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Tokaji Aszú at the pinnacle

Tokaji Aszú is one of Hungary’s best-known, naturally sweet wines. In Tokaj, there are descriptions dating back to the 16th century of how sweet wines were produced and about the places within the wine region that were most suitable for growing the grapes essential for making Aszú.

You could say that it is the oldest example of the system of protected origin with which we are so familiar today. Even then, ancestors of today’s Hungarians strove to produce the best quality Aszú, under strict rules.

Aszú is a base wine to which individually hand picked aszú berries are added, during or after fermentation. This means that the wine ferments twice, giving it an unmatchable richness and range of flavours. It takes many weeks to pick these aszú berries (one person can harvest between 12 and 18 kg per day) then, they are stored until the end of the harvest in tubs with a hole in the bottom. As the quantity and weight of the grapes increases, it presses a juice with a very high sugar content out of the grapes. This juice, known as essencia, is then able to drip out through the hole in the bottom of the tub. Most of this essencia is added to the Aszú wine as it matures; very occasionally, small quantities of this essencia are bottled separately.

Aszú essence

It is not possible to produce wines similar to Aszú just anywhere. There needs to be a special climate and some kind of large natural body of water. Tokaj lies at the confluence of the Bodrog and Tisza rivers, so autumn humidity is guaranteed. What else is needed for a good Aszú wine? A fungus known as Botrytis cinerea, or by its common name grey mould, which creates the necessary raw product. It is a precondition to have perfectly ripe and healthy grapes where this mould known as noble rot can spread through the bunches.

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