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Hungary address file Tokaji tasting notes

This is a companion piece to the wine-pages Hungary address file featuring Phil Shorten's tasting notes on his visits to the Tokaji estates.

Before getting into the text I apologise for the lack of correct accents used in the Hungarian language. Also note that I have referred to any Hungarian individuals as we do, with the surname second. In Hungary, people write their name with the surname first, hence, Istvan Szepsy would actually write his name as Szepsy Istvan.

DISZNOKO is owned by the French insurance giant AXA, who also own the likes of Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron and Chateau Suduiraut in Bordeaux. The estate comprises 150ha of which 100ha is under vine. 1992 was the first vintage. Since privatization in 1991-1993, over 60% of the vines have been replanted. The following varieties are used:

• Furmint – 60%
• Harslevelu – 30%
• Zeta (a crossing of Furmint and Bouvier) – 8%
• Yellow Muscat – 2%

Disznoko produces primarily Aszu wines and is one of the wineries responsible for developing a new style of Tokaji Aszu.

2002 Disznoko Dry Furmint
Pale lemon/lime. Clean youthful fragrant nose of crab apple and fresh ginger. Dry, light-medium bodied, high acidity, good fruit intensity, primarily citrus zest and greengage. Good finish.

1997 Disznoko Dry Szamarodni
Clear medium yellow gold core. Fully mature nose of medium intensity, marzipan and walnut dominate the bouquet. Dry, medium bodied palate with pronounced flavours of smoked almond and brown toast, good cleansing acidity. Not everyone’s style, but an interesting aperitif.

1999 Disnoko Sweet Szamarodni (52 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright medium lemon gold. Relatively weak bouquet, slightly honeyed, floral hints as well as touches of cumquat and lime leaf. Medium-full bodied sweet palate, glace citrus peel (orange/grapefruit), slightly peppery finish. Good.

1998 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 4 Puttonyos (107 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright medium lemon yellow with gold tinges. Clean youthful bouquet of weak-medium intensity, touches of elderflower and clove, slightly grapey. Sweet, full bodied palate with good lime marmalade botrytis. Fine balancing acidity leads to a good clean finish. Lacks the intensity of a 5 or 6 puttonyos but a good wine, especially given the fact that 1998 was a relatively weak vintage.

1995 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos (130 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright deep orange/amber. Clean nose of medium intensity showing some development, slightly honeyed bouquet, touches of green pepper and dill, fresh apple, floral hints. Sweet, medium-full bodied, rich and intense cumquat fruit, touches of toast and caramel. Long finish. Very good wine indeed.

1996 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
Orange/amber in colour. Clean nose with evident development, the bouquet is in the dried fruit spectrum, specifically apricot, fig and citrus peel. Sweet, full bodied honeyed palate showing touches of crème brulee.

1998 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
Clear bright light-medium lemon gold. Youthful nose of weak intensity, touches of lemon/lime zest. Sweet, medium-full bodied, good marmalade botrytis flavours, together with honey and dried apricot. Good finish. Needs time.

1993 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos (151 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright deep amber core. Fully mature nose of roasted hazelnut, walnut, marmalade and toffee. The palate is very sweet, dominated by toffee with touches of dried apple, quince and apricot. Slightly disappointing given the quality of the 1993 vintage. The sweetness seems to override any complexity in the wine.

1997 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Clear bright lemon gold. Clean youthful nose of weak intensity, the bouquet shows fresh green herbs, dried peel and lemon juice, floral hints. Sweet, medium bodied, the palate is still youthful driven by lemon/lime (perhaps the Harslevelu) and peach/apricot (Furmint).

1993 Disznoko Tokaji Aszueszencia
Clear bright medium to full amber. Clean mature nose of toffee and dried fruits, floral hints. Sweet full bodied complex palate of marmalade, quince paste, cumquat, raisins and dried peel. Excellent bordering on outstanding. For mine, this is a better balanced wine than the 6 puttonyos of the same year, though at around 90 Euros a 500ml bottle, it doesn’t come cheap.

2000 Disznoko Esszencia (914 g/l residual sugar)
Still fermenting and yet to be bottled. 2000 was considered to be a very good vintage, reflected in the incredible 914 g/l of sugar in this “wine”. With this level of sugar, it could ferment for years and still only hit a couple of degrees alcohol. Not surprisingly, the bouquet is youthful, with touches of fresh apricot. On the palate, surprise surprise, it’s sweet, though amazingly, it doesn’t taste as sweet as one would expect. The structure of the “wine” is quite amazing – it has the viscosity of honey and tastes like honey lifted by apricot flower. An interesting experience, but one can see why Esszencia is used primarily as a sweetening agent rather than bottling – it is literally liquid gold

Run down on Disznoko: There is no doubt that Disznoko is a serious operation, from their high profile swank front-of-house on Hwy 37 near the turn-off to Tokaj through the very modern winery and underground cellar. The wines tend to be modern in style but bow their hat to tradition and definitely reflect their terroir. There seems to be a strong commitment to quality and a clear intent on being a leading long term player in Tokaj.

ROYAL TOKAJI WINE COMPANY was the first private winery established during the post-Communism reforms. Formed in 1989, with the backing of Danish investors and the collaboration of Hugh Johnson and 63 local producers, headed by Istvan Szepsy (now arguably the region’s leading producer). In 1993, the winery was sold to a group of British investors. The Royal Tokaji Wine Company has done an extremely good job of marketing Tokaji internationally and has developed export markets in Europe, Japan, the US and Canada. It produces a generic Blue Label 5 puttonyos Tokaji Aszu and several single vineyard wines, all at 5 or 6 puttonyos. The designation of single vineyard wines in Tokaj is somewhat of a moot point as there doesn’t appear to be a clear definition as to whether the fruit for the base wine and the Aszu berries used in the maceration have to be sourced from the one vineyard. The Royal Tokaji Wine Company does not produce dry, Szamarodni or late harvest wines. The wines tend to be more traditional in style, with a discernible level of (deliberate) oxidation.

1996 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Blue Label Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos (134 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright medium-deep amber core. The bouquet shows some development, good intensity, dried apricots and roasted nuts, which follow through on the palate, together with quince marmalade and raisins. Good finish.

1996 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, Szt. Tamas (178 g/l residual sugar)
Clear bright medium-deep golden amber verging on tawny. Clean developed nose of medium intensity dominated by beeswax, floral hints. Sweet, full bodied palate, touches of toffee, hazelnut and dried apricot. Long finish.

1996 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, Nyulaszo
Another single vineyard wine, again a relatively deep amber core, darker in colour than the Disznoko wines of similar age, reflecting the slight oxidation in the base wine and the matured completed wine. The bouquet is fully mature, showing walnut and cedar. Sweet, full bodied palate of raisin, prune and dried peel.

1995 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Mezes Maly
Clear bright medium-deep amber-toffee. Clean nose of dried apricot, citrus peel and tobacco. The sweet palate shows lime marmalade and plum jam. Long finish.

1992 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Betzek
Clear bright deep amber in colour. Fully mature nose of toffee, walnut and tobacco. Sweet medium bodied palate of dried apricot, scorched almond, raisin and cumquat.

1991 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Nyulaszo
Deep amber/toffee. Full mature bouquet of walnut, roasted hazelnut and coffee. Sweet (though the sweetness has faded slightly with age), raisins, toffee and dried figs.

Run down on the Royal Tokaji Wine Company: In as much as their wines are more traditional in style, Royal Tokaji Wine Co. provides an interesting contrast to the likes of Disznoko and Oremus. While the colour of the wines suggests them to be quite heavily oxidized, they are generally surprisingly fresh on the palate and the best vintages undoubtedly age very well. If one had to make any criticism, it would be that the wines are somewhat rustic, and lack the sophistication and elegance of the truly great wines the region is capable of producing. My suspicion is that this label may slip back a bit as the likes of Disznoko and Hetszolo and others further emerge on the international scene.

ISTVAN SZEPSY is without a doubt the leading light of Tokaj. He was a key figure in the formation of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, heading the 63 local producers who supplied fruit when the company formed in 1989, but has been producing his own wines since 1987. He produces late harvest and Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos wines under the Szepsy label. He is also behind Kiralyudvar (“King’s court”, the winery was formerly the King’s cellar) and Zemplen, both of which are joint ventures with an American-Chinese businessman. Istvan Szepsy has a strong commitment to quality and continuous improvement, reflected in his commitment to low yields and experimentation. It is not a surprise that his wines command the highest prices of all Tokaji wines. Spending a few hours with the man, it is clear that he is passionate about the subject of wine, specifically the wines of Tokaj, and a charming and friendly guy to boot. It’s hard to imagine a more ideal setting on a hot summer’s day than being in a cellar 10 feet underground with such company enjoying fantastic wines. Now to the wines:

2000 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint 14.8%ABV
Produced from 45yo vines, barrel fermented, bottled unfiltered. 3,400 bottles produced. Fermented dry. Clear bright, pale lemon yellow. Clean youthful nose of medium intensity showing grapefruit juice, almond and kaffir lime leaf. On the palate, medium+ bodied, grapefruit again shows through, slightly nutty, creaminess indicates that some of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. In spite of its high alcohol, it is not hot in any way, and the wine is well balanced. This wine was the most compelling evidence that quality dry wine can be made from the Furmint grape, although I would think that Istvan Szepsy would see it as a work in progress. For mine, it tasted somewhere between a Gruner Veltliner and a decent white Burgundy. It will be interesting to see how these wines progress in the future.

1999 Kiralyudvar Cuvee (140 g/l residual sugar) Late Harvest
First wine produced under the Kiralyudvar label, 7,000 bottles produced. Clear bright medium yellow gold. Clean youthful nose of pronounced intensity, fresh peach, nutmeg and cumquat come to the fore. The palate is sweet, but not cloying in any way, the flavour profile dominated by fresh apricot and peach, touches of pear underpinned by a steely backbone of minerality that one would associated with the best sweet wines of Germany.

2000 Kiralyudvar Cuvee Late Harvest
Clear bright yellow gold. Clean nose, interesting already showing some development, the bouquet yields honeysuckle and apricot jam. Sweet, medium bodied, botrytis characters are more evident than in the 1999 vintage; this is a more complex wine. Again, the wine is distinguished by its steely backbone. Very good indeed.

2000 Szepsy Tokaji Cuvee (200 g/l residual sugar) Late Harvest
Clear bright medium-deep yellow gold in colour. Clean youthful bouquet of pronounced intensity showing dried apricot and peach, touches of pepper, mint and eucalypt. The sweet medium bodied palate reveals dried fruit and again is underpinned by steely minerality. Long finish. Outstanding. There have been some detractors (including Hugh Johnson) of the move to producing late harvest wines in Tokaj. For mine, they add to the diversity of styles in offer in Tokaji, and if the region has the capacity to produce quality late harvest sweet wines without compromising the tradition of Aszu wines, then why not make them. Indeed, as the late harvest wines can be released earlier than the Aszu wines (which have to be aged for a minimum of 24 months in oak and 12 months in bottle), they will probably play an important role in generating cash flow for the producers of Tokaj.

1996 Szepsy Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Produced in the “traditional” (there is considerable debate as to what actually constitutes tradition in Tokaj) style with extended oak ageing – 4 years in oak. Clear and bright deep amber. Developed nose of toffee, roasted hazelnut and honey/mead. The palate is sweet and rich, honeyed, with dried fruits and roasted nuts. A finish that last until the next century. Elegant, but certainly not underpowered. This is a superb wine almost falling into the category “As good as it gets”.

1999 Szepsy Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos (228 g/l residual sugar)
Also aged in oak for 4 years, the level of residual sugar actually qualifies the wine to be an Aszueszencia. The slight level of intentional oxidation is reflected in the deep amber, almost tawny colour. The bouquet shows some development with aromas of toasted hazelnuts and dried fruit, reflected on the palate, together with raisins, prunes, walnuts and dried peel. Already complex, will improve in the future.

1999 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Made in the “modern” style. Clear bright medium yellow gold. Clean youthful nose of apricot, quince and crab apple. The palate is sweet, full bodied, quince follows through, together with lemon rind and cumquat. Finishes long. Still in its nappies. Needs to be laid down for several years.

1999 Kiralyudvar Eszencia (580 g/l residual sugar, 2.5%ABV)
Clean nose of fresh apricot/peach, reflected on the honeyed palate. As is the case with the Disznoko Eszencia, the “wine” does not taste as sweet as the sugar level would suggest.

2002 Zemplen Sweet Szamarodni, Nyualaszo (110 g/l residual sugar)
Barrel sample. Clear pale lemon yellow. Lifted bouquet of lime leaf, mint and eucalyptus. The palate is still very lively, medium sweet, the dominant fruit character being greengage and lime. Shows promise.

The run down on Istvan Szepsy: Aside from being a very affable man, Istvan Szepsy is producing some superb wine. Without exception, the wines are of the highest quality and stood out from any of the other wines I tasted by virtue of their sophistication and elegance, coupled with fruit intensity. Szepsy is a man committed to quality and it shows in the finished product. He is also an experimenter, and he is continually pushing the boundaries of the styles of wine that Tokaj can produce. Some may not agree with this approach, but I think that it is generally exciting and can only be a positive. His Dry Furmint was the most convincing example that good dry wines can be made from this variety. I liked all three of the late harvest wines, and would see them as the perfect sweet wine for summer drinking. Of the Aszu wines, I must confess to preferring the so called traditional styles under the Szepsy label to the modern Kiralyudvar. However, this may be due to the fact that the “modern” wine is still very young, while the deliberate oxidization in the other wines makes them take on some mature characters. In Szepsy’s own view, the “modern” style wines have greater capacity for ageing. As to ageing potential, he sees no reason why the wines from the best vintages shouldn’t develop for up to 100 years, but who can wait that long!!

OREMUS is a substantial investment by Spain’s Vega Sicilia and one of the largest producers in the region. The new state of the art winery is fully equipped with modern technology, showing that Oremus is a very serious operation indeed.

2002 Oremus Dry Furmint Mandolas
Clear pale lemon yellow with green tinges. Clean youthful nose of peaches and cream, honey and nutmeg. Dry, medium bodied, fresh apple, pear and almonds. The oak is quite evident, indeed too prominent for my palate.

1999 Oremus Sweet Szamarodni
Clear yellow gold with green tinges. Clean youthful nose of custard apple, bubblegum and fresh apple, floral hints. Sweet, medium bodied, the palate reveals fresh apricot, peach and touches of toast. Good.

1999 Oremus Late Harvest Harslevelu
Clear bright yellow gold. Clean youthful nose of weak to medium intensity, slightly grapey and floral. Medium sweet, showing lime zest and lime cordial, nice underlying minerality. Good.

1999 Oremus Late Harvest Furmint
Clear bright lemon gold with green tinges. Youthful nose of medium intensity, fresh apricot and peach, together with vanilla. Sweet, full bodied, honeyed peach/apricot. Good.

1999 Oremus Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
Clear bright medium gold. The bouquet shows some development, with a mélange of dried apricot and peel, which follow on the palate, also dried apricot and fig. Good finish.

1999 Oremus Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Clear bright golden core verging to amber. The nose is relatively youthful and reveals citrus peel, lime juice, kaffir lime leaf, and floral hints. Sweet, full bodied, honeyed palate, fruit character is dominated by dried apricot, touches of spice.

The run down on Oremus: If I had to describe the wines of Oremus in one word, it would be good. However, while being good, the wines are not particularly exciting. This excitement may well emerge with bottle age, but to me, the wines come over as being technically clean and well made, but lacking character and individuality. Yes, the Aszu wines are good sweet wines, but they don’t distinguish themselves from other sweet wines of the world, as do truly great Tokaji Aszu.


Without a doubt, Tokaj is one of the most beautiful and historic wine regions I have had the pleasure to visit. It is fascinating to witness the revival of a region that has contributed some of the world’s most distinctive and complex wines. For mine, the wines that stood out were the full Szepsy/Kiralyudvar range. These wines, which not surprisingly also command the highest prices, combine elegance, sophistication, complexity, structure and intensity. The 1996 Szepsy Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos is a superb wine and is likely to be eclipsed by the 1999, generally considered the best vintage since the fall of Communism (1993 and 2000 are also rated very highly). His late harvest Tokaji Cuvee wines under the Kiralyudvar and Szepsy labels are also very impressive, even though the style is quite different to Tokaji Aszu.

Of the other producers, Disznoko stood out. For me, their wines showed impeccable balance and seemed to successfully produce a modern wine while capturing the essence of Tokaj. The 1993 Aszueszencia is a very good wine indeed. I must admit to being slightly disappointed by Oremus, good clean wines, but little sense of terroir or individuality. I would like to try their best wines with some decent bottle age to see how they measure up. Royal Tokaji Wine Company produces only Tokaji Aszu wines and the house style shows a slight level of oxidation. These are good complex wines that age well, although some of the single vineyard wines are expensive. My sense is that the likes of Disznoko and other quality minded producers such as Hetszolo might surpass Royal Tokaji in the future.

So that is Tokaj. I was lucky enough to be able to bring a few bottles back with me, but I must say that one visit is not enough!

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