The Tokaj lies 240 kms north-east of Budapest, Hungary, situated in the Zemplen Mountains at the confluence of the Tisza and Bodrog rivers. Currently the border between Hungary and Slovakia runs through the region, so there are Slovakian wines labeled 'Tokai'. The soil is largely clay or loess with a volcanic substratum. Tokaj enjoys long sunny summers, while dry autumns and the early morning mists, created by the meeting of the two rivers, encourage the development of noble rot on aszu berries.
The noble rot, known as Botrytis cinerea, makes the berries dry and shrivel, thus concentrating the flavor compounds and developing the Aszu berries. All of these characteristic elements give the Tokaj wineries their own distinctive and unique terroir
* Asz˙: This is the formerly world-famous white wine that is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem. It is a naturally sweet and topaz-colored that was formerly known throughout the English-speaking world as Tokay (Tow-KAY, rhimes with WAY), which of course is an orthographic variant of the spelling 'Tokaj'('tow-KIE, rhymes with PIE).
The original meaning of the Hungarian word asz˙ was "dried", but the term came to be associated with the type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. "nobly rotten') grapes, so now it is thought of as meaning 'infected', or similar to the German word "Auslese", meaning 'a selection'. The process of making Asz˙ wine is as follows.
o Asz˙ berries are individually picked, then collected in huge vats and crushed into the consistency of paste (known as asz˙ dough).
o Through-fermented wine or unmanipulated must is poured on the asz˙ dough and left for 24ľ48 hours, being stirred occasionally.
o The wine is racked off into wooden casks or vats where fermentation is completed and the asz˙ 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 Asz˙ was traditionally defined by the number of puttonyos hods (containing about 30 liters) of dough added to a G÷nc cask (136 liter barrel) of must. Nowadays the puttony number is based on the equivalent content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Asz˙ ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Asz˙ Eszencia or Essencia (not to be confused with Tokaji Eszencia or Essencia without the Asz˙) representing wines above 6 puttonyos. Unlike most other wines, alcohol content of Asz˙ typically runs quite a bit higher than 14% even though it is not fortified with alcohol or extra sugar. Annual production of asz˙ is less than one percent of the region's total output. Tokaji Eszencia or Essencia is a different, richer product made from the pressure of Asz˙ grapes as they sit in containers after being collected. In this situation very concentrated juice, derived from the ripest layer of the grape fllesh immediately under the skins, collects without being pressed in the bottom of the container. This most concentrated must, often containing well over 50 percent sugars, is collected and allowed to spontaneously ferment, although it does so so reluctantly that it often contains less than the 5 percent minimum alcohol needed to call it wine. It is sold in tiny amounts, usually with a small spoon which allows sipping it in the tiny amounts that render its immense flavors and scents it possesses. This enormously expensive elixir was thought to possess very strong medicinal properties, and was thought to be kept in royal courts to allow revival of a dying monarch who had neglected to name a successor.
Because this dessert-style wine is not popular or easy to sell, is expensive to make, and whose high quality is not understood, it is not easy for producers in the region to remain in business, much less make a profit so that their vineyards and equipment can be kept in good condition. Since that is the case, dry (non-dessert)-style wines are now being made, and also wines that are made more like the simpler late-harvest wines from other areas of Europe. Such experiments are ongoing and their successfulness is unknown as of this point.
The wines of Tokaj are made from severa whitel grapes, individual or as a blend, that are indigenous to Hungary, and rarely or ever found outside this region, plus small amounts of 'tolerated' varieties. These grapes are the Furmint, the Harsevelu (Linden-leaf), and the more widely employed Muscat. edited jht