Aszú in the cellar
Noble sweet wine is made from shrivelled, noble rot grapes in several other wine regions in the world. However, Tokaji Aszú differs significantly from them. Its uniqueness is given primarily by the harmony of the grape varieties, the soils types and the climate, secondly from the special winemaking process and thirdly the maturing in oak barrel.
Aszú-making starts with the meticulous collection of aszú berries, which are all harvested individually by hand. In harmony with the development of aszú berries, we pass through the whole vineyard in several waves, selecting each perfectly shrivelled aszú berry, leaving the bunch on the vine.
The harvested aszú berries are not usually processed immediately. They are stored for any length of time from being used immediately (very rare) to 2-3 months, in accordance with the rhythm of Aszú-making.
The collected berries are pressed and squashed by the effects of gravity pressing out a must with enormous sugar and acidity, rich in aromas and flavours. This is fresh Eszencia from which after a slow fermentation and long aging will become the wine specialty Tokaji Eszencia.
The Tokaji PDO product specification stipulates that Tokaji Eszencia is a Tokaji wine specialty created from the minimally fermented must that is not pressed but drips under the pressure of its own weight from hand-harvested aszú grapes from the bunches on the vine.
Storage of Aszú berries is a traditional method of making the Aszú paste, which was formerly done by treading the berries. It is essential that during the physical opening of the grapes, the grape seeds are not damaged.
The aszú berries are macerated so we can reveal and extract the compounds within them. Must, fermenting must or wine of the same vintage can be used for the maceration.
The length of maceration can vary greatly from a couple of hours to a few days. This is mainly a question of personal style and extraction preference.
The traditional unit of measurement for making Aszú is the Gönci barrel (136 l) and the Tokaj puttony (traditional 27-l harvesting wooden bucket holding 23-25 kg aszú berries). The number of puttony reflected the number of puttony added to a Gönci barrel of wine (or must).
Based on current regulation:
- Eszencia: maximum 6 litres can be made from 100 kg aszú berries
- Tokaji Aszú and Tokaji Fordítás: a total of 220 litres of Eszencia, Aszú and Fordítás can be made from 100 kg aszú berries
- Aszú must have min. 9 v/v% actual alcohol, min. 120 g/l of residual sugar and a total potential alcohol of min. 19v/v%.
Following maceration, the mixture is pressed and then fermented. During fermentation the yeasts have to face high sugar content and changed must composition. This means that the fermentation of Aszú wines is a long process that requires special attention.
After fermentation the Aszú wines are moved into the traditional underground cellars. The length of aging in wooden barrels always depends on the character of the given vintage and the aging process of the wine itself, but it must be a minimum of 18 months for all Aszú.