16 January 2020 / Dóra Zelena Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Portrait of a winemaker: István Szepsy and the Tokaji Aszú

There is one product at the top of the Hungarian wine value pyramid that can be considered a paragon in its own category. Tokaji Aszú is one of the best known and most prestigious naturally sweet white wines in the world and can be clearly associated with Hungary. It is characterised by nearly 450 years of tradition and extremely unique natural and technological endowments, as well as boasting the world’s first system of origin protection. We spoke to István Szepsy about Tokaji Aszú.

What does Aszú represent in Hungary and in the world, and what could it represent?

Aszú is once again a top wine and is now also starting to return to the top of people’s minds. For this to happen, the concept of top Aszú needs to be clarified: it can only be made from grapes grown in historic, first-class vineyards, further divided into individual parcels. These areas boast old vines, once active ancient geysers, porous soils and ideal water management. Thus, top Aszú can only be made from a top site, a top variety and using top technology, and all this combined with strict yield restrictions. Aszú is also undergoing a change in style, which it needs to. Now we bottle wines after three years, so they can develop for longer in bottle. They mature in bottle and have less oak contact, so are lighter in colour and have greater ageability. The absolute can only be made in an absolute terroir, in an absolute vintage, from grapes grown on very old Furmint vines and by selecting the best aszú berries.

What is it that most sets Tokaji Aszú apart from other dessert wines in the world?

Its most important characteristic is that it is produced in a region where the soil is poor and mineral-rich with great water management; it conducts and stores water well and is generally porous and warm. The grapes take up the elements and in the kind of proportions that make Tokaj wines so very drinkable. It is unprecedented for a wine with 200 grams of residual sugar to be so drinkable. This is because the minerals clean the palate and, in a good quality wine, the finish feels almost dry. Aszú is a complex, concentrated natural product, which, if you do a good job, will amaze the consumer.

What kind of feeling does Aszú convey?

Aszú conveys continuity. It links epochs by the fact that its vineyards have been in continual use for a long time, Furmint has been planted in them for a long time and the winemaking process is at least 500 years old. Aszú helps us feel that there is something that links us to creation, the passing of societies and their recreation. This wine region has been renewed many times socially, even during my lifetime. The feeling when you go out into the vineyard and you experience the pulsing of nature, the many small volcanic cones, the flow of energies in the valley and the fault lines is totally unique. You sit down next to an old vine and daydream, just like a French sommelier did recently; he cried on Szent Tamás Hill because he was alive and could drink wine sitting at the foot of an old vine. Vines are a cultural environment that has occupied the greatest number of people for millennia, whose roots reach so deep - up to 30 geological strata according to research - that a complex system and effect of energies has been created. I am philosophising, but if you continue along this path, you realise that everything is energy and we are all energies. Vines, and especially a wine that is linked to a specific terroir, help to raise your awareness of everything. The world needs us to talk about how we experience it: without annoyance, overcoming problems and feeling good. I first felt this feeling here, in Tokaj-Hegyalja, but I understood it in Burgundy. The normal people, who remained there after the war, worked with incredible faith. The effect of the terroir should be reflected in the wine if possible. You have to give yourselves and all your positive energies to it entirely. Visitors to energy-rich places or parcels will just stop of their own accord, not want to leave and begin to feel good.

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