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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Although there are more than 200 grape varieties called Muscat, a majority of them aren’t actually related to Sárgamuskotály or the Muscats of Alexandria or Ottonel. When it comes to the ancient origin, popularity and intense smell of a grape, Sárgamuskotály is and always will be the absolute winner.
There are varying accounts regarding its origins. Based on historical and linguistic evidence, the most common theories claim french, italian or syrmian sources, although its diversity with many subvarieties located on Tokaj-Hegyalja claim the region to be the source. The most recent genetic research claims that its parents are the Gouais blanc and the Alba imputato, the natural cross-breeding of the two being the result of it appearing until the 16th century.
Taxonomy dictates that the grape is a subtype, specifically belonging to the pontian subgroup, of the common grape vine (Vitis vinifera). Along with the currently grown White Furmint, collections preserve the Red and the Variable Furmint types as well. The latter receives its name from the berries’ early green colours changing into red, then shifting into a shade between greenish to golden yellow, not unlike the White Furmint.
Ampelography is the discipline which works with the detailed description of grape types. I won’t delve into the Furmint’s total ampelographical explanations here, but I’ll mention some of the more significant details; first, its upright sprouting system greatly helps regarding the ’green-work’ of the grape, which consists of the shearing and other handiwork up until the harvest arrives. Thanks to the fact that the shoots growing from the buds grow vertically upwards, the foliage are much easier and convenient to maintain, at least compared to other unruly and spreading types (such as Sárgamuskotály). The Furmint’s shoots also fortunately tend to stay nestled inbetween the wiring that keeps the foliage together. Later on, the first tendrils above the clusterzone twist around the wires, ensuring that the shoots are safe from being blown out or simply broken by a stronger wind. The leaves’ edges are serrated yet lacy, its teeth rather pointy, therefore with some experience it may be told apart from the Hárslevelű’s lacy, rather round and dull teeth.
The stamp of the 1972 I. World Wine Competition held in Budapest. A stylized Furmint cluster and leaves hide behind a popular aszú bottle, the background showing Tokaj and its traditionally cultivated vineyards from the other side of the Tisza. The stamp was made by József Vertel, one of the most employed hungarian stamp designers. Note the berries’ differing hues, potentially indicating overtly ripened grapes or even the appearance of aszú.
Regarding its ripening tendencies, it is considered a late type, placing its harvest to the second half of October. In its complete ripeness it appears greenish yellow and, if exposed to the sun, a distinct golden yellow hue. The most important qualities include defined acid and high alcohol contents in the balanced overcropped plantations, but also a high susceptibility to shrinking and therefore ’aszú-ification’. Although the Furmint doesn’t have any characteristic primary aromas (let’s mention the muskotály type as a counter-example and as Irsai Olivér), during the process of fermentation the secondary flavours can include apple, pear, peach, white flowers and other similar evocative qualities. Most Furmint enjoy being fermented in oakwood, which ensures tertiary aromas to enrich its already versatile taste.
Ripened clusters, also beginning to show signs of aszú. Furmint is susceptible to ’scrubbiness’, meaning that if the badly fertilized, small (runt) berries find majority on a cluster, it can significantly decrease the yield of the grapes. The left image, however, shows the positive side of this phenomenon, providing healthier, looser clusters, which are more suitable for creating dry wine. The large, stuffy, blistery berries on the right image (Hólyagos Furmint) are much more susceptible to aszú.
The variety identifying as a "Hungaricum" is located on around 4000 hectares in the country, most of it being in the Tokaj Wine Region itself. The most recent data suggests that out of the 5603 total hectares 3726 (67%) is home to its most significant grape.
It’s also on the list of traditionally grown grapes in many other regions, such as the Somló Region and around Pécs and Balaton, amongst several others. The Sopron Region has contained much of its plantations some time ago but today it has almost completely disappeared from there. Beyond our borders it is widely represented in Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria.
translated by Áron Várhelyi
The rapidly changing natural and economical environment poses multiple challenges to our current grape-producers and winemakers – global warming and the quarantine caused by Covid-19 and its drastic changes in everyday life represent such challenges. Located in Tarcal, the Tokaj Wine Region’s Research Institute for Viticulture and Oenology handles several grapegrowing region’s research while also exclusively dealing with Tokaj’s wine related topics as well. In the following article, I’ll briefly describe the Institute’s activities and elaborate on more of them in the coming few months.
The Tokaj Wine Region is home to a unique structure of varieties. Out of its six allowed the most dominant is Furmint, which – most likely originating from the region itself – is the most common plantation in Tokaj-Hegyalja. The multifarious Furmint’s „clones” – artifically propagated types – require constant preservation and research; the same can be said about Hárslevelű, a similar ’hungarikum’. Along with other older, hungarian grape varieties, the above two are preserved in a single hectare Variety Collection on the Szarvas-vineyard, located in Tarcal and available to analysation. In order to keep up the spectrum of variety, my colleagues located close to five hundred old, valuable vines across the Tokaj Region. These will eventually be reproduced to grow the collection – after years of research, of course.
Our plant protection expert utilises an automated meteorological station to help warn us against the dangers of insects and infections which could harm our vineyards; along the „traditional” illnesses, including powdery mildew and other types of mildew, each year presents new issues to our grapes, like black rot or even invasive ladybugs. Protection against these is one of our most important tasks. However, our region has a special connection to the so-called gray rot, since in the correct conditions, this fungus, called Botrytis cinerea can produce noble rot – which means the appearance of precious aszú.
The production of healthy and delicious grapes begins from the ground up and the original roots of our desired species – the subject – are also highly important. In order to protect against phylloxera, our European species are planted onto North-American species, which are located just below the ground under the vines. Certain rootstocks ensure protection against dryness, while others can speed up or slow down the process of ripening. Choosing the ideal rootstock variety is as important as the soil’s nutrient contents, the well-being of the soil-microbes’ community and preserving the structure of the ground, which is tended to by our colleague expertising in soil science and nutrient management.
We’re currently making our first moves in two vital areas: the highly resistant grapetypes’ newest generation is appearing today in several vineyards. In about 20-30 years, they will become a topic of much discussion and study regarding the evaluation of them as „Tokaji” wine and cross-breeding them with other types and species. Geographic information systems and automatisation represent the precision-based area of the winemaking field, although these systems are still not as widespread as the large-scale production of plants. Despite this, the sight of drones and harvesting machines might be an everyday sight in Tokaj’s future vineyards.
Our new microbiology and wine lab serves the Tokaj Region’s winemakers with high quality instruments and tools, since every step in the process of winemaking requires the appropriate analytical studies, which are required high quality production. These studies include the research of different strains of yeast found in Tokaj’s cellars, the different treatments’ effects on the nature of wines and older grapes’ microvinification; growing these in extremely small amounts. Ecological grapegrowing and organic winemaking – producing organic grapes and wine – requires the thorough and precise study of all of the above fields and demands a sort of „system theory” from the winemaker. We consider not only the gathering of information on these topics to be important, but also passing them down to the next generation and providing them with experience and knowledge of the past.
translated by Áron Várhelyi