High-quality Tokaji white wines are produced in the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in northeastern Hungary. These wines include the dry Tokaji Szamorodni, Hungary's finest dry wine, and the sweet Szamorodni, Tokaji Fordítás, Tokaji Azsú and Tokaji Eszencia, which is the finest and rearest of them all.
Tokaji Azsú became internationally famous already in the mid-16th century, and by the mid-18th century it had gained its status of being "the wine of kings and the king of wines", as praised by Louis XV of France.
Tokaji wines are produced using "Azsú grapes", which give them their special character. Azsú grapes mostly of Furmint variety with the addition of Hárslevelú, Muscat Lunel and Oremus are affected by the "noble rot", a fungus (Botrytis cinerea) which penetrates the grape, causing them to shrivel, and increases their sugar content from 20 % to 40 - 60 %.
In parts of the vineyard where half or more of the grapes have been affected by the noble rot, these Azsú grapes are individually picked and further processed. Where there are less affected grapes, these are picked and processed together with the "healthy" grapes.
Dry or sweet Szamorodni and sweet Fordítás wines are made from the combination of Azsú and healthy grapes. Tokaji Furmint, Tokaji Hárslevelú and Tokaji Muscat wines are made using healthy grapes only.
The high-priced Tokaji Eszencia is made from the first run juice of the Azsú grapes obtained during pressing. Though it can sometimes be found sold on its own, it is most often used as a blending wine.
Azsú wines are made using selected Azsú grapes only. The mashed grapes are mixed with a base wine in a proportion indicated by the term puttony, butt. The number of puttonyos indicates how many hods ( puttonyos) of Azsú grapes are added to a cask of base wine. One cask, called gönc, holds 136 litres and there are about 20 - 25 kilograms of Azsú grapes in one puttony. The quality category of the Tokaji Aszú ranges between 3 to 6 puttonyos, with 6 being the highest and sweetest.
The flavour and bouquet of aromatic Tokaji wines vary according to their sweetness. The dry wines can be fruity, floral or nutty, dry sherry-like and acidic, with a hint of bread crust or plain chocolate in their taste. They can be served as an aperitif or with meat and poultry dishes.
The semisweet and sweet wines have a complex, earthy aroma. A taste and scent of nuts, almonds, bread crust, tobacco, honey, vanilla, chocolate or carob, and dried and fresh fruit like raisin, apricot, pear, plum, date or quince may be detectable in them. The wines are perfect when served with desserts, like fruit or almond cakes, or with foie gras or flavourful cheeses, especially blue cheese.
Other famous wines produced from noble rot-affected grapes are the French Sauternes Château d'Yquem and the German Trockenbeerenauslese.