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The new Tokaji. Part II

Text and photographs © 2011, Tom Cannavan

This in-depth feature on Tokaji and three of its producers is presented in two parts. This is part two, and there is a link to part one at the bottom of this page.

Tokaj Nobilis

Sarolta Owner and winemaker Sarolta Bárdos has a quiet determination about her, hidden behind a shy personality. Formerly winemaker at Gróf Degenfeld and then Béres estates, she bought the vineyards for Tokaj Nobilis in 2000, and then in 2004 a house in the village that has become her home and headquarters. The 200-year-old house now contains a brand new winery with all stainless steel tanks in its small, but neat and perfectly functional cellar. The deep, traditional, vaulted barrel cellar was newly constructed after Sarolta bought the buildings.

The vineyards had not been cultivated for many decades. "They were just too slopey for the Russian tractors," Sarolta tells me. But now everything here is set up for quality production. They have replanted at high density (5,600 plants per hectare) and yields are small at 2.5 tonnes per hectare. There is a very strict selection in the vineyards, which are sited on rocky volcanic soils.

Sarolta told me she "Decided which clones to plant very carefully, for small yields from small bunches with small, sweet grapes." Furmint comprises 70% of the estate along with Hárslevelű, Muscat and Kövérszőlő ("the fat grape"). Sarolta likes the flavours of Kövérszőlő but says "It is subject to rot, so needs to be carefully managed. It is unique to Tokaji and is excellent for Aszú and late harvest wines - it has really delicious flavour."

I was hugely impressed both by Sarolta and the wines of Tokaj Nobilis. She demonstrates tremendous attention to detail and sensitivity in her winemaking, moving grapes and must by hand to avoid tannin extraction by pumping, using only natural yeasts since 2003 and refusing to harvest grapes for her dry wines until they are full ripe: "I never harvest green grapes, always gold. The trade off is slightly higher alcohols, but it is worth it."

Despite making up to 20 passes through her vineyards to hand pick grapes she does not make Aszú every year. She tells me there was none in 2004, 2005 or 2009, simply because there were not enough Aszú berries of the right quality. Her 20,000-bottle production is made in a modern, non-oxidised style and every wine bursts with character.

for tasting notes on 6 wines from Tokaj Nobilis

Béres

Eniko I was met by the whirlwind that is Enikő Király, sales director for the Béres winery who marched me to the top of the slopes to survey her vineyards before a no-nonsense tour of the winery and settling down to a large portfolio tasting.

Béres is a relatively new estate. Ten hectares of vineyard were purchased in 2002 to establish the brand, though this has already grown to 44 hectares following extensive plantings on their chalky clay and tufa soils. There is also a new winery and swish visitor facilities in a project that has obviously seen considerable investment. In fact, the owners are the Béres family, one of the best-known names in Hungary and neighbouring countries because of their pharmaceutical business. Their fortune was amassed largely from the sale of 'Béres Drops', little bottles of a mineral-based supplement that make quite extravagant health claims including strengthening the immune system and reducing cholesterol.

The Béres family set the winery up in Erdőbénye on the edge of the Zemplén Mountains oak forests. Erdőbénye boasts 10 cooperages producing barrels for wineries in Hungary and around the world. The winery is gravity-fed, with presses sited directly under the grape reception area and has plenty of state-of-the art winemaking kit as well as extensive underground cellars for maturation.

As I walked through the vineyards with Enikő I noticed that many of the bunches of Furmint and Hárslevelű seemed much bigger than on other estates, and the grapes seemed bigger too. Sitting down to taste their various segmented brands and ranges I felt this might be detectable in the lower-level wines too, with relatively high alcohols, lots of tannic extraction and a slightly phenolic character that suggested to me some over-extraction from less concentrated fruit. At the upper level the wines were very good, and the price points competitive.

for tasting notes on 15 wines from Béres

other Tokajis tasted

I had the opportunity to try a few other Tokaji wines on this trip from producers including Gróf Degenfeld, Demeter, Vayi and Kikelet.

for tasting notes on 5 wines from other Tokaji producers.


Go to part I - introduction to Tokaji and the Disznókő estate.