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10 things that make Aszú wines unique

Aszú is the Hungarian word for shriveled and botrytis-affected berries and the resulting wine they make. This golden-hued nectar is not only a memorable experience on its own or when paired with food, but it is also a wine that can maintain its beauty for decades while adding new layers of complexity. Tokaji Aszú truly is a miracle, and its uniqueness goes beyond its delicious taste.

The unique microclimate of the Tokaj wine region

The unique character of the Tokaj wine region arises from its distinctive microclimate that allows for the growth of Botrytis cinerea on mature grapes. This phenomenon only occurs when there is sufficient humidity, which can be due to the damp autumn weather or the mist and fog that emerge from the rivers Tisza and Bodrog, as well as their tributaries. Under these conditions, the noble rot fungus creates a delicate layer around the berry, puncturing microscopic holes that enable quicker evaporation, causing the berry to lose water and shrivel into a raisin.

The warm autumn winds and sunlight naturally aid this process. Consequently, the sugars, acids, and flavors in the grape become more concentrated, and new aromas form, contributing to the unique citrusy botrytis flavor. For Botrytis to develop successfully, the grapes must be mature and intact; otherwise, it can cause grey or green rot. If even one condition is absent for the grapes to wither, the entire vintage can be lost.

Early morning fog is essential for the growth of Botrytis cinerea on mature grapes

Requires lots of grapes

At Disznókő, we understand the importance of having high-quality raw materials, particularly when it comes to crafting Aszú wines. The production of aszú grapes necessitates unique conditions that may not always be readily available, resulting in limited quantities of grapes that meet our rigorous standards. Typically, only a small portion of the entire grape harvest – usually between 5 to 20 percent – is suitable for making Aszú wines. Additionally, during the ripening process, the grapes lose a significant amount of weight, with an average of 5 kg of ripe grapes producing just 1 kg of aszú berries. Despite these challenges, we remain steadfast in our commitment to producing only the finest Aszú wines and prioritize quality over quantity.

Hand-harvesting berry-by-berry

The process of aszú harvesting is one of the most labor-intensive and time-consuming practices in the world of winemaking. It demands careful and manual selection in the field, where each aszú berry must be hand-picked only when fully ripe. Even the most experienced harvesters can only gather 6-10 kilograms of aszú berries per day, as they meticulously visit each vine four or five times. The grapes develop at different rates within the bunches, requiring the utmost concentration to ensure that no incorrect berries make their way into the precious aszú grapes.

Even experienced harvesters can only gather 6-10 kilograms of aszú berries per day

Eszencia

The aszú grapes are placed in a container where they press against each other under their own weight, without any external force. This subtle yet effective pressure causes the dripping juice, known as Eszencia, to trickle out in a thin stream through a tube at the bottom of the Aszú storage container. This nectar boasts an exceptionally high sugar content (600-900 grams per liter) and virtually no potential for fermentation, resulting in negligible alcohol content.

Eszencia is typically stored in glass demijohns. The less concentrated portion – if we can call it that – is blended with the Aszú wines towards the end of fermentation. The remaining nectar is aged for several years and then bottled in limited quantities when its quality is exceptional. It is occasionally served by the spoonful, and legend has it that this exceptionally sweet wine can cure many illnesses.

The Eszencia is a real curiosity – A miracle of nature, an eternal memory of the vintage.

Unique winemaking method

Aszú berries are so dry and raisined that direct pressing is almost impossible. Therefore, we soak them in either fermenting must or young wine for 12-60 hours to extract the sugars, acids, and flavors. The valuable substances can be extracted through pruning or piping techniques.

During maceration, the aszú grapes form a paste that is slowly pressed out over a period of 6-7 hours. The resulting juice is then fermented until it achieves the perfect balance of alcohol content and residual sugar.

Our ultimate goal is to extract the maximum aroma and flavor from the grapes while preserving the fruity freshness of Disznókő wines, resulting in an excellent balance between sugar, alcohol, and acidity.

Exceptionally long maturation

Aszú wines benefit greatly from barrel aging, with a minimum requirement of 18 months spent in barrels, as well as additional time spent in the bottle. Even at 5-6 years old, Aszú is still considered young and showcases fruity, citrusy aromas. However, at 10-15 years old, smoky and spicy flavors begin to emerge, making it a truly unique experience. Aszú is one of the wines with the longest aging potential, providing a delightful drinking experience even after several decades of aging. Furthermore, once opened, it maintains its quality for up to a month and a half, allowing for it to be enjoyed in small batches.

Once opened, Aszú maintains its quality for weeks

An exceptional balance of acidity, sugar, and alcohol

Botrytis wines are produced in various regions worldwide, including France, Germany, Austria, Canada, California, and others, with several varieties susceptible to noble rot. However, nowhere else can one find the exceptional balance of acidity, sugar, and alcohol as in Aszú wines. This delicate balance, combined with subtle botrytis flavors, creates unparalleled harmony and flavor that is truly unique.

The Uniqueness of Vintages

It is a challenge to find another wine region worldwide where the uniqueness of vintages is as prominently conveyed and documented in the wine as it is in Aszú. Tokaji Aszú, above all others, exemplifies the qualities of a warm vintage (high sugar and/or alcohol) or a cooler vintage (higher acidity).

Surprising Versatility

Tokaji Aszú boasts a high residual sugar content, making it an exceptional dessert wine that can even replace end-of-meal sweets. However, Aszú is far more intricate than just a dessert wine. Adopt a fresh perspective and pair it with your main courses! Classic pairings include duck or foie gras and blue cheeses that are not too salty. Aszú pairs beautifully with poultry featuring fruit or cream sauces, sweet vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and carrots, as well as seafood. It is also a great accompaniment to slightly spicy dishes from Asian cuisine.

Aszú pairs well with dishes from Asian cuisine

International Aszú Day

Aszú’s complexity and sweetness are fascinating to everyone, and it undoubtedly deserves its own day. Aszú Day is celebrated worldwide on December 10th each year! It’s the perfect wine for any occasion, making even the most ordinary weekdays extraordinary. It’s impossible not to fall in love with it!