In September, the Gonzalez Byass team took a trip to Disznókö Tokaji. Read the blog to find out about the wonders they discovered.
The hills of Tokaj-Hegyalja may not be a palm-fringed paradise, but they certainly feel like an oasis after the flat expanse of the Great Hungarian Plain. For nearly three hours we sped through this dull landscape of sunflower and corn fields, the monotony only broken by the occasional dalliance with death that our driver was so fond of. Stepping from the car with immeasurable relief we are surrounded by a majestic sweep of vines rising up towards the crest of the Disznókő hill upon which we stand. There is a gentle breeze blowing south-eastwards along the ridge line, towards a high conical hill rising proudly out of the plain; the Tokaj hill itself. To the south-west, the plain we have just traversed stretches away to a hazy horizon.
“Soil, humidity, wind”. These are the factors that make the great aszú wines of Tokaj explains László Mészáros, winery director at Disznókő. Not only do the rich volcanic clay soils impart a strong mineral character to the wines, they also warm up easily thus helping to ripen the late-ripening Furmint variety that is the backbone of aszú wines. The humidity comes from the plain, creating the ideal conditions for botrytis to take hold in the vineyards. The wind comes from the hills, gently drying the grapes and keeping the botrytis in check before it goes too far and starts turning from noble rot to grey rot. This interplay between the warm humidity of the plain and the dry winds of the hills creates the ideal conditions for the botrytis to attack and shrivel the grapes, giving the perfect aszú berries.
And it’s perfect aszú berries that László is after, for Disznókő is first and foremost dedicated to producing aszú wines, the great sweet wines upon which Tokaj’s reputation is founded. First appearing in the land registry in 1413, and classified as a first growth since 1732, today the Disznókő estate comprises some 150 hectares, of which 100 are cultivated under vine. Yet looking at the winery, it is hard to see how it is large enough to cope with 100 hectares worth of grapes. This is partly due to its intelligent and tasteful design, making it seem smaller than it is by sinking it into the hillside and by curving around the contours of the hill in harmony with the landscape. Mostly however, it is testament to the tiny yields that are tolerated in the pursuit of aszú perfection.
As we move to the winery, László leads us to a small container, no more than 15kg in size, filled with aszú berries. He scoops out a handful and passes them around, explaining it would have taken two pickers an entire day to harvest this one container. It doesn’t feel right to be grazing on the fruits of hard labour so freely, but tasting these small dried berries is illuminating – they are turbo-charged with sugar, acidity and flavour. The aszú berries will sit there for weeks, slowly crushing under their own weight and releasing the tiniest trickle of free run juice – Eszencia! In the meantime, the pickers will return to the vineyards again and again, making successive painstaking ‘tries’ through the vineyards in search of more just-so aszú berries. Eventually the healthy bunches will be harvested and brought to the winery for vinification, and it is then that László will have to decide how to make his aszú wines.
In a humid year with grapes showing high levels of botrytis, the preferred option is to gently steep the aszú berries in a made wine. In a drier year, where the aszú berries are more desiccated, they will be macerated in a fermenting must, thus ensuring a more vigorous extraction. Some years call for a compromise between both approaches. In exceptional years Laszlo may choose to make an aszú 6 Puttonyos, commonly misunderstood as simply a sweeter style than 5 Puttonyos. In actual fact, although by law it has a higher sugar threshold than 5 Puttonyos, the purpose of a 6 Puttonyos is not to make a sweeter wine, but a wine that is more intense in every sense – the pinnacle expression of a great vintage.
It is László’s insightful interpretation of each vintage, and his deft manipulation of the wines at this critical stage, that contributes so impactfully to Disznókő’s unique, delicate and pure style. Once the perfect extraction has been achieved (anywhere from 12 to 60 hours of maceration), the wine is pressed and fed to oak barrels, where it matures peacefully in the cool, dark, and curiously furry, Disznoko Cellars.
Our tour finishes with a truly humbling vertical tasting of aszú wines dating back to 1993 (tasting notes here). With each wine an inspiration, and in light of the effort and craftsmanship that has gone into them, we are left dumbfounded as to how Tokaj does not command a higher price. Indeed, as the region’s reputation returns to its former glory (some consumers still remember those questionable wines of the Communist era), I am sure its stock will rise. Until then however, we owe it to these magnificent producers to promote these wines. You may even pick up a few bargains along the way.
Speak to your Account Manager or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about Disznókő wines.