Friday, 4 January 2019

Tokaj, the King of wines

When I was working in Holdvölgy during my gap year, I didn’t have time to visit too many wineries, therefore I jumped at the chance when I was invited to the Szepsy media luncheon, the winery located in the village of Mád in Tokaj and the neighbour of Holdvölgy.

Szepsy is a family own estate that has been making wine in Tokaj for more than 500 years. It was this family  who developed the Aszú technique in 1631 thus creating the king of wines. Unlike Sauternes that ferments both healthy and botrytis grapes together, Tokaji Aszú wine is made by adding aszú berries (heavily botrytis raisiny grapes with over 500g/l sugar) to healthy grape juice, fermenting wine or finished wine from a few hours to a few days before pressing and continue fermentation. The botrytis process dehydrates the grapes therefore concentrates the acidity and minerals, resulting in extremely rich and complex wine with a fresh finish. István Szepsy Jr, the 16th generation of the family, explained that using juice as base gives a fruitier wine but with a shorter finish, while Aszú wine using finished wine as base has a more complexity and oxidised character. He prefers to use fermenting wine as it captures the best of both worlds. The 2008 vintage we tasted, with150g/l sugar (equivalent to 6 puttonyos), was a joy. It was burst with flavours and every time I smelt, I sensed different aromas from floral and tropical fruits to honey and caramel. The acidity was just incredible.
Szamorodni, translated as ‘as it is’, is made using whole bunch of grapes that consisted of both healthy and botrytis grapes like Sauternes. The sweetness of the final wine depends on the degree or botrytis and therefore every vintage is different. We had the 2013 vintage, a lighter wine comparing to other vintages and it was great with the roasted pork, suckling pig and chilli prawns.

We also tried Szepsy’s dry Furmint from two different vineyards. The Szt. Tamas 2016 has a good structure with layers of aromas. I like Furmint for its acidity and freshness that make it particularly food-friendly.
At the end of the delicious lunch at Ying Jee Club, we were treated Szepsy Tokaji Esszencia 2007. Arguably the rarest wine in the world, Tokaji Eszencia is made from the free run juice of aszú berries that seeps out from the vats under the grapes‘ own weight. The juice has ultra high sugar content and takes years to ferment. The 2007 was rich and complex, and at the same time vibrant and fresh. Szepsy only makes Esszencia in good years. The last one was 1999 with 311 bottles, 2007 had only 200 bottles and 2018 will be the next vintage. The wine comes with a high price tag (HK$18,000 for a 500ml bottle) but in my view, it is a bargain comparing to first growth Bordeaux.

Szepsy is available from Wine Peers.

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