Today we are entering winegeek territory with the Tokaji Szamorodni 2003 from Sajgo Cellars in Hungary. The offer of Hungarian wines on the Belgian market is tiny, and szamorodni wines are not well-reprented in what is available. Nevertheless, there are some exciting wines out there. First things first, Tokaj. For centuries, the region in the North of Hungary has been highly esteemed for sweet wines. Louis XIV is credited with the quote “wine of kings; king of wines” and the wines enjoyed a stellar reputation until the collapse of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire which was a major setback for development and innovation in the region. There has been a change for the better following the end of the Soviet Union, and more attention is being paid to the preservation of the region’s rich viticultural heritage.
So now we have the origin, but what does szamorodni mean? Only late-harvested, botrytis-affected grapes can be used. Botrytis or noble rot is a fungus that dries out the grapes but preserves the sugar. More known examples include Sauternes and Coteaux-du-Layon in France or Beerenauslese wines in Germany, all world class when it comes to sweet wines. In some cases though, the wine will be vinified completely dry (all sugars are converted into alcohol), upon which the wine is left in an oxidative environment. The process is actually the same as the one for sherry or vin jaune. You leave the wine in barrels without topping them up for the part lost through evaporation, upon which a “voile”, a layer of yeast cells will form on top of the wine. The result is a controlled oxidation of the wine leading to very specific aromas. Just like vin jaune, ripening in cask is mandatory in order to actually get the full effect.
What kind of wine do you end up with? Based on the two traditional grape varieties in Tokaj, Furmint and Harslevelu, the wine was raised for seven years in small 200 litre casks. The fact that it is an oxidized wine is immediately noticeable in the dark golden colour. The nose is really intense, penetrating even. At first I only got brown apple and a little nuttiness, quite aggressive, but it gained a bit more elegance over the course of a couple of days. The mouth is remarkable, intense as well as completely structured on acidity with a spicy nuttiness that keeps lingering on and on in the finish. This is neither a wine that you pop open just like that, nor one that you finish in an evening though. We originally tried the wine as part of a Jura tasting in absence of a Vin Jaune and since then, now four months ago, the bottle has stayed in my fridge, virtually unchanged!