Szerencs. It’s usually the first landmark winery that visitors to the region will pass, if driving here from Budapest. The name means “boar stone” in Hungarian, and here’s the story behind the name of the winery, from their website:

The hill behind the Yellow Wine House, where there are still stake supported vines on the secular terraces, is the heart of the Disznókő vineyard. Reaching the top of the hill we can see a small white pavilion, the belvedere. The Lónyai family had it built in the 18thcentury and meant it to be a lookout tower. There is the famous stone called Disznókő beside it. A giant rock that looks as if it had come from the sky. According to the local people’s stories the shape of the rock reminded of a wild boar some time in the past. The slope and the estate were named after this rock.

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Tokaji Wine Review: Árvay Hétfürtös Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 1999

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

 Arvay Hétfürtös Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos 1999

János Árvay is a heavyweight in the Tokaj region. After working for the state wine company during communism, then for Disznókő after privatization, he started his own winery and was named Tokaj’s Winemaker of the Year in 2000 and Hungary’s Winemaker of the Year in 2003. Of course, with two exceptional vintages in 1999 and 2000, this wasn’t a bad time to make a name for oneself.

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Tokaji Wine Review: Tokaj Classic Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

Hungary - Tokaji Wine - Tokaj Classic
Tokaj Classic Winery is located in the village of Mád, in the heart of the wine-producing region, and owns parcels in the Király, Betsek, and Juharos vineyards. It is the second of two wineries founded by three musicians from the Hessen State Theatre in Wiesbaden, Germany. According to their website, the prodigal Hungarian András Bruhács got together with his two German colleagues and refurbished the generations-old Bruhács family winery in Pécs, a wine-growing region in a different part of the country. They dubbed it Villa Makár, after the nearby mountain. Since they were already doing that anyway, it would seem, they also decided to plant their flag in Tokaj-Hegyalja. This was in the early 1990′s during privatization, when it was much easier for outsiders to buy up historic land than it would be today. (Check out the picture of the owners in tuxedos brandishing bottles of Tokaji on their Facebook page!)

Hungary - Tokaji Wine - Tokaj Classic

When we visited back in 2007, I believe the winery was open for tastings by appointment only. We had managed to arrange a visit, and were greeted by Imre Galambosi, the chief winemaker and former mayor of Mád, on a quiet morning just after Christmas. To this day, I clearly remember the moment after the very interesting tour when he basically told us we could try any of the wines in the barrels in front of us, like kids let loose in a chocolate factory! (At the time, the Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2006 had promised to be excellent. As it should hit the market pretty soon, I’m curious to see how it turned out.)

Hungary - Tokaji Wine - Tokaj Classic

Meanwhile, the Tokaj Classic Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000, available on the US market, received a score of 96 in the Wine Spectator and a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2004. Its medium amber color is darker than many other aszús of the same vintage. The nose reveals apricot and tropical fruit (guava maybe?), and the palate confirms this impression, with extra notes of caramel and tangerine. This is definitely a very good wine, but not as rich as some of its peers — if I was paid to split a hair one hundred ways, I would probably give it slightly less than 96.

Hungary - Tokaji Wine - Tokaj Classic

At the very least, it seriously makes me look forward to trying that 2006 bottling…

Tokaji Wine Review: Úri Borok Eszencia 2006

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

First of all, Tokaji Eszencia is a very peculiar kind of wine. In fact, it’s hardly a wine at all, since its sugar level is so high that it greatly impairs fermentation — a  high-alcohol eszencia barely rises to 5-6%, and only after several years. This sweet nectar is simply the juice of botrytized (aszú) berries that runs off from the vats in which they are collected. Its sugar concentration exceeds 500 grams per liter, which makes it difficult to drink in large amounts, as it coats your throat with the same intense sensation you feel when drinking, say, syrup (if you happen to drink maple syrup). It’s unfortunately not visible in photos, but it also looks quite viscous in the glass.

I talked about Úri Borok in one of my recent posts. Vince Gergely’s Eszencia 2006 is rather extreme. For a start, it didn’t ferment at all! The very artisanal label, which was filled out and glued on by hand in front of me, reads 0% alcohol. Then, it was so sweet that some of it crystallized inside the bottle. Depending on whether you’re a bottle-half-empty or bottle-half-full person, you could say I got ripped off for paying full price for half the expected liquid content, or you could see an opportunity. Forget Serendipity 3′s $1000 Golden Opulence Sundae, which any moron could replicate for a fraction of the price, imagine the possibilities of the crystallized Tokaji Eszencia dessert! Not only have I never seen any other crystallized Eszencia, I’m also pretty sure this one is sold out. Of course, you could cheat and use an evaporator, but you would still end up with the most exclusive dessert in the world (“exclusive” being a sanctimonious way to say crazy expensive).

As for the tasting impressions, the lack of alcohol makes the nose very intense, with aromas of apricot preserves and sultanas. The taste is just as strong, and it’s a good idea to take a very little sip and let it roll around in your mouth with some saliva, perhaps while contemplating that $10,000 dessert you could make with the (literally) residual sugar.

A shot from one of my trips to the caves at Úri Borok

Tokaji Wine Review: Királyudvar Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

Királyudvar, which means the king’s court in Hungarian, is probably the most renowned of all Tokaji producers. The reason is simple: it makes some of the very best wines and exports to North America, Europe, and Asia.  Located in a 16th century wine-press house in the village of Tarcal, the winery was founded in 1997 and owns parcels in the Lapis, Henye, Percze, Becsek, Danczka, and Nyulászó vineyards. Until 2008, the wines were produced by István Szepsy.

I read on their web site that the winery is now open to the public for tastings, and this is great news. Back in 2004 when we visited, things were a bit more complicated. Only professional visits were accepted. We were tipped off that a group had an appointment the next morning, and that Szepsy, being a sympathetic man, would probably not turn down a couple of enthusiastic tourists looking to tag along. This also meant that we had the grand tasting, a 2-3 hour affair from the dry Furmints to the super-sweet Aszú Eszencia — just count the bottles in the picture below! To this day, this remains one of the greatest tastings I’ve ever had.

Made up of 70% Furmint and 30% Hárslevelű, the Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000, we are told, “has a classic Tokaji nose”, and I couldn’t agree more. The golden amber wine smells of caramel and mixed tropical fruits, mostly pineapple and mango. The day after opening, the nose develops into more caramel, with apricot preserves replacing some of the tropical fruits. A perfect example of the outstanding 2000 vintage.

Tokaji Wine Review: Úri Borok Muskotály Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

Úri Borok is located next to the more famous though much less interesting Royal Tokaji Wine Company in the town of Mád. The owner, Vince Gergely, is one of the top winemakers of the region, producing wines that often go beyond the canons of the Tokaji genre. Today’s wine, a Muskotály Aszú 6 Puttonyos from 2000, is a perfect example of this.

Úri Borok is a very small operation. The vineyard is only 25 acres, mostly situated on the Szent Tamás parcel. I visited the winery several times between 2004 and 2007, and I never saw any bottling line — in fact, it’s not uncommon for Vince to fill and cork bottles to order. Sometimes he has a label ready to glue on the bottle, sometimes not!

Although there are 6 varietals officially used to make Tokaji wine, furmint accounts for about 60% of the planted vines, and hárslevelű for another 30%. By contrast, this Muskotály Aszú is a blend of sárgamuskotály (yellow muscat) and furmint. Sárgamuskotály, which represents around 5% of the planted vines, is harder to grow but more susceptible to Botrytis (noble rot) than other local varietals.

The wine boasts a nice amber color (look at the picture at the top of the post, not the one above), which is quite important because  darker Tokaji wines typically show signs of oxidation. The nose still smells very fresh, with roasted pineapple, caramel, and apple sauce. It doesn’t exhibit the floral notes usually associated with muscat. The taste is intensely sweet, probably well above the minimum residual sugar requirement of 150 g/l for a 6 puttonyos.

This is a great example of what Úri Borok can produce! Expect to see more of their wines in future posts.