The dry szamorodni is a wine type currently catering to a narrow target audience. How did it become such an acquired taste? What are the prerequisites, what kind of ingredients are in it and how do the winemakers age it? How do the consumers relate to it? We try to answer these questions in the following article.
First off, let’s see what our wine law says, the Tokaj product description. „Both shrivelled and healthy grapes are to be processed at once, with a minimum aging of 6 months spent in a barrel, ready to be bottled afterwards.” The minimum sugar amount of the base ingredient (grape juice) is 203 g/l, which isn’t considered to be a difficult requirement in the region. Therefore, many wineries use an already much higher amount of sugar in order to make their dry szamorodni.
Szamorodni may be produced out of any of Tokaj’s 6 grape types, either purely from one type, or even from, say, a combination of all six. Most often it is made of either Furmint or Hárslevelű, or a blend of the two, since these two are the dominant ones in the region, the former being 67%, the latter 20% of total grown grapes.
Most of the winemakers are led by two goals in a vintage. The first: the harvest of fine and healthily ripened grapes in the first part of the season in order to make fresh, fruity base wines and full-bodied dry items as well. The second: leaving the grapes out for the longest possible time, since the process of aszú (botrytis) and shrivelling (noble rot) increases the amount of concentrated sugar inside the fruit. Therefore, letting the grapes sit for a longer time ensures a winemaker to make the perfect Tokaj sweet szamorodnis or even sweeter aszú wines. However, the subject of our article cannot be found here in this set of goals.
But what happens when botrytis (gray mold) appears before we are able to harvest those healthy grapes? This wouldn’t be that large of a problem, since one could still pick the grapes fast enough and carefully separate the moldy berries from the healthy ones. Alternatively, we could choose to gamble and wait for a potential indian summer, which will contribute to the perfect aszú process. It’s a risky choice to make because our previous expectation is sometimes ruined by a period of biting cold days, which usually means an increased amount of rain as well, bringing high humidity. During this time, the number of moldy specimens increase, the skin of the grape begins to weaken and soften. Due to the humid environment, the shrivelling can never truly come to pass, and the sugar amount is unable to reach the aforementioned minimum levels, making it difficult to create a good sweet wine. One of our grapes is exactly in this situation. Just starting to become affected by aszú, the grape (with 220-250 g/l sugar content) is sadly not viable to make fruity, fresh wines out of. The cooling, late autumn weather does not do any good for further sugar concentration, and we cannot push out the harvest until even later. This kind of grape is an excellent ingredient of the dry szamorodni. By its nature, a higher than usual alcohol content provides a fuller body and strong botrytis-like traits to the future wine.
Since such a vintage only appears only once or twice every decade, it’s no surprise that this particular genre of wine is a rare sight on our shelves.
It is clear that the birth of a dry szamorodni is much more vulnerable to the whims of the local weather and doesn’t care much for the ambitions of the conscious winemaker. Of course, there are producers that are fans of the genre, and they try their best and hardest to sacrifice a bit of their crop during every aszú year in an attempt to create a dry szamorodni, even at the cost of a potentially great sweet wine.
We’ve made a total of 4 different products from the type. The most memorable one perfectly fits the above description, created in 1998. The next one, 2006 was also one we received great praise about. A grand total of 3 barrels rest now in the cellars below from 2020, which we’ll be bottling sometime later. Currently, our 2017 one is available in our webshop, which is a product of Furmint and Kövérszőlő blend and is still quite young and fresh.
The divide of the genre is also enhanced by the uniqueness of the aging process, differing from many other Tokaj types and ensuring a vastly different smell and taste palette for the final product. Most wineries still prefer not to fill up the barrels to their full capacity, instead leaving a substantial amount of air in hopes of better oxidation. This allows a certain membrane mold (flor) to appear on the wine’s surface. Below this layer, the wine receives a strongly aged, walnut-like nature. Although the requirement for aging is at least 6 months, many wineries choose to keep the wine inside for much longer – up to 4-5 years. This makes it more similar to a spanish sherry.
It’s interesting that the product description does not require the below-layer method of aging, only the 6 month minimum time, but the sensory description does indeed include the above mentioned traits and attributes.
We don’t exactly prefer neither the year-long barrel aging nor the process of the flor-layered method. In our opinion, it isn’t expedient to use so many different winemaking methods to create a very forced product that is so fundamentally „other” than most wines produced in the region. We instead focus on working with the correct ingredients, the precise cellar work, and the long in-bottle aging results that grant us those fine aromas and characteristics.
Placing a dry szamorodni into our tasting programme has showed us that in can be the most divisive on the list. It has its unique, archaic style that only a handful of people can truly appreciate. The world of wine is vast and our tastes are highly subjective, as it is with music, movies and many other aspects of life.
A wine tasting in Tokaj is the perfect way for you to find out which camp you belong to.
Translated by Mara Várhelyi