Friday, February 28, 2014

Unit 6 – Day 3: Hungary

On Day 3 of Unit 6 of the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center we studied Austria & Hungary. But, due to the amount of information for both of these countries wrote a separate review for each wine region for Austria. Covered the Austrian learning objectives and reviewed the 7 Austria wines we tasted in class. In this review I’ll cover Hungary, the Hungarian learning objectives and then review the one wine we tasted from Hungary - a Tokaji Aszu.


While Hungary may not be one of the leading wine producing nations in the world today, in the 1600s through the early 1900s it had developed a winemaking culture. Unfortunately their wine culture was devastated after WWII when the country became communist as previously privately owned wineries became the property of the state, many traditional vineyards were torn up and the new focus was on high volume rather than quality wines.  However, since the fall of communism Hungary has slowly been on the rise with renewed foreign interest. Some of the top estates include the Royal Tokaji Company, Vega Sicilia’s Tokaj Oremus, Disznókõ, and Királyudvar.

The Climate of Hungary

Hungary primarily has a cool continental climate with a few warm areas in the south, but its most well-known wines are produced in the north. Soils are predominantly volcanic loess and clay, and many of the better vineyards occupy south-facing slopes.  When climate conditions are right warm conditions leading up to harvest and moisture in the air provide the perfect environment for the development of botrytis cinerea (“noble rot”) called Aszú in Hungarian.

Bull’s Blood – The Red Wine of Hungary

One of the most important wine regions is located in the northeastern corner of Hungary about 70 miles east of Budapest, Eger which gives its name to Egri Bikavér (“Bull’s Blood of Eger”). The wine is made from a blend of red grapes most importantly, Kardarka and Kékfrankos (also known as Blaufrankish).

Tokaji – The Sweet White Wine of Hungary

Further north-east from Eger is the Tokaj region (formerly Tokaj-Hegyalja, or the Tokaj “foothills”) located near the Carpathian Mountains along the border of the Czech Republic. Here the most important grape in Hungary is grown Furmint, which is used to produce dry wines but most famously the sweet white wines called Tokaji, meaning “of Tokaj.”
Aszú Grapes
The two principal grapes of the region are Furmint and Hárslevelű. Sárgamuskotály (Muscat Blanc à Petite Grains), Zéta (Oremus), Kabar and Kövérszőlő are authorized but generally used in small quantities.  Furmint is the important grape for the production of Tokaji Aszú, as it is particularly susceptible to botrytis and is naturally high in acidity. 
Rather than harvesting whole clusters of grapes, the aszú grapes are individually handpicked and gathered in containers called puttony which hold about 25 kg of grapes.  The aszú is then stomped into a doughy paste which is then mixed with barrels of base wine from non-aszú grapes.  The number of puttony added to a gönc (a Hungarian oak cask of approximately 136 L) determines the final sweetness of the Tokaji Aszú wine, and it is labeled on a scale of puttonyos.  

Aszú Level
Minimum Residual Sugar
3 Puttonyos
60 g/l
4 Puttonyos
90 g/l
5 Puttonyos
120 g/l
6 Puttonyos
150 g/l
Aszú Esszencia (7-9 Puttonyos)
180 g/l
Natúr Esszencia
450 g/l (formerly 250 g/l)

The wine then rests in cask for a minimum 2 years and undergoes an additional year of ageing in a bottle age prior to being released. 

Styles of Tokaji

Esszencia is the most rare and luxurious styles of Tokaji. During the pressing stage, a small amount of syrupy, free-run juice is allowed to settle out of the aszú must which is then vinified separately as Esszencia.  The Esszencia, created from free-run juice ferments at an extremely slow rate, and can sometimes taking decades to reach 4-6% alcohol.  Richer than honey, the wine can retain upwards of 800 grams per liter of residual sugar.  Esszencia, or Natúresszencia, is rarely available commercially, and it is everlasting nectar, unique in the entire world of wine.

Tokaji Szamorodni (“as it comes”) is produced from a mixture of aszú and non-aszú grapes. It is often created in an oxidative style as it is matures in a cask for at least 2 years sometimes under a film-forming yeast similar to flor.  These wines may be édes (sweet) or száras (dry). 

Tokaji Fordítás/Máslás wines are the by-products of aszú-making technology. Fordítás is pressing and refermenting of aszú-marc after a mix of new wine. Máslás is a maceration of lees of aszú and fordítás wine.

Late Harvest Tokaji wines may also be produced in a wide range of styles without extended aging or as dry varietal wines, made from non-aszú grapes. 

Protecting the Name Tokaji

There was a time in which is was common to find sparkling wines made in new World Wine regions labeled as “Champagne.” In order to protect their name and reputation in the marketplace major wine producing countries now prohibit the use of the name for any wine produced outside of Champagne, France.

This same scenario has taken place with the names “Jerez” (Sherry) and “Tokaji”. As of 2007 all other countries in the European Union are prohibited from using the term “Tokaj” or its derivatives (“Tokay”, “Tocai”) on labels. Consequently,  Alsatian producers lost the right to label Pinot Gris as “Tokay d’Alsace” and Italian producers now refer to what was previously known as Tocai Friulano as simply Friulano.

The Wine Regions of Hungary
Hungarian is one of only two European languages, which has its own word for ‘wine’ (bor) that is not derived from Latin. There are currently 22 total wine appellations in Hungary, each with a different microclimate producing different tastes and styles, both indigenous varieties and French and Italian varieties. The regions are as follows:[1]

Wine Regions of Hungary
Chardonnay is the leading variety, followed by Savignon Blanc, Riesling, Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) and Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling)
Furmint is the primary grape followed by Hárslevelű and Sárgamuskotály (Yellow Muscat).
'Bull's Blood of Eger' (Egri Bikavér), Pinot Noir, Syrah, and the traditional Eger whites including Debrői Hárslevelű, Verpeléti Olaszrizling and Egri Leányka
Rosé, Portugieser, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Kékfrankos, Merlot.
Kadarka Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir and Zweigelt.
Pinot Gris, Olaszrizling
Italian Riesling (Olaszrizling), Rizlingszilváni, Tramini, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Gris  (Szürkebarát), Muscat Ottonel  (Ottonel Muskotály). Red grapes such as Kékfrankos, Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet are grown mainly in the Tihany peninsula.
Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling), Chardonnay and Sárgamuskotály (Yellow Muscat).
Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát) and Italian Riesling (Olaszrizling), Rizlingszilváni, Chardonnay, Ottonel Muskotály (Muscat Ottonel), Rajnai rizling, Zöld Veltelini (Green Veltelini) and Tramini.
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling)
Mór is known for one indigenous variety, called Ezerjó, which makes a dry white wine with high acidity. They also produce Tramini and Chardonnay
Tramini, Chardonnay, Irsai Olivér
Hárslevelű, Furmint, Juhfark, Welschriesling, Tramini and Chardonnay.
Kékfrankos accounts for 60% of all the plantings. Other varieties include Zweigelt, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Portugieser and Sauvignon Blanc.
Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling) is the dominant variety here, other important grapes include Rizlingszilváni, Zala Gyöngye and Zöldveltelini.
Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling) is the most common type of vine planted in the region. Other varieties include Chardonnay, Rizlingszilváni, Leányka, Muscat Ottonel, Tramini and Sauvignon Blanc.
Italian Riesling (Olaszrizling), Chardonnay, Cserszegi fűszeres, Leányka, Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát), Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Kékoportó, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zweigelt.
Italian Riesling, Chardonnay and Cirfandli.
Chardonnay, Italian Riesling, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Sauvignon Blanc and Királyleányka. Red wine include Kadarka, Blaufränkisch, Blaue Portugieser, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon
Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignion and Zweigelt. White varieties include Italian Riesling (Olaszrizling), Chardonnay, Rajnai Rizling, Hárslevelű, Kövidinka and Ezerjó.
Kadarka, Kékfrankos and Zweigelt, Italian Riesling (Olaszrizling) and Kövidinka, a Hungarian variety,
Kunsági Ezerjó, Kecskemeti Cserszegi Fűszeres, Soltvadkerti Irsai Oliver, Jánoshalmi Ottonel Muskotály, Kiskunhalasi Cserszegi Fűszeres

Learning Objectives of Unit 6 – Day 3: Hungary

At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to a list of questions. The Learning Objectives for Unit 6 - Day 3 along with the answers are as follows.

By the end of class, students should be able to answer the following questions:

(1) Name 3 grapes of Tokaji
Answer: Furmint, Hárslevelű, Sarga Muscotály
(2) Define the term Aszú
Answer: Shriveled and botrytis-infected grapes individually picked, used to make Tokaji.
(3) Explain the term puttonyos
Answer: The name given to denote the level of sugar and hence the sweetness in Tokaji (or tokay). It is traditionally measured by the number of hods of sweet botrytised grapes (Aszú) added to a barrel of wine, but is now measured in grams of residual sugar. The Puttonyos was actually the 25 kg basket of Aszu grapes, and the more added to the barrel of wine, the sweeter the eventual wine.
(4) Define Aszú Eszencia and True Eszencia
Answer: Aszú Eszencia is the sweetest wine in the Aszú category, above 6 puttonyos. It is very rare and expensive. Unlike most other wines, alcohol content of aszú typically runs higher than 14%. A minimum of 180 g/l of sugar is required. True Eszencia is also a very rare and expensive wine and seldom available outside the area of production. It is made completely from free-run juice of aszú berries. The must is so sweet that it can take years to ferment. Alcohol is usually less than 5% abv. The legal minimum sugar level is 450 g/l. The wine is able to retain its freshness for over a century.
(5) Describe the attributes of any Hungarian wines tasted today
Answer: See below

The Wines

On the first day of Unit 6, after tasting 7 Austrian wines, we tasted the following wine from Hungary:

1. 2006 Királyudvar, Tokaji Aszu, 6 Puttonyos

This is a clear wine, brass/copper in color at the base to a watery rim with high viscosity. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of marmalade, canned peaches, apricot preserves, honey, decaying yellow flowers, with a hint of musty wet wool. On the palate it the nose is confirmed, it is very sweet, it has HIGH mouthwatering acidity, it is full bodied, it has low alcohol, it is very viscous but ends with a very pleasant clean and long finish. Definitely the high point of the line-up! This wine sells for about $70 per bottle.

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