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László Mészáros on „Cork Talk” with Tim Atkin MW

In a recent „Cork Talk” conversation László Mészáros, Director of Disznókő Estate was the guest of Tim Atkin MW. They discussed the region’s history, harvest, winemaking traditions, grape varieties, vineyard classification, and the secrets behind its exceptional botrytis-affected wine, Aszú.

Late Harvest Tradition in Tokaj

The conversation began with a discussion of Tokaj’s seemingly late grape harvest, due to the late ripening of the region’s unique grape varieties, particularly Furmint. Harvest starts with picking grapes for dry white wines. It is followed by a wait for botrytis (noble rot), allowing an extended harvest of up to two months. This extended period is crucial for selecting botrytis-affected berries for our prized Aszú wines meticulously. 

Botrytis-affected aszú berries are carefully handpicked berry by berry. Photo: Barna Szász for Offbeat

Historical Tokaj Wines and Communism’s Impact

The conversation delved into the historical context of Tokaj wines, emphasizing how wines from the pre-communist era had distinctive qualities. During the communist era, wines in stores lacked diversity and distinctiveness. It forced wine enthusiasts to establish personal connections with winemakers to acquire better-quality wines. Our director highlighted that the new style of Tokaj wine, with its complexity, vintage character, terroir expression, and fresh fruity character, aligns more with the historical traditions than the wines produced during the communist period.

AXA Millésimes and the Rebirth of Tokaj

The early ’90s was a significant change in the Tokaj wine region. After the political upheaval, the formerly state-owned vineyards were privatized, attracting investors from France, the UK, Spain, and Germany. In 1992, AXA Millésimes, a major international investor, acquired Disznókő Estate, injecting vital capital, technical expertise, and a distribution network. This marked a new era for Tokaj wines. Our director played a pivotal role in overseeing the region’s transformation, including vineyard replanting and winery renovations.

Christian Seely, MD of the AXA Millésimes group of vineyards, with László Mészáros, director of Disznókő Estate

Exploring Disznókő’s Unique Terroir and Climate

Situated in northeastern Hungary, close to Slovakia and Ukraine, Disznókő’s vineyards adorn volcanic hills facing the Hungarian Plain. The region experiences morning mist and dry winds, which promote the development of botrytis and contribute to the unique character of Tokaji Aszú.

They also talked about the unique volcanic character of the soils of Disznókő Estate, where Furmint emerged as the dominant grape variety, constituting over 70% of our vineyards. The region’s vineyards were classified as early as 1732 and have been used as a reference for wine production ever since. It was also one of the oldest wine classifications globally.

The Legend of Aszú and its Winemaking Process

A legend suggests that Tokaji Aszú was invented when grapes couldn’t be harvested due to a Turkish siege. As a result, berries were left on the vines until November, leading to the creation of Aszú. While this legend dates to 1630, historical records confirm Aszú production as far back as the 16th century. 

Aszú berries, dried and desiccated, are highly concentrated and are handpicked one by one over several weeks. Due to their dryness, they cannot be pressed conventionally. Instead, they undergo maceration with fermenting must or wine – akin to the process of red wine production – to extract flavors, acids, and tannins, resulting in the distinctive character of Tokaji Aszú. The puttonyos system represents the concentration of Tokaji Aszú wines. The number of puttonyos indicates the amount of aszú berries added to a barrel of base wine, determining the richness of the final wine.

Different Styles of Tokaji Wines

Different styles of Disznókő wines

The conversation explained the various styles of Tokaji wines, including the traditional late-harvest Szamorodni and the prestigious Aszú wines, highlighting the differences in production methods and the evolution of the styles over the years. 

They also talked about dry Tokaji Furmint, mentioning how they were initially considered secondary but have gained popularity in recent years for their acidity, minerality, and unique expression of the region’s terroir.

Climate Change and the Future of Tokaj Wines

With climate change, the drier and warmer summers have led to earlier ripening. While it has affected the style of Tokaji wines, Botrytis is still prevalent in most vintages, and Tokaji Aszús maintain their unique character. The conversation ended on a forward-looking note, discussing the increasing focus on sustainability in winemaking.

Tasting Disznókő Wines

During the conversation, László Mészáros and Tim Atkin MW had the opportunity to taste several Disznókő wines, highlighting their characteristics, aging potential, and compatibility with various dishes. The tasting of the fresh and mineral Furmint Dry 2022, 1413 Sweet Szamorodni 2018, 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2013, and our Kapi Vineyard 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2015 also provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of Tokaj wine region and Disznókő wines. 

We invite you to embark on your own journey of discovery by experiencing the diverse styles of Tokaji wines, from the crisp and mineral Furmint Dry to the lusciously sweet Aszú wines. Whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of Tokaj, there’s always something new to explore, savor, and appreciate.

We also want to express our deep appreciation for the privilege of joining Tim Atkin’s „Cork Talk.” It was a true honor to share the world of Tokaji wine making with such a distinguished audience. The conversation can be listened HERE.