Cellar Nyakas (Nyakashegy Ltd), Tök, Központi Major, Hungary

Nyakas lies in the wine region of Etyek-Buda, only about 25km to the west of Budapest.  Vines have been grown in the region for centuries, but it only got the official rank of Wine Region in 1990.  Until recently, the region has mainly made sparkling wines.  Cellar Nyakas was established in 1997 and has vineyards covering 110-120 hectares around the villages of Budajenö, Perbál and Tök.  The winery is in Tök and has capacity to make some 6000 hl is temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.

2004 Budai Müller Thurgau
Thick, heavy nose.  Powerful flavours; appears to have an oaky weight to it.  Good.  5/10

2004 Budai Chardonnay
Harvested in September and in late October, with the October harvest undergoing malolactic fermentation.
A rich creamy nose with wood and grass.  Round and full on the palate; well-flavoured.  Fairly simple.   4+/10

2004 Budai Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes picked in two harvests: end of September and the start of October.
Grassy, asparagus nose.  Very full on the palate, but tastes identical to the Chardonnay. 4/10

2004 Budajenöi Pinot Gris
Low yields; single harvest; malolactic fermentation.  A much lighter nose than the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, with much more varietal character.  Good, rich pinot gris fruit on the palate with an interesting minerality.  Clean, ripe, well-balanced.  Very Good.  7/10

2004 Budai Cuvée
A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Irsai Oliver.
A very fragrant nose reminiscent of gewurztraminer.  Round and full, with some scented fragrance that continues on the palate.  An interesting wine. 7+/10

 2004 Budai Irsai Oliver
A fragrant muscatty/gewurzy nose.  Fairly full on the palate with fragrance, but also a certain hardness.   5/10


Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pincészet (Winery of the Abbey of Pannonhalma)
Winemaking started in the Pannonhalma-Sokoróalja when Benedictine monks founded the monastery of Pannonhalma in 996 (a date that figures prominently on Pannonhalmi's labels).  Since the fall of communism, efforts have been made to revive the viticultural traditions and the wineries.  Pannonhalmi repurchased Abbey vineyards and began replanting in 2000.  The main grape varieties are Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Welchriesling, Ezerjó and Sárfehér.  In addition, they have planted the more international Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  They currently have 37 hectares under newly planted vines and the first harvest took place in autumn 2003 from an area of 15 ha.  Given that the wines I tasted were only the first and second vintages produced, it seems to me that there is considerable promise here.

2004 Pannonhalmi Tricollis Cuvée
A blend of 50% Welschriesling, 30% Rhine Riesling and 20% Gewürztraminer.  A very interesting nose with the gewurz clearly coming through. Very round and rich, spicy riesling flavours on the palate.  A very interesting wine.  Lots of interesting after-flavours too.  Huge length.  Very Good Indeed. 8+/10

2004 Pannonhalmi Rhine Riesling
Vines planted in 2000.  A light fragrant zesty, limey Riesling nose.  A really rich texture on the palate.  Good acidity; clean lime riesling fruit.  Good creamy body.  A very nice wine.  8+/10

2004 Pannonhalmi Tramini
A light gewürztraminer nose.  Heavy, creamy gewurz on the palate.  Powerful, but not overdone.  A bit low in acidity maybe.  Fragrant and rosey on the finish.  Very pleasant.  7+/10

2003 Pannonhalmi Chardonnay
A very smoky, oaky nose – clearly lots of new oak in this.  Very clean tasting.  The oak works well on the palate which has some good ripe fruit.  Very well balanced.  Very Good Indeed.  8/10

Villa Sandahl, Badacsony, Hungary

Villa Sandahl is a new winemaking company, owned and run by two Swedish brothers, Thord and Christer Sandahl.  It lies in the wine region of Badacsony on the north side of Lake Balaton, where the Sandahls took over the south-facing Zsuzsanna Vineyard at the heart of the region on one of the steepest slopes of the Badacsony Hill.  The vineyard is planted with 25 year old vines of Riesling and Pinot Gris and covers 3.4 hectares.  The Sandahls believe that the vineyard has the same potential as some of the famous grand cru vineyards of Alsace.  2004 was their first vintage, and I think they might be onto something here.  One to watch, I think.


2004 Villa Sandahl Rhine Riesling-Pinot Gris, Zsuzsanna Vineyard
A lovely fragrant nose with riesling minerality and a richness and tropicality from the pinot gris.  Some acid is evident on the attack, but it quickly fills with pinot gris richness.  Superb balance throughout.  An exceptionally good wine.   9/10
2004 Villa Sandahl Late harvest barrique Pinot Gris, Zsuzsanna Vineyard
Half fermented in stainless steel, half in Hungarian oak barrique.  A very light soft nose.  Rich and soft on the attack.  Off-dry.  7g acidity.  Really good fruit on the palate; and you start to feel the oak afterwards.  Seems to lack a bit of character, especially varietal character.  Very Good.   6+/10


Tokaj Oremus Winery

The Oremus vineyard used to be the pride of the Rákóczi dynasty's estate in the 17th century.  Tokaj-Oremus was established in 1993 by the Alvarez family, owners of Spain's Vega Sicilia.  I'm reasonably familiar with the Oremus wines, so just took the occasion to try one:

2003 Oremus Mandolas
Mandolas is the vineyard; the grape is the furmint.
A very powerful nose.  Spicy and full.  Very Good.    6/10


Tokaj Hills Winery

The Tokaj Hills Winery lies in the heart of Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr.

2004 Tokaj Hills (Dry) Furmint
Powerful nose.  A big, big wine on the palate.  Not entirely pleasant.  Very big and powerful.  Plenty of acidity.  OK   2/10

1999 Tokaj Hills Szamorodni
This would be a half puttony Tokaji.  Aged in oak barrels for three years.  A curious sherried nose.  A very curious wine.  Very unusual.   4+?/10

2003 Tokaj Hills Late Harvest Furmint, Chateau Lapis
A good late harvest nose with very light botrytis and lots of ripe fruit.  Rich and full.  Sweeter than I would have expected.  Very good balance.   5/10

2000 Tokaj Hills Aszú 6 Puttonyos
The same oxidised nose as the Szamorodni.  Very rich and sweet attack.  Bitter caramel and orange flavours.  Seems a very traditional style.   5/10

1993 Tokaji Hills Aszú Essencia
A powerful fruity nose with hints of sweet citrus marmalade.  And pretty much the same on the palate as on the nose.  Fine, but lacks style and lacks focus.  5/10


Tokaj Classic Winery Ltd, Hungary
Tokaj Classic, which is owned by three classical musicians, András Bruhács and two German partners, is now ten years old.  It is situated in the town of Mád and has eight hectares of grand cru vineyards in the Kiraly and Betsek areas, which are planted with Furmint and Hárslevelü, with some Yellow Muscat planted elsewhere.  The vines are between 20 and 30 years old and yields are restricted, producing a maximum of 800-1000 bottles per hectare.

2001 Tokaji Furmint Halbtrocken
11.5% abv; 17.6g/l residual sugar; 7.2g/l acidity.
Soft nose; good interesting palate.  Some oxidation.    5/10

2003 Tokaji Classic Cuvée Late Harvest
12.5% abv; 117g/l residual sugar; 6.1g/l acidity.
Clean fresh nose.  Beautiful balance.  Sweet, with powerful acidity, especially on the finish.   6/10

1999 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos
11.5% abv; 153g/l residual sugar; 11.8 g/l acidity.  Clean smoky nose.  Very elegant.  Great depth of fruit.  7/10

2000 Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
10.5% abv; 195 g/l residual sugar; 11 g/l acidity.  With a flashy pewter label (because, it was explained to me, it won't rot when you cellar it for a hundred years).
A very sweet, rather medicinal nose.  Very pure and elegant.     7+/10

1997 Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
11.2% abv; 186g/l residual sugar; 10.6g/l acidity.  A more oxidised nose than the 2000.  Really good balance and acidity.  Great depth.  It's interesting how much mature it seems than the 2000.


Aranydukát Winery

The Aranydukát Winery is based in the village of Tallya in the north-western part of the vineyards of Tokaj Hill and has vineyards in Tallya and Mád.

2003 Tokaji Sárga Muskotály feledes
Yellow muscat; semi-sweet.  Lovely light fragrant muscat nose.  Very nice.   6/10

2000 Tokaji Szamorodni Sweet
Very clean, slightly oxidised nose.  Good on the palate.  Not as weird as some of the other szamorodnis.  Loads of spice and acid.  Very Good.  6+/10

2000 Tokaji Aszú 3 puttonyos
A nicely perfumed floral nose.  A very fine 3 puttonyos with a good balance and really good fruit.  In a very modern style, with no oxidation.

2000 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos
A more integrated nose than the 3 puttonyos, yet still light and very fresh.  A light, fresh Tokaji in a lovely clean, fresh style with good, spicy acidity.  Very nice.  Very Good Indeed+.  8+/10

2001 Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
Concentrated melony sultanas on the nose.  Much more concentrated on the palate.  The flavours remind me of something, but I can't put my finger on it – a melony durian perhaps?  Very clean.  Very good balance.  Very Good Indeed+.  8+/10


The Royal Tokaji Wine Company

Ben Howkins of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company took a small group through a tutored tasting of a selection of Royal Tokaji's wines.

Tokaji is one of the world's great sweet wines, and also the first.  The vineyards were first classified in 1700 by Prince Rakoczi of Transylvania and it was reportedly Louis XIV of France who first called Tokaji “rex vinorum, vinum regum” (the king of wines, the wine of kings).  Catherine the Great stationed soldiers in Tokaji to protect the vineyards she controlled there.

The geography of the region, 200km north east of Budapest on the same latitude as the Loire in France, is the determining factor in the production of Tokaji.  Tokaj, the main market town of the region, lies on the confluence of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers.  The Bodrog is a warmer river, and the meeting of the warmer and the colder waters gives rise to mists in late summer which favour the development of botrytis, noble rot, which further concentrates the Aszu grapes.  Each vine yields approximately one glass of wine.

The grape varieties for Tokaji are Furmint (around 70% of plantings – a fragrant, quite tart variety which is high in tartaric acid and which is particularly susceptible to botrytis), Hárslevelü (approximately 25% of the vineyard area – fragrant with lime and honey, and full bodied, but less susceptible to botrytis) and Muscat de Lunel (also known as yellow muscat, which accounts for only 5% of the vineyards and is the most difficult grape to grow, but provides an important flavouring).

Vintages vary greatly, and Tokaji Aszú is not made in all years (there are on average only 3.5 good Aszú vintages out of every ten).  The grapes are individually picked, shrivelled, mouldy grape by shrivelled, mouldy grape into 20 litre hods called puttonyos.  Some of the Aszú grapes will release their juices under their own weight in the hods: this free run juice goes to make the rarest of Tokaji ‘wines', the true Essencia.  Wines in inverted commas, as this only ever ferments to a very low alcohol level and is very rarely drunk like you might drink wine: by the teaspoon more like!  Ben Howkins told me that the Royal Tokaji Company's 1993 Essencia took eight and a half years to finish fermenting and reached only 2.5% alcohol by volume: fewer than 300 bottles were produced. 

There are similarities between Tokaji and port and champagne: all three are not straightforward wines, but have something happen to them.  The non-Aszú grapes (the ones that still look like grapes!) are fermented into a dry base wine.  Aszú grapes are then added, and the number of puttonyos of Aszú berries added per barrel determines the puttony level of the wine, which is printed on the label.  Originally the Aszú berries were added to the previous year's wine, but now European legislation requires that all the wine in a bottle come from the vintage shown on the bottle.  Traditionally, the Aszú grapes have to come from the same vineyard as the base wine.

The wine is then re-fermented (sometimes for up to two years) in used 140 litre gönci barrels, normally made from Hungarian oak and, after bottling, aged for a minimum of three years (often much longer) in cellars running several kilometres underground.  The cellars have over 90% humidity, lots of black mould and the air is full of natural yeasts.  The wine is normally bottled in 50cl bottles, the largest size permitted by law, or smaller and will usually need at least ten years for the fruit, residual sugar and acid start to integrate.

The Royal Tokaji Company was founded in 1989, with Hugh Johnson as a major shareholder.  It is based in Mád, 12km north west of Tokaj, where traditionally the vineyard owners and foreign wine merchants used to meet each year to fix the price for Tokaji wines.  Royal Tokaji make blended Aszú Tokaji wines under a Red Label (made from grapes from 2nd and 3rd growth vineyards) and a Blue Label (from 1st and 2nd growth vineyards).  In addition they make, in suitable years, single vineyard wines: Birsalmas (2nd Growth); Betsek (1st growth); Nyulaszo (1st growth), Szt Tamas (1st growth), Mezes Maly (great 1st growth).

2003 Royal Tokaji Dry Tokaji Furmint
Pale lemon gold.  Lots of acidity.  Very racy.  Very Good.

2003 Áts Cuvée, Mézes Mály
A late harvest wine, named after winemaker Karoly Áts.  Made in years when there is no Aszú.  A bright, fresh gold.  Light botrytis nose with orange notes.  Rich and creamy on the palate with excellent acidity.  Ben Howkins reckons it will stand being served not too cold because of the acidity.

1999 Aszú 5 puttonyos blue label
According to Ben, 1999 was a fantastic year for acidity.  A light teak gold.  Big raisined nose with dried orange and grapefruit zest.  The huge acidity is immediately obvious, followed by round, gorgeous fruit.  Quite peachy with dried apricot flavours.  Very good length.  Very Good Indeed.

1999 Aszú 6 puttonyos Betsek 1st growth vineyard
The label is a copy of the 1901 label in the state archives.  800 cases were made.  The Betsek vineyard normally produces fuller and more earthy wines than other sites.  A deepish gold with tan shades.  Quite an intense dried fruit nose with marmalade.  Very racy acidity.  Beautifully balanced.  Lots of dried citrus fruit on the palate.  Very Good Indeed.

1996 Aszú 6 puttonyos Nyulaszo 1st growth vineyard
The Nyulaszo (which apparently translates as something like ‘to catch hares') vineyard produces more elegant wine than the Betsek.  This has a teaky gold colour.  The nose is very interesting: quite different to the Betsek, with dried apricots, walnuts and salty almonds.  Fresh, clean flavours, with very concentrated fruits, yet very clean.  Almost tannic on the finish.

Interestingly the difference between the last two wines was merely down to terroir (and vintage): there is no difference in the winemaking at all. 

The striking thing about tasting Tokaji is how clean my mouth was afterwards.  This wasn't hard work at all.  A lot of this is to do with the acidity level of Tokaji, which has 3-4% less alcohol than Sauternes, but double the acidity.


Olaszliszkai Winery, Tokaji-Hegalja

Olaszliszkai Borászati owns prime vineyards in eight different locations (it was founded by seven grower-producers), which enables wine-maker, Emerencia Hermann, to make full use of the different terroirs in producing a final blend.  The Aszú wines are made in a traditional style using traditional methods that they proudly boast date back to the 1650s.  Dry and non-botrytised wines are made using modern technology.  The wines are released under the Emerencia Selection label.  UK importer Fred Ku-Mesu took me through a selection of the wines.

2003 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Furmint dry
An interesting nose.  A rather powerful wine that would need something to cut it, or as an aperitif.  Very clean flavours.  Big and unusual.  Very Good/Very Good Indeed.

2003 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Furmint Late Harvest
A very delicate floral nose.  Really clean and fresh.  Very Good Indeed.

2003 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Hárslevelű Late Harvest
A rather fuller nose than the Furmint without the floral notes.  It easy – and interesting – to see how they blend together.  Sweet and full, with more body than the furmint.  Very interesting to try the two.

2003 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Cuvée Late Harvest
A blend of the Furmint and the Hárslevelű late harvest wines.  A really good nose – lightly honeyed and floral, with deep wide fruits.  Deep and wide on the palate with nice balance.  It's easy to see how it blends the two varieties.

1995 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Aszú 3 puttonyos
An orangey, oxidised nose.  Not at all cloying and only just sweet.  OK.

1995 Emerencia Selection Tokaji Aszúeszencia
A light caramel colour.  There's a touch of caramel on the nose with honey and grapefruit.  Full, round and rich on the palate, and a touch cloying with a heavy feel.  This needs time.


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Last updated: 15 December 2005