1999 Istvan Szepsy, Tokaji Aszú, 6 Puttonyos, Tokaji, Hungary
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Roving Sommelier is passionate about premium quality wines. Istvan Szepsy is many wine lovers’ favourite Hungarian winemaker and has developed a fine reputation internationally, especially with connoisseurs of sweet wines and iconic vineyards in Tokaji.
What is more, over the years, as a top-flight restaurant wine buyer and sommelier, I’ve been very fortunate to get my hands on and taste many vintages of such rare and special wines. These highly prized jewels, amongst others are the cornerstone of my Roving Sommelier Collection. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet the great man himself and to visit his iconic winery located in the Tokaji region in north-eastern Hungary. Tokaji is a very distinctive wine with a unique method of production.
Tokaji has been known as the “Wine of Kings, King of Wines” since the 18th century. Tokaji wine became the subject of the world’s first appellation control, established several decades before Port wine, and over 120 years before the classification of Bordeaux. Vineyard classification began in 1730 with vineyards being classified into three categories depending on the soil, sun exposure and potential to develop ‘noble rot’, (botrytis cinerea), first-class, second-class and third-class wines. A royal decree in 1757 established a closed production district in Tokaj. The classification system was completed by the national censuses of 1765 and 1772.
Six grape varieties are officially approved for Tokaji wine production. Furmint accounts for 60% of the area and is by far the most important grape in the production of Aszú wines. Hárslevelű stands for further 30%. Nevertheless, an impressive range of different types and styles of wines are produced in the region, ranging from dry whites to the “Eszencia”- the world’s sweetest wine.
Aszú: This is the world-famous sweet, topaz-coloured wine known throughout the English-speaking world as Tokay. The original meaning of the Hungarian word Aszú was “dried”, but the term aszú came to be associated with the type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. “nobly” rotten) grapes. The process of making Aszú wine is as follows.
Aszú berries are individually picked by hand, then collected in huge vats and trampled into the consistency of a paste (known as Aszú dough).
Must or wine is poured on the Aszú dough and left for 24–48 hours, stirred occasionally. The wine is racked off into wooden casks or vats where fermentation is completed and the Aszú wine is to mature. The casks are stored in a cool environment, and are not tightly closed, so a slow fermentation process continues in the cask, usually for several years.
The concentration of Aszú was traditionally defined by the number of ‘puttony’ of dough added to a Gönc cask (136 litre barrel) of wine. Nowadays the ‘puttony’ number is based on the content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Aszú ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos (the sweetest), with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos. Unlike most other wines, alcohol content of Aszú typically runs higher than 14%. Annual production of Aszú is less than one percent of the region’s total output.
Istvan Szepsy’s family heritage is inherently linked to the history of Tokaji. Many centuries ago, it was one of his ancestors who first made a Tokaji wine and introduced and developed its unique method of production. In the 1990s, with the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the falling of “The Iron Curtain”, the pioneering Istvan Szepsy was importantly placed at the forefront of Tokaji production and improving the country’s most famous wine, immeasurably. Since those early days with the Tokaji Renaissance, Tokaji wines have come along leaps and bounds and most crucially, Istvan Szepsy has led the way in his pursuit of transforming an iconic wine region to new heights.
The 1999 vintage was regarded as a great one with many top dessert wines especially those in Tokaji region. This one has evolved beautifully and is still fairly youthful and is richly flavoured and sweet with good acidity. The 1999 Istvan Szepsy, Tokaji Aszú, 6 Puttonyos is a very memorable wine from one of the best vintages that deserves to be enjoyed on very special occasions and in a convivial atmosphere.
Alcohol: 9.5% abv (75cl)
Grape varieties: Furmint; Hárslevelű and Muscat
Flavour Profile: Unctuous, Rich, Very sweet, Caramelised citrus fruits, Honey, Complex