Traditional wine with deep roots
Wednesday 05 January 2022
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When exploring traditional Hungarian wine, it is absolutely obligatory to deal with Tokaj, the sweet, instantly recognisable style, favoured by royalty and celebrity over its long and decorous history. And we’re very excited to bring you a superb, traditional example of the style from the Pannon Tokaj winery.
Established in 2000, Pannon Tokaj is a small family business, with vineyards spread over 22 hectares north-east of the capital, Budapest, cultivated with the main grape varieties of Tokaj: Yellow Muscat, Furmint, Hárslevelű and Zéta. This region, a UNESCO world heritage site, hosts some of the country’s most famous areas for viniculture, including Kincsem, Rány and Budaházi.
Growing and producing on a relatively small scale, Pannon Tokaj’s focus is very much on getting the best from each vine. Harvesting is entirely led by the maturity of the grapes, timed to perfection. To avoid bruising, the fruit is transported in shallow plastic crates and, as soon as it arrives at the winery, destemmed without crushing. The free-run juice is carefully separated, then the mash is soft pressed. The cooled and settled must is inoculated with carefully selected yeasts and fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.
László Nyári, Pannon Tokaj’s managing director, says: “Our long-term goal is to increase the vineyards up to 40-50 hectares and modernise the ones we already hold. Besides cultivating our own vines, we also purchase quite significant amounts of grapes from the locals with whom we have close and longstanding relationships. We always aim to do the highest quality work in the field of grape growing, including a very effective pest control regime, pruning work and strict control of the crop.”
László is clearly proud to be continuing a centuries-old wine tradition, with a winery whose output remains deeply rooted in the land, in every sense.
“The caves that serve as our cellars are as beautiful as they are ancient,” he continues. “They were originally dug between the Mongolian and Turkish armies, placing them around 600 years old. They’re a particular gem in a region that is already world famous for its noble sweet wines, producing using the most natural sweet wine methods in the world. Thanks to the ‘noble-rot’
[Botrytis cinerea] that forms on the grapes, the sugar concentration in the ‘botrytised’ fruit is absolutely unique. Grape varieties like Furmint, Hárslevelű and Yellow Muscat are enhanced by the region’s distinctive terroir, with volcanic andesite, zeolithe and clay lending minerality to the wine.”
As well as Tokaj, the winery proudly produces several other noteworthy drinks, including an alcohol-free Muscat Lunel Grape Juice, which undergoes no fermentation or pasteurisation; just cold sterile filtration to remove the yeast. It also has its Zsombor semi-dry white orange wine, made from Furmint grapes. The fermentation technique for the latter is similar to that of red wines, with the unpressed grapes undergoing a slow fermentation in a rototank for approximately three weeks.
Pannon Tokaj continues to push forward and, as Hungary strives to carve out its place in the modern world, László believes its wine – and in particular Tokaj – has a future as bright as its past.
“After the political changes in Hungary and the European Union, we have started with new investments, technologies and philosophy,” he concludes. “Our goal is to create the ‘big white Furmint,’ as it has been for the past 30 years. We’ve made great progress, but the end of the road is not reached yet.”
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