In February, I spent a few days in Disznókő, our hungarian vineyard, for blending session with the local team. It is a crucial moment to define the style we want in our wines. I really like this 2011 vintage and I think it is one of the greatest vintage we have ever made at Disznókő.
Here in Bordeaux harvest has just begun. We will speak further about the potential of the reds next week. The subject today is the great “vins liquoreux” of Sauternes and Tokaj. At Château Suduiraut we are waiting for the arrival of the Botrytis, with an excellent quality potential on the vines. The absence of Botrytis so far is actually quite positive in Bordeaux: it means we have been able to take our time with the reds and give them some extra days ripening before beginning the harvest. So I am sure the team at Château Suduiraut will understand if I say that we can still wait a few more days before Botrytis conditions arrive, so that we can bring in what looks like an excellent red wine harvest before beginning in Sauternes.
However, in Tokaj, they have already begun, and have harvested some seriously good aszú berries. László Mészáros, the talented Director of Disznókő, has matters well in hand, and sent me over the attached analysis of the harvest until today, which I hope will give you a picture of how the year has been in Tokaj, and how things are going so far. All the signs are encouraging!
The situation for the vintage 2012 is, at the moment, very similar to that of 2011. There has been:
- an extremely hot and dry summer
- early ripening, but a very slow settling of Botrytis and development of botrytised berries.
Winter was mild but it lasted for a relatively long time. Bud break was late, starting on 23rd April but, because of the hot and dry late spring, blossoming was earlier than usual, at the end of May.
The summer was extremely hot and dry, reaching nearly 40 ˚C several times.
By the end of August the grapes were almost already ripe.
The grapes for dry wines were harvested from the 10th to the 13th of September, earlier than ever. We picked very ripe and healthy grapes, with still remarkably fresh acidity. Most have just completed their fermentation, producing well-balanced and fresh wines with good acidity.
The Botrytis arrived very slowly on the Furmint grapes and resulted in the first aszú grapes being ready to pick by the 11th of September.
These bunches are the result of a particularly fine botrysation along with intense shriveling, or passerillage, of the Furmint grapes.
Oddly, the Zeta vines, always the first to provide remarkable quantity of aszú grapes, have remained healthy till today (beginning of October).
The rains that arrived in mid-September have intensified the development of Botrytis on the Furmint.
The harvesting of aszú grapes is underway. We are collecting aszú berries that are particularly fine and concentrated in the central slopes on the west side.
It is a lovely year. We made a very small quantity of a very fine Six Puttonyos, but overall the equilibrium seemed just great for a Five Puttonyos. I loved the balance of this year, the wines were fresh, intense, long and fine. Definitely a vintage to look out for when it comes on the market.
We profited from the occasion to taste a vertical of six Puttonyos from Disznókő, going back to 1993. The picture shows the remarkable colour variations from year to year, which reflects the strong style difference that each harvest brings. They were all delicious of course, but the stars for me were 2002, lovely pure intense and long, but needing time, as much as you can give it, in the cellar; 2000, completely different style, fresh spicy, open and seductive, great to drink now; and the extraordinary 1993, still a young baby.
Now that we have had some time to taste and retaste the wines of the remarkable 2010 vintage in Bordeaux, it is time to post a harvest report. The rumours you may have been hearing are perfectly justified: 2010 is an outstanding year in Bordeaux. I give below a summary of how things went in all of our vineyards, in Bordeaux and elsewhere.
In Bordeaux, even if the end of spring and summer were relatively dry, the vines showed no signs of stress.The harvest of 2010 has given birth to a vintage that will undoubtedly take its place at the summit of any vintage classification, with an exceptional maturity. From an analytical point of view there are record breaking levels of ripeness in terms of sugar levels and also of polyphenols. In a somewhat different style, it will unquestionably bear comparison with its predecessor, the great 2009 vintage.
A great year for the dry whites and the reds, but also for the liquoreux, with a perfect late arrival of botrytis that enabled us to harvest an impressive 2nd and 3rd trie.
In the Languedoc, summer was extremely dry. Thanks to our first year of installation of irrigation on half the Belles eaux vineyard, we were able to optimise quality. Here also, 2010 will be a lovely year.
Burgundy was a little less fortunate, with a terrible winter and severe frosts that caused severe damage in certain climates, leading to a reduction in yields that an irregular floraison did nothing to help. Very low yields therefore, but a beautiful maturity for these 2010, and some lovely wines in spite of the difficulties earlier in the year.
No drought in Tokaj, rather the contrary, with 800 mm of rain between april and mid September. A difficult year with a lot of disease problems, very weak “sortie” and a chaotic floraison, all combiing to give us an historially low yield. But the Aszús we were able to harvest will enable us to produce all the same a harvest in the style of 2004, aromatic and vivacious, with a structure marked by finesse and elegance rather than by power.
In the Douro we harvested an impressive volume of the kind not seen since 2007. This significant production gave all the same wines that are very pure, elegant, aromatic and structures, both for Port wine and for Douro reds.
As so often at this time of the year in Hungary, it was very cold, with a lot of snow, but we were lucky to have some wonderful sunshine, which showed off the vineyard to great effect. Here is a photograph of the tasting team in the snow: I could not resist this photo opportunity, although naturally, the serious tasting and blending took place inside!
From left to right: Christian Seely; László Mészáros, MD of Disznókő; Andrea Hanyecz, Commercial Director of Disznókő; Zoltán Kovács, Technical Director of Disznókő; Aymeric de Gironde, Commercial Director of the AXA Millésimes properties, Daniel LLose, Technical Director at AXA Millésimes.
A fine Aszú wine should of course be served chilled, so we profited from the natural conditions. I can recommend this way of preparing your glass of Tokaji, and the thought occurred to me that this would be the perfect wine for a ski-ing holiday, a great deal better for you than a glass of hot red wine with a slice of orange in it.
The great historic vineyard region of Tokaj is one of the most romantic places in the world. The long and turbulent history of this region, marked as it has been by both glory and tragedy, would make a great book. For centuries recognised as one of the great wines of the world – the preferred wine of Voltaire, Frederic the Great, the Tsars of Russia, Louis XIV – Tokaj suffered enormously in the 20th century from war and politics. The re-emergence of the region began in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the communist system. We acquired the historic Disznókő vineyard in 1992, and set about replanting most of the vineyard, building a winery, and began the process of recreating a great Tokaji wine at Disznókő.
Here is another photograph, which shows the tasting team again, but with the Disznókő winery and vineyard in clear view, together with, in the background, what we like to believe to be the most beautiful tractor shed in the world.
None of these buildings existed when we acquired Disznókő. It has been an enormous pleasure and privilege for us to participate in the renaissance of one of the great vineyards of Tokaj, and also in so doing to participate in the renaissance of the entire region. My predecessor at AXA Millésimes, Jean-Michel Cazes, was one of the leading architects of this process, and also the driving force, together with Daniel LLose and the Disznókő team, behind everything that was done at Disznókő in the 1990s. Today the situation of Tokaj is transformed since the early 1990s. Several of the great historic properties have been restored to former glories, but also, and very importantly, a large number of enthusiastic and talented young winemakers have set up on their own in smaller properties to produce exciting wines that are on the way to making Tokaj once again one of the great wine producing regions of the world, and certainly one of the most dynamic places to work.
We were at Disznókő to blend the 2007 Aszú wines. The year had some points of resemblance with the 2000, very rich and ripe, with relatively low acidities. The resulting wines are enormously seductive already, the stylistic opposite of, for example, a year like 1999, which was also very rich but with high acidity and a very strong mineral backbone, for which it is necessary to wait as long as possible. Watch out for the 2007 Five Puttonyos Disznókő Aszú when it reaches the market in a year or two! We also produced a remarkable Eszencia in 2007.
It is characteristic of a region in the process of re-inventing itself that different actors are pursuing different paths. Some believe the future lies in the development of the dry wines, in particular of the noble Furmint grape; some are developing a late harvest style, a delicious compromise between the richness of the Aszú wines and the very dry and mineral character of the Furmint grape when it has no residual sugar. Personally I believe that the greatness of Tokaj resides principally in its Aszú wines, in particular in the five and six Puttonyos Aszús, magical wines, with a unique personality, complex, rich, fine and balanced, capable of ageing and developing for a century or more, but perfectly delicious when young. At Disznókő we produce a dry Furmint, a Late Harvest, and a range of Aszú wines, with a very limited production of Eszencia in some years, but I think it is fair to say that the Five and Six Puttonyos Aszú wines are the real focus of our activity. If you have not tried one of these wines yet, I recommend you to do so: they are among the very great wines of the world, available at what is for us still an unjustly low price!