I arrived in the Tokaji wine region the day before my visit at Disznoko . This wine region is some 220 km east of Budapest , close to the border with Slovakia ,
and the vineyards are on the southern slopes of the Zemplin mountain range, between Tokaji and Satoraljaujhely (a border town near Slovakia), along the Bodrog river .
I set camp in a small campsite in the village of Olaszliszka,
after driving from Budapest through Miskolc . Olaszliszka sits right near the Bodrog river, along the embankment where a small ferry operates in daytime .
I had heard about Disznoko while preparing my trip to Hungary . This estate, which was in the past centuries an icon of Tokaji wineries , had fallen in derelict during the socialist era, and as only heavy investment could put it afoot again, the french insurance group AXA stepped in and resuscitated the estate in the early 1990's. Axa bought the estate through its winery arm, the "Compagnie Médocaine de Grands Crus", a négoce company that owns several estates in france and abroad (click on "english" to see the estates list).
Disznoko is now back on the wine game thanks to huge investments and is considered again as being among the best wine producers in Tokaji .
Krisztina Palagyi (whom I met in Borfalu) , the director's assistant, greeted me at the estate , and soon introduced me to the director Laszlo Meszaros . Both are fluent in french. Mr Meszaros is 35 and works here since 1995. He shows me around and answers my questions. He also gave me some Disznoko printed material that offer extensive understanding not only about how in Disznoko they work and make the wines, but also about particularities of Tokaji wines and vinifications .
The estate has a total surface of 150 hectares, of which 100 ha planted with vineyards , in one block ( all of Tokaji's vineyard is about 5500 ha ) . Clay soil, not too heavy,
with also some volcanic debris in
it wich make it warm and translate in a good minerality .
The original building, which stands near the road, was too small and so was renovated as a restaurant . New buildings were built in 1995 to house the offices, chai , vat house and access to the cellars , on the plans of hungarian architect Dezso Ekler . His architectural design is very imaginative , you don't see such beautiful modern wineries
The separate tractors' building (picture on the left)) itself is of the most imaginative design, round and open in its center, it's at some distance from the facility and chai.
In the main winery building where the wine is made, there's a curved gallery with natural light linking the different parts of the facility, with easy overview over the chai and vat house.
The grape varieties here are Furmint (60%), Haslevelu (29%), Zeta (10%) and Sargamuskotaly (1%). He says that here like in the rest of Hungary, this year was very rainy, and so the grapes are bigger than usual . Maturity nears but several more weeks are needed. What counts the most is the Aszu grapes harvest . Aszu grapes are passerilled and botrytized grapes that appear thanks to the morning mist and the late season's sun.
The southern slopes where Tokaji vineyards stand face a plain . The humidity from the Bodrog river and the plain causes this mist at the end of summer/beginning of autumn . The morning mist combines with the otherwise sunny day to create this alchemy of Aszu grapes . See picture on the left , of a soon-to-be Aszu grape ( a more advanced one can be seen in the background ) .
Aszu grapes are picked one by one in successive passages ( 3 or 4 ) between end of september and november . Then , all the remaining grapes are harvested and sorted : the botrytized ones will make the Szamorodni and the rest wil make the base wine for the future Aszu wines .
All the dry passerilled (Aszu) grapes go from buckets to 20 kg baskets , then are stocked together after the successive pickings, and the weight of these grapes , plus some foot-crushing, give a small volume of juice, a very precious nectar : this is the Eszencia, the best of the best .
Good grape pickers usually bring back 6 to 10 kg of Aszu grapes a day . As we walked in the vineyard, we saw two women with Zeta Aszu-grapes buckets, as samples for analysis [ see picture on the right ] . When you crunch one of these grapes , you are surprised by the mellow inside and some of the aromas that come with it, but it is difficult to imagine that any juice can come out of such grapes . Yet, juice does come out of them when pressed, albeit in very small quantity . A green harvest is made earlier in the season, around late july-early august , as there must not be more than 8 clusters per vine . The soil in the Tokaji region is either loess or more or less clayish . Here at Disznoko, it is rather the latter type of soil, with a little bit of loess . Clayish soils give wines with long laying down potential, with higher acidity .
We walk into the chai . Classical vinification for whites . For dry whites , whole clusters are pressed and the juice then goes into the underground stainless steel vats for debourbage during one night . The next morning, the juice goes into other vats for fermentation with controlled temperature : 18° C for dry whites, 20-22° C for sweet whites .
We now walk down the steep slope to the cellar, 10 meter deep . Nice smell of a cask cellar . No need of air-con here, 12-13° C year around . Very high humidity : 90% . Ideal conditions for Aszu wines elevage, and very little evaporation also . Alcohol fumes allowed this nice black mould to prosper on the thick walls . We walk along several galleries with casks, bottles . Aszu 2003 and 2004 wines are still in casks, as they must go through at least 2 years elevage in casks (of wich no more than 20-25% of new casks) . The 2002 are being bottled now .
At one point, we walk between two walls of Tokaji 5 and 6 Puttonyos bottles.... Feel like in a temple, especially that at the other end of this precious-bottles gallery, half a dozen of maybe 12 liter demijohns filled with Eszencia wait in the dark (may the Tokaji gods forgive me for having briefly disturbed the scene with my flashlight). Read on right the easy way to get what Puttonyos is about. Eszencia is the nectar of nectars , it will stay 3-4 years here, and can make another 2° or 3° in alcohol . Some of it will be bottled as such, some will be the Puttonyos part of Aszu wines . We go back to the ground level for tasting now :
__1 Tokaji Furmint 2004 . Dry white . This Hungarikum (indigenous) grape variety is the main variety in the region since the 17th century . Fresh . Furmint is always fresh , he says , and pairs well with fish and seafood .
__2 Late harvest Tokaji 2003 . Unlike the classical Tokaji wines, 6 months only in casks , then bottled and sold . 70 g residual sugar , balanced . Pleasant wine . 13,5° .
__3 Szamorodni 2000 . "Edes" (sweet) wine . At least one month in cask . Nose here is stronger . Floral and mineral . 90 g residual sugar . A more concentrated wine , for foie gras, or just by itself .
__4 Tokaji Aszu 4 Puttonyos 1999 . Very great year, he says . Not very aromatic , but with finesse, balance and freshness . Maturity in the grapes was quite early in 1999 , and Botrytis was not too "agressive", but refined . Plus , the passerillage concentrated the sugar , but also the acids . Very good laying down potential for this millesime . Fresh in the mouth . Nice legs in the glass . 110 g Res/sug. [ The picture on the left, shot in Tokaji , shows the town's heraldry ]
__5 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2000 . Also a great millesime in Tokaji , but more for the aromas . Right, the nose is very expressive . Golden colour with a little bit of green . Mouth is more ample . About 140 g res/sug. Nice after-taste . 12,5° .
__6 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 1995 . 12° . Colour is more amber-yellow . He says there is
also a colour evolution in the bottle . Lots of crystallized fruits aromas.
Blackcurrant. Intensity in the mouth . Less syrupy , nice acidity . A real pleasure . 130 g res/sug. Superb Tokaji wine . The colour now seems like gold with greenish reflections .
Costs about 25 Euro a bottle .
__7 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1993 . Another great year here (with 1999). Also very symbolic for the estate because it was the first wine production since the fall of the socialist regime and the recontruction of this historic estate (in 1992) . Very expressive nose . Dense amber-green colour . 160 g res/sug, and you forget it .
__8 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1999 . Very present nose .Powerful in the mouth , and freshness at the same time . The 170 g res/sug don't show up . The wine glides perfectly . He says the 6 Puttonyos Aszu is always the most complex of these Aszu wines and they don't make it every year . I take another sip . Lots of aromas . 30-35 Euro a bottle .
__9 Eszencia 1999 . 650 g res/sug. Discreet nose . In the mouth : you want to chew it to make the most of it... Great tasting experience .
Disznoko wines are exported through the "Compagnie Medocaine Des Grands Crus", also a subsidiary of the AXA insurance group, and also through WJDeutsch & Sons (US); American Wine& Spirits (Union City , Cerritos, CA); Grands Crus Imports Distributing (Mercer Island WA); Canada Intnl Cellar Inc (Vancouver B.C.); Lifford Wine Agency (Toronto , Ont ); Univins (Montreal, Qu); OKB (Moscow, Russia); Champagne and Chateaux (London, UK); Arcane (Japan); and others across the world .