Tokaj is a special wine region from several aspects. Unique areas, local grape varieties, particular wine categories and of course, a rich history. One thing that separates it from any other region in the world is the fact that every single year shows us just how different they can be in terms of the qualities and characteristics of the wine produced here. A favourite endeavour of everyday wine manners is the so-called „vintaging”, where the worldy and less informed consumers can’t always orient themselves easily, especially with so many years to consider. Fear not, this article will answer some questions like: what makes a year good or bad? What were the best years of the past decade? Is it worth to save these wines for my kid’s 18th birthday or not?
What makes a year good, then?
In most regions of the world it’s the main winetypes that define if that particular year will end up to be notable or not. It can be easily said that the classic, dry wine regions enjoy warm but not too hot years (the phenomenon of climate change has impacted this aspect quite a bit, especially since the early 2000s), with the precipitation spreading ideally and/or especially during the first half of the growing season (sprouting, blooming, ripening). And then there are those years where diseases (downy mildew, powdery mildew, rot) are more common, while the less humid or damp years aren’t usually bothered by these infections.
A nice harvest weather is paramount. This isn’t only important for the organization of the work that needs to be done, but the must degree of a berry can change in a matter of days or even hours, and this applies to the acid contents as well. The optimal timing of the harvest is the most important changing factor in terms of the quality of a finished wine. Especially regarding dry wines, a warm year provides us with more full-bodied wines with higher alcohol levels thanks to a general increase in sugar degree, often with noticable amounts of residual sugar (if the fermentation stops). Opposed to a warm year, a cool, rainy one can grant us wines with much more defined acid levels.
Tokaj is a bit different (in this too)…
The Foothills isn’t only home to its dry specialties – it’s also the region of sweet delicacies, where the presence of noble rot defines the qualities of the wines in the given year. The prerequisites for this are well or overly ripened grape produce and the damp, humid autumn mornings. In terms of the generally damp environment and of the large presence of botrytis, the correct dispersion of rainfall is extremely important. Rainy weather has to consistently swap around with sunny and warm days in order for us to make high quality szamorodni or even aszú wine – therefore, they are the only wine types in the world to require both rain and sunshine. Generally, the Tokaj region enjoys around 3 great vintages every decade (in the 90s, these were 1993, 1999, 2000, then 2003, 2006, 2007 and the latest decade would probably show a bit more tendency to change thanks to climate change)
Which year was good in Tokaj?
It’s important to note that, going back multiple hunders of years, there exist several vintage ratings on the region. With all that said, the wine types and shifts of trends means that a recent 5-star rated year is much different than that of a similar year in, let’s say, the 60s. The national wine combine defined the years by a quantified standpoint: there must be as much aszú as can be produced (in all sorts of puttony numbers), there has to be a lot of szamorodni, and the dry wines without botrytis never became popular until the year 2000. This leads up to our current two aspects, based upon which we can try to determine the quality of current vintages (especially regarding younger wines): it’s possible that a dry year is perfect for a dry wine, but simply not enough for an aszú and vice versa, if the noble rots hits the grape a bit too early due to the weather conditions.
In this text we won’t go over the years before the regime change, but rather do our best to showcase the past three decades with their most striking lessons, recommendations and what to look for all the way from the 90s up to this day - with a bit of additional label history, and painting the years red to indicate which ones yielded aszú wine here at Hímesudvar.
2020* - a difficult year with a large amount of rain, disease, not truly favouing any wine type, although, with the correct selection and proper harvest timing, the base wines could be made at a high quality.
2019**** - this one favoured several wine types, a warm year overall. Its dry wines already prove that it’s an exciting year and multiple (mostly larger) vineyards enjoyed a promising aszú harvest as well, with plenty of botrytised berries to collect.
2018*** - an extremely hot, early year with a never-ending summer throughout Europe. As a result, a less ideal year for aszú and the dry wines are less about the acids, being highly enjoyable when fresh.
2017***** - a beautiful year regarding all types. The dry wines are starting to really grow turn into their greatest forms and the aszú wines aren’t even in distribution. It’s worth to keep an eye on these!
2016*** - a mild year, botrytis came early, so a heavy amount of selection was needed for the dry items. Thanks to a large amount of rainfall during the autumn season, this is quite the limited vintage, as the few aszú that was made during it is showing fantastic levels of acidity.
2015**** - a warm year, which generally favoured the botrytis devoid, full-bodied dry wines. Very few aszú was made throughout the entire region.
2014* - once again an extremely rainy, disease-heavy year with a lot of selection, a bit of nice aszú but a lot of wines showed fast paces of aging (1-2 great aszú products).
2013***** - a great year with a warm fall, fine dry wines and then very intensified aszú presence which gave us rich, deep and thick sweet wines (with relatively low acidity).
2012*** - hot (stacking on top of 2011), a year full of drought, providing quite full-bodied, acid poor dry wines.
2011**** - similarly to the previous one, very warm, dry year but the 2010 rainfalls filled the land with water, so the grapes didn’t suffer as much. 2011**** bore high quality, although only a few, larger wineries could produce good aszú during this one.
2010* - lots of rainfall, infections, lots of selection needed. While it’s difficult to find the dry ones, a lot of great aszú were produced during this one.
2009**** - warm year, once again proving to be exciting across all dry wines, while the aszú wasn’t that favoured at all. Low acid levels all around.
2008***** - the year of acidity with fantastic, long lasting dry wines, then beautiful aszú presence allowing us to make wines with fresh acids and durable structure.
2007***** - extremely warm, quick ripening, with a massive noble rot presence during the shrivelling season: creamy, plump, thick wines in every category. A year to remember.
2006***** - one of the most well-balanced vintages of all. Moderate weather conditions, warm autumn, lengthy ripening period with great dry wines and harmonic aszú wines.
2005* - flood-like rainfall, moderate or maybe even a cooler year overall. It was a true search for dry wines during this one, but provided us with some exciting aszú wines.
2004** - rainy, cold vintage, failing to provide a lot of quality in the dry category. There are some sweet ones to be found from this year, however.
2003**** - one of the decade’s most memorable, warm vintages: there were some milestones to be made in terms of dry wines, and this year gifted us with some plump, rich aszú wines.
2002*** - not that outstanding in the dry category, but there are some notable, perfectly acidic, long lasting aszú items from this one. Required a lot of selection due to the harvest rainfall.
2001* - a difficult, rainy, cold year. Most categories enjoyed a weak quality during this vintage.
2000***** - a classic, warm, dry vintage. Several of the first few game-changing dry wines in the region, and then the creamy, complex, great aszú wines – which are making their way to the top nowadays – were produced during this year.
1999***** - one of the classic vintages of Tokaj’s modern era. Fantastic aszú items, high acidity, the sweet wines from there still feel fresh and young (the first cuvée blends and late harvest wines are created as well).
1998* - a mild one, with lots of rainfall and a lot of rot. Weak aszú harvest, with few exciting wines overall.
1997** - a late, cool year with a delayed ripening. Only the luckiest winemakers could harvest a good aszú yield, with relatively nice acidity.
1996*** - a milder summer, delayed harvest, late ripening. That said, several time-enduring aszú was made, where they selected according to the quality (an aszú year diving the old and the new styles).
1995*** - a warm summer full of drought, a long indian summer. A fine year, but overall a small amount of aszú.
1994* - cool, mild year, with insufficient aszú quality.
1993***** - the first great year after the regime change. Complex, fruity, long-lasting aszú wines were made then, which live up to their name to this day in their bottles.
A few great vintages are still remembered before the regime change: for collectionists, 1956 or 1972 are considered great treasures. The year of the comet, 1811 throughout Europe, therefore in Tokaj as well, is an important vintage. This was the first year where a large amount of bottled aszú wines survived several years and for posterity’s sake (even the world famous Christie’s Auction House met some of these wines). The first well-known, great year in the Tokaj Foothills was 1524. Well, if anyone has a wine from this vintage, make sure you let our editors know…!
translated by Mara Várhelyi
Discounted pre-orders for a limited batch of our newest aszú wine are available now until December 10-12. This one was 100% produced from the Zéta grape variety.
Expect more details in the next newletter.
Autumn represents the end of something in public consciousness; it brings along the twilight of the summer holiday and summer itself. But a new era starts on the rivers too just like at school, since the first cool nights, and the rapidly falling water temperature entail the explosive uptrend of predatory fish’s appetite as well. Most fish consciously prepare for winter, and parallel with the changing weather, a change gets started in the mood and appetite of fish too. For the anglers who arrive to Tokaj in this period of the year, it is not worth missing those unique opportunities that the Tisza and Bodrog rivers can offer.
The rivers show their wonderful faces in autumn. The floodplain forest is dressed in colorful clothes and the slowly balding trees dance to the roar of deer in the morning mist. Foggy mornings lure even the most cautious animals out of their shelter. Under the fog that covers the face of the river like a veil, deer and roe deer swim across the quiet flow. Wild geese, like giant arrows, cross the sky and say goodbye loudly to the changing landscape.
We are lucky in Tokaj because the two rivers have markedly different predatory fish stocks, thus pike, zander and catfish can be easily caught within a relatively little amount of time. The main predator of the Bodrog is pike, and the Tisza is famous for its zander and catfish population. The Bodrogzug Nature Reserve, as the “cradle” of the area, provides the fish with the right spawning conditions every year, thus ensuring continuous natural reproduction.
By autumn, the Bodrog River usually clears and slows down, showing a particularly friendly and quiet face at Tokaj. In addition to the larger depths of 6-8 meters, there are plenty of shallow shores, benches, shores lined with yellow water pumpkins and reeds. These shallow waters attract pike like magnets in September, as the water pumpkin fields are full of whitefish. As the water begins to cool with the first cold dawns, the “crocodile-jawed” predators visit coastal aquatic habitats and here we can catch large numbers of them if we use the right technique and bait.
This is the most exciting course for spin fishermen, as it is a big challenge to catch these strong river predators from the vegetation. Two methods are most effective in this case: we either fish with surface frog imitations on top of the pumpkin leaves or we use sinking lures (usually rubber bait) with protected hooks between the pumpkin leaf stalks. Due to the strikes seen in the vegetation, as well as the sight of pike wildly attacking surface lures, the heart of every spinning angler beats faster. These are the actions that make a spinning guy a spinning guy; usually the moment of the strike, the fierce attack of the predatory fish is what we like best in this method.
This period lasts as long as there is still water pumpkin on the surface. If the aquatic plants disappear once and for all - which usually happens by November - and the water temperature drops below the critical 10 degrees, the pike will also follow the large schools of whitefish gathering in the deeper layers of the water. Even then, they can be caught, but in a completely different way, and only in the vicinity of the bream flocks that gather at the winter dwelling spots.
The Tisza is just as magical as the Bodrog, but in terms of its predatory fish, zander and catfish are much more dominant in it. Even in autumn, these two fish species are the most common guests on the hooks of spinning anglers.
Many people do not even know how ideal September and October are for the scouting of the largest growing predator in our domestic waters. But the catfish is on a conditioning diet, getting ready for the winter. The digestion of the large-bodied fish is still quite fast in 15-20 Celsius degree water, which is why it feeds a lot and attacks larger fish more carelessly than in the summer. At the same time, when preparing for winter, it tries to get into the best possible shape, which it can achieve with regular and indiscriminate foaming.
It is no coincidence that we catch more and more catfish as by-catches during zander- and Volga zander fishing. After all, catfish prefer to stay close to smaller, easily swallowable, cylindrical fish around 30-40 cm length, and they do take the duty from them properly. But not only can we catch catfish by accident on the Tisza, but we can also aim at them consciously. We can be effective with traditional plastic lures and jigging technique or vertical fishing.
Zander migrate a lot during this period due to changing water temperatures. It is often the case that they need to be “investigated” on a daily basis, as whitefish troops move, so do the “spiny-backed” predators. They are most likely to be found on stone structures, drop-offs and underwater obstacles, snags. Interestingly, the deep pits are not yet functioning well during the transition period, they are only visited by whitefish - and thus by predators as well - just in the winter. The sandbanks, shallow but hard, clay-bottomed river sections can surprisingly keep many large zander in the fall.
In such cases, it is worth fishing for zander with the traditional plastic lure technique, but vertical fishing can also be effective. Zander fishing is a much more rewarding task in the fall than in the winter because the fish become inactive at water temperatures close to zero. This way, even a beginner spinning angler can clearly have a lot more success in the fall. Of course, there are better and worse days in autumn as well, but perseverance and conscious “point-hopping” will bring along the long-awaited success.
So, it’s no coincidence that autumn is the real season for predator anglers. We can chase our domestic predatory fish in cooling waters with much better results than in summer or winter. This is worth keeping in mind for all visitors to Tokaj, as it is easy for a spinning angler to catch the fish of his lifetime during a weekend family vacation. And if we want to pamper our limbs frozen due to the cool autumn wind, there is no better place for this purpose than a Tokaj cellar in the company of a little mulled wine.
Much like the furmint, this one is an old Hungarian grape type most likely created via natural breeding processes. According to one of several genetics-based analyses, one of the grape’s parents is the Furmint. It was first mentioned in texts originating from the Tokaj region, in 1723. The name is probably derived from its leaves being slightly similar to that of a linden tree’s, as this is also the case in other languages as well (french „Feuille de Tilleul" german „Lindenblättrige") Funnily enough, its wine frequently reminds one of linden honey when it comes to its fragrance. Traditionally, it was planted in conjunction with Furmint in order to maintain the latter grapes’ tough, more acidic characteristics and balance these out, softening and enriching the aroma.
Its subtypes were described by Márton Németh in his Ampelography: the Nemes (Noble) Hárslevelű’s long, cylinder shaped clusters are prone to ripening, the Fecskefarkú (Sparrow-tailed) subtype’s clusters are very long, often twisting and turning at the very bottom, and is slightly less prone to being as fertile. The Rúgós Hárslevelű possesses small clusters while being very loose, therefore making it basically unusable. During the selection of the grapes’ clones, the continued fertilisation of several, more valuable grapevines can lead to increasing the overall value of the grape. In the case of Hárslevelű, this can lead to generally better, more evenly sized clusters and plain better results regarding the taste of these clones’ final wines. These clones include the T.311 type from Tarcal, but Kecskemét’s selected K.9 and also the P.41, originating from Pécs.
Its loose clusters are made up of slightly smaller to medium-sized, thin-skinned berries, at least when compared to the Furmint type. Its cluster often grow very large, „as big as a small pig”, and the harvesters really like to take pictures with them during the season. The teeth on its leaves’ edges are round, while its parent types’ have pointy, serrated edges, thus being easily distinguishable from other grapes. Compared to the Furmint, it can prove to be slightly more vulnerable to many different effects: it doesn’t handle drought very well, it’s prone to illnesses and infections such as powdery mildew as well as malnourishment, and it’s especially sensitive when it comes to subzero temperatures, taking high amounts of frost damage. When it comes to the efficient and successful growing of Hárslevelű, a careful consideration of placement and extreme caretaking are required. It is less prone to the effects of noble rot, although its later-ripened specimens can be affected by it successfully. The aforementioned linden honey infused, delicately aromatic and spicy taste palette apply to both dry and sweet Hárslevelű wines, and a good amount of residual sugar can do wonders to the wine. It complements Furmint extremely well if one decides to mix multiple types.
The total plantation area of furmint is 1120 hectares throughout the Tokaj Wine Region, making it cover 20% (TBHK, 2018) of the entirety of grown areas in the region. Its overall planted area in the country is 1612 hectares (2008), traditionally grown in the Eger Wine Region around the locale of Debrő, in Somló, Villány, and on the northern coasts of Lake Balaton. Outside of Hungary, smaller plantations can be found in Austria, Slovakia and Romania as well.
translated by Áron Várhelyi
Read more about the other Tokaj grape varieties!
Although its origin hasn’t been confirmed via genetic research, most ampelographers have come to the consensus that the Romanian “Grasă” (Romanian for “fat”), or “Grasă de Cotnari”, and Kövérszőlő are one and the same grape variety. Altought this title has only been apparent since the 19th century and onwards among the Tokaj grapes. Professionals also believe that Kövérszőlő is the same as “Fejérszőlő”, which goes back to as far as the 17th century, being mentioned in multiple texts. It’s been grown for more than hundreds of years around the Cotnar area in Romania. In this region, three different types are described: another with yellow or greenish berries, and one with a crunchier fruit skin. This amount of variability can be related to Cotnar being the original home of Kövérszőlő.
According to a Romanian folktale, Stephen III, a Moldavian monarch was visiting Matthias I in his court in Gyulafehérvár, where the former was so impressed by the Kövérszőlő wine he tasted that he actually returned with several cuttings in order to create a plantation of his own back home. Another tale claims that Kövérszőlő was brought to Cotnar from Hungarian territory by the German Gutnar, where he gave his name to the village that gave home to the vineyards Gutnar-Kotnar) in the 15th century.
It is easily recognised by its large, dark green, deeply toothed leaves and, of course, its giant (fat) berries (Kövér-szőlő = Fat-grape) and large clusters. Its secondary shoots grow forcefully and it takes a special sort of attention to make sure that its clusters don’t become too overwhelmed with its leafage. Failing to address this can lead to a slow ripening process and increases the chance of acidobacter infection. The latter is more probable thanks to the amount of wasps and boars that like to feast on its easily consumable berries. It ripens one, maybe two weeks earlier than Furmint. It’s recommended to harvest it at the end of September or the beginning of October if one aims to make dry wine out of it. The examinations of the Tokaj Research Institute compare the grape to older, white wine yielding grape varieties such as the variations of Goher, Balafánt or the White járdovány. When it comes to the potential of dry wine, the character and qualities of the dry Kövérszőlő are the closest to the Furmint. Its growing popularity in the past centuries is also thanks to the fantastic quality, greasy, rich aszú berries it can yield after having been affected by noble rot. Harvesting these berries can lead to the production of incredibly valuable sweet wines. Many like to consume it fresh, as a fruit snack, although its thin skin makes it susceptible to bursting open, therefore the transportation of Kövérszőlő is quite troublesome.
It is grown on more than 400 hectares today in Romania, primarily among the hills of the Moldovan wine region and its twelve main foothills, in the Cotnar region, secondarily in the Wallachian and Oltenian wine regions, in the area of Dealu Mare. Dry, semisweet, sweet and late harvest wines are all made from its fruit. It was quite the important grape type in the Tokaj region until the unfortunate phylloxera plague destroyed most of its plantations, making it almost completely disappear from the repertoire of grapes. Multiple smaller installations of Kövérszőlő were created in the 1990s, which leads to a total amount of a little more than 50 hectares being produced today (a small sum of 1% of the whole region). Its wine can be labelled once again as “Tokaji” since 1998.
translated by Áron Várhelyi
2020. Tokaji Kövérszőlő
száraz | dry / 0,75l
alkohol | alcohol: 11,94%
maradékcukor | residual sugar: 8,4 g/l
sav | acidity: 7,6 g/l
készült | bottled: 980 palack | bottles
nébih engedélyszám: IHZG
2015 óta készítünk száraz bort is ebből a nagyon ritka tokaji szőlőfajtából. A visszajelzések arra biztatnak minket, hogy ne szakítsuk meg ezt a szokásunkat, így íme itt a 2020-as évjárat!
Szeptember végén szüreteltük a szépen beérett szőlőfürtöket.
Az erjedés tölgyfardóban, lassan, nyugodtan zajlott le és a tisztítási műveletek után a bor további 3 hónapot töltött még hordóban.
Ízben vastag, komplex, inkább fűszeres, kissé ásványos, citrusos. Illatban halvány fúszeresség, körte és őszibarack.
Érdekességek a Kövérszőlőről itt!
BORTESZT | Borrajongó blog / 2021. július
"Egy ritka, száraz iskolázású kövérszőlő. Visszafogott fehér húsú gyümölcsös, őszibarackos illat, enyhe trópusi érintéssel. Gömbölyded, finom szövésű korty fogad szájban, a savak és a maradékcukor szépen kiegyensúlyozzák egymást. Ízében őszibarack, körte, fehér húsú gyümölcsök, egy kevés citrus és fűszer"
2014. Tokaji Kövérszőlő
édes | sweet 0,375l
Malomfeli dűlő | single vineyard
alkohol | alcohol: 11%
maradékcukor | residual sugar: 130 g/l
sav | acidity: 6,5 g/l
készült | bottled: 1619 palack | bottles
Túlérett, töppedt, aszúsodott fürtökből válogatott alapanyag. 14 hónap fahordós érlelés. "5 puttonnyi" maradékcukor.
Érdekességek a Kövérszőlőről itt.
BORTESZT | Borrajongó blog / 2021 július
"Túlérett, aszúsodott fürtökből készült, 14 hónap hordós érleléssel, lényegében szamorodni technológiával, 130 g/l a maradékcukor. Fejlett, szépen érő illatában aszalt gyümölcsök, datolya, birsalma, egy kevés dió. A korty dús és koncentrált, finoman krémes, de van benne tartás is a sok maradékcukor mellett. Aszalt gyümölcsök, birsalma, datolya, füge, pici dió színezi, határozott botrytises karakter érezhető ízben is."
BORTESZT | Ripka Gergely-Tokaj Guide / 2020. június
"Nehéz év, zseniális bor. Akik régóta figyelgetik a tokaji évjáratokat, azok talán tudják, hogy 2010 és 2014 is okozott TokajSweet vonalon meglepetéseket: az aszúzás után, ami fenn maradt és nem rohadt le, az olyan koncentrált, szárazanyagban oly gazdag édes alapanyaggá tudott válni (az esős évjáratok tápanyagforgalma révén), ami szárazabb, melegebb években lehetetlen. Almás, birses, körtés, érett gyümölcsös aromák, egyedi illat. Ízben is megvan az érettség, magas cukra azonban repíti, hosszú, vastag és nagyon gazdag bor (extrakt). Eszméletlenül komplex, vastag korty, utóízben az aszalt gyümölcsök mellett kávéval. Extrém bor, de jó, hogy ilyesmi is megtapasztalható önálló tételként. 7"
BORTESZT | Debreceni Borozó / 2017. december
"Nagyon halvány szalmasárga szín, citrus, barack, köszméte, vaj az illatában, szép kerek sav és édesség, közepes test, a korty zamatos, gyümölcsös, közepesen hosszú." 84 pont
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Read more about other grape varieties of the Tokaj wine region!
The three most popular grapes of the Tokaj Wine Region, the Furmint, Hárslevelű and Sárgamuskotály, are all products of natural hybridization, could have happened hundreds, or even a thousand year ago. The potential ancestors of these grapes can nowadays be pinpointed via the assistance of modern genetic research. The origins of Zéta, a grape variety that is grown in the smaller area, are known to us, however: Dr. Ferenc Király and his colleagues created Zéta by crossing Furmint and Bouvier in 1951, in Pécs. It’s a sort of „half-sibling” to the Zengő, Zenit and Zeusz. The grape previously known as Oremus was later renamed in 1999 due to it having the same name as a vineyard in Sátoraljaújhely. Its new name was declared Zéta, which was inspired by a hero of a novel written by Géza Gárdonyi. The goal of the grape breeding agenda was to take the qualities of the popular, late maturing white grapes like Ezerjó and Furmint, and transfer them into early maturing and safer grape types. The early maturing is thanks to the usage of Bouvier: the french-sounding name is that of Clotar Bouvier, a grape breeder, who most likely developed Bouvier based on a grape plant discovered in current-day Slovenia in 1900, through further cross breeding.
Out of all the Zéta that was approved by the state in 1990, only 34 hectares were being cultivated to in the year 1999 in the Tokaj Region. At the start of the 2000s, a rapid development of growth started and today, Zéta is planted on nearly 116 hectares in the region. From a viticultural standpoint, it’s much more demanding than Furmint or Hárslevelű. It produces many shoots, and its hidden buds break out frequently on the stems of the vine. The timely removal of these unnecessary parts are vital to maintaining a breezy and loose foliage.
The maturity is at least 10 days, often two whole weeks or more earlier in relativity to the Furmint’s time of maturing. Given the potentially rainy autumn weather, this can very often make or break a harvest season. Even without the presence of aszú, it can still be considered as a late harvest grape before the autumn rains arrive around here. If aszú is indeed present, however, its dense clusters go through the process quite evenly and in a balanced fashion, therefore, the collection of aszú berries can be rather quick. The berries attacked by Botrytis are prone to falling off the stem of the cluster, and so it so important to harvest the Zéta aszú very carefully. Both the late harvest and the Zéta aszú are quite concentrated in terms of taste, carrying a rich, honey-like palette of aroma, which of course applies to most of the naturally sweet wines created from it. The only disadvantage of the variety may be its relatively low average acid levels. It is for this reason that many recommend combining it with the much more acidic Furmint after an especially hot summer and autumn.
translated by Áron Várhelyi