Tokaji Aszú [TOKE-eye-ee AHS-ew] is a full-bodied sweet white dessert wine made from late ripened grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea, a mold that concentrates grape sugars and flavors into honey like sweetness. The grapes are from the Hungarian Furmint or Hárslevelű grape vines, which are grown in the Tokaji wine region in northeastern Hungary. The shriveled and botrytis infected aka aszú grapes are made into either a base wine or an unfermented grape must. These grapes are kneaded into a paste and then soaked in the base wine or must. The taste and quality of Tokaji Aszú is greatly affected by the proportion of sugar rich aszú paste added to the must or the new wine. Finally, the wine is transferred to barrels and matured. Tokaji Aszú wine can take up to seven years to mature, after which it retains its flavor for a long time. The great balance in these wines comes from the natural acidity in the grapes, particularly Furmint, the dominant variety, though three other grapes can play roles; harslevelu, muscat blanc à petit grains and zeta and a few other grapes are also permitted. Usually the wines are blends, though occasionally, some are a 100 percent Furmint Aszu.
The term “puttonyo”, or basket, signifies an old method of gauging the sweetness in these wines. Moderately sweet wines contained three puttonyos of paste while a sweeter wine contains four, and so on. Today puttonyos refers simply to the level of residual sugar in the wine and only the five and six puttonyos wines are permitted to use the term on the label. Those in lower category now use generic phrases, like late harvest, but these wines can be delicious too. Tokajis have sweet flavors peaches, apricot, crisp apple and spice such as cinnamon, and flowers and honey, The sweetness, which could be overwhelming, is balanced by vibrant acidity. 6 Puttonyos Aszu is the sweetest with aromas of wildflowers, honey, apricots and caramel, bordering on syrupy but again well balanced by a fresh, clarifying acidity.
Tokajis are fantastic paired with foie gras, a washed rind cheese, blue cheese, or a soft, nutty cheese such as Muenster, caramelized apple dishes, Christmas pudding or Sichuan or Thai dishes.