Noble sweet Tokaji wines
The production of the intense and aromatic sweet wine from Tokaj is inherently a risky endeavor. Similar to Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese, it is natural factors and a unique microclimate that are necessary to extract concentrated flavors and sweetness from the grapes. In the north of Hungary and the south of Slovakia, the rivers Bodrog and Tisza flow into each other and envelop the vineyards in the autumn mist.
Sweet wine production in the Tokaj wine region
When the fog then rises in Tokaj and beds the grapes in dew, the noble fungus Botrytis cinerea begins its work. Especially the Furmint grape is susceptible to the fungus. Gradually, the grapes shrivel, losing water but concentrating sweetness, flavors and acidity in the soon-to-be raisin-like grapes. From time to time, the grape growers climb the vineyards and pick the noble good one by one by hand. This happens well, several times - a time-consuming and laborious job. The harvest lasts until deep into November, when it is time to bring all the grapes to the wine cellar. The grapes with fungus infestation into one pot, all others into the other. From the latter, the basic wine for Tokaj is pressed and fermented. The noble rotten ones are processed separately and ground into aszú. This extremely concentrated aszú is then added to the base wine. Now the second fermentation begins. The higher the sugar content of the Tokay and the lower the storage temperature, the longer the fermentation. The best specimens with very high sugar content even do not allow fermentation and remain with little alcohol but an incredible sweetness.
The storage takes place in labyrinth-like tunnel systems in the soil interspersed with volcanic rock. Here, ideal humidity and constant temperatures of 10 to 12° C prevail. This promotes the slow fermentation process. In addition, barrels and cellar walls are lined with the alcohol-consuming mould. Cladosporium cellare - another player in the time-honoured method of making Tokay. After 3 to 5 years, the sweet wine reaches its maturity in barrel and bottle and arrives perfected in the glasses of true gourmets. But one thing should be said; everyone should have tried a Tokaj sweet wine.
Puttonyos - the measure of sweetness
The sweetness - and thus the quality - of Tokay goes hand in hand with the puttonyos. These are butts, i.e. batches that are added to the base wine in aszú. One puttonyos corresponds to 25 kg of aszú for 137 litres of base wine. The more butts are added to the base wine, the more noble and sweeter the later Tokaj will be. Three butts are comparable with a Auslese wine, four with a Beerenauslese and 6 are on a par with a Trockenbeerenauslese. If 7 puttonyos are added to the base wine, the Tokay may bear the glorious title of aszú eszencia - the optimum of sublime sweet wine from the Tokay growing region.
Grape varieties for Tokaj
The engaging aroma of Tokay comes from the composition of the grape varieties Furmint, Hárslevelũ and yellow Muscat. Now and then, the interplay is supplemented with other varieties. For instance with the Zéta grape variety, a cross between Furmint and Bouvier, a new creation no less susceptible to Botrytis cinerea. But the main role undoubtedly goes to Furmint, which gives the finished sweet wine its character. The fresh minerality as well as decent acidity also go hand in hand with the autochthonous grape variety. Hárslevelũ, also known as Lindenblä#ttriger, shows up responsible for the beguiling aroma, with the yellow muscat contributing floral and fruity muscat aromas.
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