Tokaji Wine, The National Treasure of Hungary for Centuries
Home of the legendary Aszú white wines, the Tokaj wine region is located in northeastern Hungary. Named after the town of Tokaj, the region’s former commercial centre, it is a relatively small wine region of around 5,500 hectares of vineyards.
With an illustrious history, Tokaj was declared one of the first appellations in the world in 1737. Over the last twenty-five years, the region went through a great development period as its wine-making culture and traditions were honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. The vineyards of Tokaj lie along the foothills of the pristine Zemplén Mountains, meeting with the enormous Great Hungarian Plain which provides the summer heat for the vines. Humidity, essential for the noble rot, the Botrytis, drifts up from the rivers Bodrog and Tisza.
Tokaj and its wines are memorialized in the Hungarian national anthem. The Hungarians thank God for “dripping sweet nectar into the vineyards of Tokaj.” So, the Tokaj vineyards are truly legendary.
The Story of Tokaji Wine
The sweet wines of Tokaj provide the most compelling story of Hungary’s role in the modern history of wine. Dubbed as one of the world’s oldest sweet wine, the Tokaj region had one of the world’s earliest vineyard classification systems. “Tokaj’s vineyards have been classified at various points in their history: 1641, 1700, 1770 and 1995,” writes Tim Atkin in Tradition and Innovation in The Tokaj Region.
The most commonly known styles of Tokaji are the Aszú and the Essencia.
Aszú : Wines produced with a blend of Aszú (noble rot) grapes and standard grape must. It is required to have 18 months oak ageing and is commonly categorized by its Puttonyos (sugar level).
Esszencia: A drink made solely of the free-run juice of noble rot (aszú) grapes that rarely reaches above 3% ABV. Essencia is so sweet that it is often served from a tablespoon.
Tokaj aszú has always had a fan club that has included royalty, artists, and popes. The wine made its way to the capitals and palaces of Europe long before there were advertising campaigns and marketing slogans to spread the word. Tokaj’s most glorious period was between the 17th and 19th centuries when the region’s wines were drunk by royalty and celebrities around the world. The wine was treated as a symbol of Hungary and was often used as a diplomatic tool. After receiving a shipment of Tokaj wine as a gift from Prince Rákóczi II, Louis XIV famously called it the “wine of kings, the king of wine.”
The most desirable of these elixirs (and the most expensive) was that of Tokaji Eszencia, a liquid goo that contains as much sweetness as straight syrup. Because of the high sugar content, it will age 200+ years.
Chateau Pajzos is among the oldest and most respected wine producers in this storied region. In fact, it is one of the very few estates given the Grand Cru classification.
The estate is located in the heart of the Tokaji region, on slopes surrounding the famous wine village of Sárospatak. It was long acknowledged for having one of the finest vineyards of the region. Its volcanic, rocky soils ensure that the native varieties – Furmint, Muscat, Hárslevelu and Zéta – are both rich in natural acidity and concentration and the location between the Bodrog and Tisza rivers makes it ideal for attaining noble rot, indispensable for producing the sweet Aszú wines.
The property is managed by Ronan Laborde and his winemaking team. In recent years, they optimized the vineyard to enhance the development of botrytis, essential for Aszú wines. They changed their pruning method to single guyot in order to reduce yields and advance ripening. Depending on the moisture content of the soil, it is either ploughed or left un-tilled; nets are placed in the fall over the botrytis-affected grapes to prevent them from being eaten by animals.
Chateau Pajzos expertly marries traditional winemaking methods with modern techniques to fully take advantage of these legendary vineyards. These wines have been called the “nectar of the gods” as well as the “wine of kings”. They are undoubtedly some of the finest dessert wines on the planet.
Today, the estate is under ownership of the Laborde family, who own Château Clinet in Pomerol
Tokaji Furmint Dry
Besides the usual Aszu and sweet wines, Chateau Pajzos also produces dry white wines using one of Tokaj’s most widely grown grape varieties – Furmint.
Furmint is an ancient grape variety that seems to have originated in Tokaj, where it is by far the dominant grape. A grape with a wonderfully strong character, it is always not that easy to make a fine dry wine from it. It has particularly thick skins that are full of chewy phenolics, so care is needed to make dry whites that are not too astringent. For the same reason, yields should not be too low. Otherwise dry Furmints would be just too concentrated.
With that in mind, Chateau Pajzos has created their version of Dry Furmint wine that is a joy to behold. Highly aromatic with notes of ripe peaches and pears on the nose, their Furmint Dry is an exciting wine with fresh acidity that finishes long.
Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2014
In a vintage where spring arrived early with frequent rain showers and relatively high humidity, the grapes produced that year showcases high acidity and concentration.
The resulting Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2014 (75% Furmint & 25% Harslevelu) has an intense bouquet of dried apricots, honey and meadow flowers. These beautiful aromas are brilliantly integrated with its full-bodied palate and long finish.
This is a wine that has the ageing potential of at least 30 – 50 years!