As I mentioned it was a bleak and dreary rainy day when I made my way to my local wine shop The Fine Wine Source. As you can imagine, I am a very quiet and demure individual and most of the time, they never even notice me wandering around. I didn’t think you would believe it, I don’t even believe that I wrote that. I guess from working with the public for decades, I am rather gregarious, but in the old school way. Unfortunately for me, the day before, they had what sounded like a great wine presentation with a representative from the winery and I had to miss it. Even though I am semi-retired, that day before made the words “work is the curse of the drinking class” so true. I missed the event, but I was asking questions about it, and they had a very successful day of it, especially because they moved their three and six pack verticals that they were featuring. I guess my wallet and the Exchequer at home appreciated that fact. As I said, it was very quiet and the owner joined me, as well as one of his employees that was kept very busy working the day before to relive the wines from the presentation, and may I say I was in heaven.
I will mention the first and the last wine of the tasting now, instead of proceeding in a more orderly fashion as I did that afternoon. In 1993, just three years after the world saw that Communism and Socialism did not work in the former Soviet Hungarian Republic, the Alvarez family that had bought Vega-Sicilia founded Tokaji-Oremus, but respecting the time-honored traditions of the district. The region known as Tokaj is actually twenty-seven municipalities and land, but Tokaj is the major city of the area. The history of Oremus goes back to 1620 and they are credited with making the first Aszu wine as well. When I was first learning about wine, I had always wanted to try all the versions of Tokaji wines, but back then it was the Cold War and the Communists ran a monopoly on the wines of all of the countries that they ruled by the jackboot and intimidation. Rumor has it that Pepsi Cola was an un-official conduit for wines and spirits behind the Iron Curtain for years, keeping the United States in Stolichnaya and Monimpex Tokaji. While there are a couple of different varietals that are grown in this region, the main one is Furmint. Furmint produces a highly acidic juice that when nurtured can develop into one of the longest-lived wines known.
We started with a glass of Oremus Furmint Mandolas Tokaji Dry 2014, a curious wine that has become popular in this century, because it is a dry wine. This wine is named for the vineyard that the grapes come from and it is only planted with Furmint. This is a golden grape that buds late and because of a peculiar trait has one of the potentially longest growing cycles and is very labor intensive. The grapes are delicately pressed and the fermentation process can take eight to ten days and then the wine is aged in small oak barrels, which is the traditional way. Even though this is a dry white wine, and can be enjoyed immediately, it can be aged for about ten years. The wine delivered a curious blend of floral and smoke and was full flavored with a good finish. After four red wines we enjoyed a glass of Oremus Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2006. Now here is where the Furmint grape and the wine known as Tokaji are most celebrated. Tokaji Aszu can only be found when Mother Nature allows the elements of weather to be ideal to create an Aszu vintage. The berries swollen due to the humidity split and the “Botrytis cinérea” establishes in its skin and creates the noble rot. This procedure has been going on for hundreds of years. The special grapes with the noble rot are collected in special baskets which are known as Puttonyos, and the number of these special baskets are then added to the already crushed grapes. I have quoted this passage from Oremus to explain the next step “The fermentation of the Aszú must is a slow process that can sometimes last up to two months. It is then put into wood barrels and is left in a protected wine press, waiting for the fermentation to stop by itself. We then add a little Eszencia, which has been collected drop by drop from the Aszú berries. We thus symbolically return its soul, which is embodied in the Eszencia.” The wine is left to age for two to three years and then it is aged in the bottle for an additional year, before it is released. This wine is a blend of several varietals of which the lion’s share is the Furmint. There is also the Harslevelu which adds mildness and floral notes, the Sarga Muskotaly (Yellow Muscat) with its distinctive nose, the Zeta which lends robustness to the blend. They are also traditionalists and are growing some varietals that were prior to the phylloxera blight and that is the Koverszolo and the Goher, but both are in limited areas. There were 23,400 bottles produced of this wine and it could be cellared for forty years. This was just a big wine, it was floral, chewy, robust with enough terroir to please the fussiest taster, with a nice smooth lingering finish and even a bit of pepper at the end to lure one into another taste. And now I can think of the wines that were in between.
I’ve tasted a few dry wines made from Furmint and quite enjoyed them. But I’ve never had an Aszu! Thanks for sharing your tasting experience – and the background on how the wines were made.
Lauren, thank you, and I had always enjoyed the dessert wines and not the dry Furmint. Years ago, I wrote how Tokaji was drank as a way to guarantee male heirs. I am not sure how true it is, but I guess it couldn’t hurt. – John
Sounds like the start of a new marketing campaign! 🙂