Two Decades of Tokaji – the history of a wine region in 20 glasses

“It’s been wonderful to participate in the renewal of the Tokaji region, and to see great Tokaji being made again” according to Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes, owners of Disznókő in Tokaj. Seely was in London for a fantastic and possibly unique opportunity to taste two decades of Aszú wines, from 2013 back to 1993, to celebrate nearly 20 years overseeing the company. AXA was one of the region’s first foreign investors after the Iron Curtain came down, and Seely himself arrived in 1997, appointing MD László Mészáros in 1999, “Not a choice I’ve regretted for a day.”  Disznókő is unusual in having a single plot of over 100 hectares of vineyards with a stunning winery at the heart, giving close daily contact with the vines.  It is also one of the very few that has the continuity of history in the region to be able to show such a line-up, highlighting how modern winemaking Tokaji has evolved since the previous era, where quality was highly debased.

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Amazing sweet wines are possible in this northern region due in part to the unique terroir. The meeting of the two rivers Tisza and Bodrog creates densely foggy autumn mornings, which is great for noble rot to get going. Mountain breezes and sunny hillside sites on the slopes of hundreds of extinct volcanoes are also important in drying the grapes to create the unique Aszú berries. This combination of shrivelling and noble rot that has led to Tokaji’s special winemaking method of soaking the Aszú in wine or fermenting must. The other great feature of Tokaji is its grapes.  Furmint in particular (supported by Hárslevelű, Zeta and Muscat) has amazing ability to accumulate sugar, is prone to noble rot, but always keeps its hallmark amazingly zingy acidity.  These are wines that have fabulous balance and great richness but are never cloying and have a remarkable ability to age shown by Disznókő’s 1993, which is still in great shape.

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Dry Furmint as been on the rise in the region in the last few years, but as Seely says, “It’s all about Aszú for us.  Above all I love the wines and this tasting underlines how great they are.”

(originally written for decanter.com but never published)

TASTING NOTES

Wine Name Vintage Score out of 20 RRP Tasting note Drinking window Alc Stockists or UK importer
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2013 19 tbc A late ripening year with “an Aszú miracle” appearing from mid-September onwards giving beautifully concentrated Aszú berries with intense botrytis but also great acidity. It’s still a real baby, showing creamy vanilla aromas with ripe pear, acacia and peach. It’s luscious and silky with lovely purity and superb intensity of quince and honey, and fine acids to give balance and a very lingering finish. 2020 to 2035 12.10% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2012 18 tbc This was an early and hot year but lots of autumn rain allowed for good noble rot development but less shrivelled berries, so a more “Sauternes style” vintage.  It’s limpid pale golden but still a touch closed on the nose with vanilla oak and ripe peach, and a twist of orange zest.  To taste, it has lovely rich velvety texture, with notes of peach  and orange blossom backed by intense vibrant acidity and good structure 2019 to 2030 12% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2011 18.5 tbc 2011 was hot and dry and lack of humidity meant the Aszú berries had more shrivelling than botrytis character, but fantastic concentration and that all-important acid structure.  This is a beautiful old gold wine with amber highlights.  The nose has lots of spice and exotic aromas followed by lovely richness, exotic notes of mango and peach and a touch of orange blossom. Vivid acids give the fresh clean finish so typical of great Tokaji. 2019 to 2030 13% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2010 17 tbc A year of dramatic floods and lots of rain in Hungary, giving small amounts of intense noble rot and notable acidity.  An amber wine with more mature aromas of honey, dried fruits and nuts, and a hint of herbs.  To taste, it has tangy orange peel, marmalade and fig flavours and a long finish, almost savoury due to its firm structure and lively acidity. now to 2025 12% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2009 18 tbc Another hot dry year with hugely rich but clean Aszú berries from pure Furmint.  Still pale golden and limpid with a bouquet of poached pear, white peach and a hint of papaya.  Still remarkably youthful and fruity.  Luscious, velvety and mouth-filling with notes of peach skin. Silky, elegant and lingering but still needs time for the rich sugar levels to integrate.  A promising future. 2018 to 2030 11.50% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2008 19 tbc  2008 is proving to be one of the best years of the decade and this glowing amber wine is showing a beautifully complex nose and classic Tokaji Aszú aromas.  Lots of apricot, with orange peel, nuts and Christmas spice on the nose.  In the mouth, there is superb intensity and expression, with liquid apricot, citrus and spice. Exquisite balance between sweetness and vibrant acidity, making a very complete Tokaji. 2017 to 2030 12% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2007 18.5 £26.99 to £30.95 Rain during harvest meant ideal conditions for noble rot to make an appearance in already perfectly ripened grapes.  This is a very classic expression of the 5 Puttonyos Aszú style with expressive aromas of orange zest, dried apricot and peach, and a hint of dried fruit.  It’s intensely sweet to taste but its bright, tangy acidity means it almost seems dry and savoury. now to 2030 12.50% Clos & Cru, Lea and Sandeman, Ocado, Waitrose Cellar,
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2006 19 £33 A great vintage for Tokaji with a wonderful Indian summer resulting in a perfect Aszú crop.  Just lovely on the nose, showing apricot, cinnamon and exotic fruit and just a hint of marzipan.  To taste, it is rich and silky but also incredibly pure and vivid, with amazingly vibrant acidity lifting the orange and dried apricot fruit notes. Lingering and refined. now to 2030 11.50% Richard Granger, Christopher Kellier, The Wine Library,
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2005 18 tbc A welcome Indian summer followed a cool damp summer so lots of opportunity to make multiple pickings of Aszú berries.  The wine is showing some attractive development with distinct amber hues and a bouquet of caramel, barley sugar and dried apricot and even a touch of raspberry.  It’s appetisingly tangy and rich, with crunchy acidity to balance the sweetness and peach fruit notes. now to 2025 12% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2004 16.5 tbc A cool and late year with less concentration than some vintages, so the wines are evolving more quickly.   Amber orange in colour, it shows spice dried fruit and baked apple aromas.  It’s a firm and structured wine with plenty of marmalade and orange peel flavours, and typical steely acidity. A good wine still but but without the ethereal quality of great Aszú years. now to 2020 12.50% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2003 17.5 tbc A notably hot year across Europe, though Tokaj’s northern location took the edge off the heat.  It was a year more about shrivelling than noble rot, giving beautifully rich wines but perhaps lacking a little of the region’s hallmark vibrancy.  A bouquet of liquid apricot with orange blossom overtones leads on to a gorgeously rich and rounded palate and a fine velvety finish. now to 2020 12.50% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2002 19 tbc An early vintage and early development of that all-important Botrytis, so a good vintage for Aszú that was picked before October rains spoiled the crop later.  This has a glowing amber appearance with a complex nose of barley sugar and dried apricot, with hints of mock orange, spice and walnuts.  A simply lovely, luscious and velvety expression of citrus and apricot with mouthwateringly fresh acidity on the finish too. now to 2025 13% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 2001 18 tbc A challenging year though September rains encouraged botrytis to take hold.  Almost savoury on the nose with bitter orange and spice notes.  To taste, it is sweet and rich with excellent concentration of apricot, peach, mandarin and floral hints, possibly due to higher than normal levels of Hárslevelű. A pretty and delicate wine. now to 2025 125 contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2000 18.5 tbc A dry hot summer brought early ripening and more shrivelling than noble rot and enormously sweet Aszú berries.  There are expressive scents of dried fig, dates and orange peel here, then a lusciously velvety and rich palate.  It’s silky and rounded with lovely purity and finesse and a long aftertaste, but gentler acidity than more classic years.  Still a lovely wine. now to 2025 13% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 1999 19.5 £40 A great and classic year for Tokaji, probably the best of the nineties due to its fabulous balance of rich Aszú and amazingly vivid acidity.  It’s a bright orange-toned gold with an inviting bouquet of dried apricot and candied peel with a twist of spice.  It has gorgeous, intense flavours of peach, honey and papaya then amazingly lively and youthful acidity.  Tokaji’s “refreshing magic” in a glass. now to 2025 11.50% Fine & Rare
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 1998 17 tbc A rainy autumn with noble rot but not so much shrivelling and concentration giving a simpler less intense Tokaji.  It’s showing more mature nutty and dried fruit notes.  Very much Tokaji on the palate with sweet apricot, marmalade and lively acidity but clearly a more simple wine. now to 2025 11.60% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 1997 19 tbc A cool and late vintage with very little Aszú but what appeared late on in the season was very high quality.  This limpid orange-toned wine is ageing beautifully with ethereal orange blossom aromas and notes of fresh peach. Great intensity of flavour and sweetness is balanced by vivid lemon and orange zest notes and almost steely acidity.  Complex and long now to 2025 11% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos 1996 18.5 tbc Unusually Hárslevelű played the starring role in this changeable season, which produced a lot of noble rot but not so much shrivelling.  It shows inviting creamy peach and fig aromas. The palate is broad and rounded with velvety mouth-filling texture and flavours of apricot jam, sultana and citrus. It is ageing gracefully and has a lingering and harmonious finish though in a less classic style. now to 2025 11.40% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 1995 18 tbc This was the last vintage where Disznókő bought in Aszú berries from other growers.  Plenty of noble rot appeared this season with good acidity levels too.  The wine is fully mature though will last some years yet.  Sultana, apricot jam and toffee show on the nose with a hint of Earl grey tea.  It’s luscious and intense to taste and the perception is almost of a dry wine on the finish due to its steely acid backbone . now to 2025 11.50% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 1993 19 tbc A truly historic vintage as the first great year in Tokaj since the Hungary gained her freedom. Almost brown in colour with lots of aromatic complexity – coffee, chocolate, dates and apricot. Still in great shape with a broad range of rich flavours of fig, dates and apricot and classic acidity. Long and complex but more structured than today’s wines. now to 2025 12% contact UK  UK agents:  Gonzalez Byass UK
Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2011 19 tbc A single vineyard wine made from pure Furmint only in the very best years and 2011 delivered some exceptional Aszú berries.  Still very youthful but already showing fine aromas of quince, pear and acacia honey.  It has superb intensity and vibrancy with ethereal aromas of fresh quince, pear and apple blossom and mouth-watering vivid acids to balance. Superb potential for long term ageing. 2020 to 2035 12% Lea & Sandeman
Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2005 19 £80 A lovey expression of pure Furmint from old vines in Disznoko’s Kapi vineyard.  It has wonderfully ethereal aromas of white peach, mirabelle and mock orange.    To taste, it is gorgeously fine and pure yet intense, and very lingering.  A very complete and elegant wine. now to 2030 12% Christopher Keiller, Hampshire – rrp @ £80
Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2002 18.5 £52.99 Amber orange and very bright.  This  shows a complex bouquet of mango, papaya and apricot crumble.  It’s richly textured and sweet to taste with honey and marmalade favours and superb acid balance. now to 2030 12.50% Cambridge Wine Merchants, Clos & Cru, Lea & Sandeman
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