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How is sweetness of Tokaji measured?

Caroline Gilby MW talks you through the key points, including the meaning of 'Aszú' and whether there are any ageing requirements for Tokaji sweet wines.

There have been several changes to how Tokaji sweetness is measured and communicated, but Tokaji Aszú remains simply one of the world’s great sweet wines. If you are looking for the perfect finish to your meal, or even a great start, then look no further.

What is Aszú?

Aszú is the Hungarian term for grapes that are affected by noble rot and have shrivelled – the region’s foggy mornings allow noble rot to take hold and breezy sunny afternoons shrivel the grapes.

These Aszú berries are picked individually and soaked in fermenting juice for around one to two days.

Puttonyos and the Tokaji sweetness measure

The traditional Puttonyos measure counted the numbers of buckets [Puttonyos] of Aszú added to a traditional [gönci] barrel of grape must. However, today the classification is based on residual sugar.

In 2013, Tokaj regulations changed significantly, removing the ‘three’ and ‘four’ Puttonyos categories.

The minimum level is now equivalent to ‘five’ Puttonyos, which means at least 120g/l of residual sugar. At ‘six’ Puttonyos, the wines are required to contain at least 150g/l.

High as these sugar levels sound, the beauty of Tokaji is that it is always underscored by a streak of appetising acidity.

In practice, producers choose to label by the balance of the wine, as long as it meets the legal minimum.

Matching Tokaji with food

‘Five’ Puttonyos wines are about the interplay of sweetness and refreshing crispness, which means they can match pâté, Asian dishes and lighter cheeses brilliantly, as well as fruit-based desserts like apple crumble, poached pears or fruit tart.

‘Six’ Puttonyos is more about gorgeously luscious sweetness, although acidity again comes into play so that the best wines are never cloying. Think more of matching these wines with full-flavoured cheese, especially blue cheese, which is a match made in heaven.

Also read:

Are there any ageing requirements for Tokaji sweet wines?

Recent rule changes have brought the minimum ageing period for Tokaji Aszú down to two years in total, with at least 18 months in barrel, though individual producers may choose to age for longer.

Of the other sweet styles of Tokaji, Szamorodni, which is made from whole bunches with a varying proportion of Aszú berries, has to age for 12 months with a minimum of six months oak ageing, while late harvest doesn’t have to be aged in oak at all.

The incredibly rare Eszencia, a syrupy free-run juice that trickles from Aszú berries, usually contains more than 450 g/l of residual sugar so there’s minimal fermentation –  usually in glass demijohns.

It is occasionally bottled and served by the spoonful. Legend has it that this wine cures the sick.

You might also enjoy: 

Decanter travel guide: Tokaj, Hungary


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