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