The great thing about visiting Tokaj is that you discover it is not just about super-sweet wines or dry wines made from the furmint grape, but that there are all kinds of other oddities. If what you appreciate about wine is diversity then this is wonderful place to be.
One of those oddities is dry szamorodni. Szamorodni is a Slavic, rather than Magyar, word – hard to translate but maybe ‘as it comes’ is one good meaning. Thus, the grapes are just picked and processed as they are; some of the grapes are botrytised, others late harvest, and the rest normal. The wine was left to ferment as it wanted, and some of the wines would be sweeter, others drier. My view of the wine was coloured by one I tried about 20 years ago which was horrible and has, for too long, prejudiced me against the style. Many I now discover are beautifully balanced sweet wines. Yet, beyond those, there are also the dry – szaraz in Magyar.
Two things are noteworthy about the more traditional examples of this wine. The first is that they must have some botrytised grapes in them (thus distinguishing them from ‘late harvest’ tokaj). The second is that many are aged under a layer of yeast in the cellar, rather like flor in Sherry. Or, at least in the case of Chateau Dereszla’s version, like the vin jaune of the Jura in France – which is exactly what this wine is like.
The wine is aged in their ancient ‘Jewish’ cellar – owned by a Jewish wine merchant until mid 1944 when he and his family were sent to concentration camps following the German occupation of the country. The wine is explicitly modelled on the styles found in the Jura. In 2003 Laszlo Kalocsai, the very thoughtful winemaker at Dereszla, spent time with Domaine Rolet in Arbois learning from them about their wines aged sous voile – under the veil of yeast – and applied their techniques to improve control of this ancient Hungarian wine style (and Philippe Rolet has also visited him in Hungary a number of times to help develop the style). As sometimes happens in the Jura the wine is ‘seeded’ with the special yeast which creates this veil to encourage rapid growth, and protection of the wine from excessive oxygen contact.
So what is it like? Although it doesn’t age for the six years of vin jaune, this is like vin jaune on steroids. A very intense nose of green apple (very aldehydic), a dusty slightly bitter-orange character coming from the botrytised grapes, and curry; lots of curry, cumin especially. It’s a crisp, dry wine and very fresh, again with curry on the palate, green apple and some cedar from the ageing period in older oak. A very interesting, complex, wine and one that I’d willingly drink more of. Perhaps with a mild but aromatic curry!