Six grape varieties are officially approved for Tokaji wine production, with Furmint (accounting for 60 % of the area), Hárslevelű (30 %, also known as Feuille de Tilleul), and Yellow Muscat, or Muscat Lunel (Hungarian: Sárgamuskotály) being the most important ones. A classical Aszú blend contains all these three grape varieties, with Furmint being the dominating one, and with Muscat Lunel at a very small portion only. However, every winemaker has his own secret blend. Even single variety Aszús can be found, like the Muskotályos Aszú with its very particular character.
The Furmint grapes begin maturation with a thick skins, but as they ripen the skins become thinner, and transparent. This allows the sun to penetrate the grape and evaporate much of the liquid inside, producing a higher concentration of sugar. Other types of grapes mature to the point of bursting, however, unlike most other grapes, Furmint will grow a second skin which seals it from rot. This also has the effect of concentrating the grape's natural sugars. The grapes are left on the vine long enough to develop the "noble rot" (Botrytis cinerea) mold. Grapes are then harvested, sometimes as late as December.
Moreover, Zéta (previously called Oremus - a cross of Furmint and Bouvier grapes), Kabar (a cross of Hárslevelű and Bouvier grapes) and Kövérszőlő (also known as „Grasa de Cotnari“ or „Resertraube“), an indigenious grape variety of Transylvania which almost entirely disappeared from Tokaj after the phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century, are approved for Tokaji production, but do not play a significant role. In the 18th and 19th century, Gohér was an important variety for Aszú and Essencia production, but it disappeared with the phylloxera crisis in the 1880's and almost extincted. Recently, experiments are under way to reintroduce Gohér.
The three main grape varieties of Tokaj-Hegyalja, illustrated by Alexis Kreyder and Jules Troncy for the L'Ampélographie - Traité général de viticulture (Viala & Vermorel, Paris 1901-1910)
A beautiful Essencia from the outstanding Danczka vineyard. Behind the beauty of this Essencia lies a powerful golden goddess, whose soul and magic is contained within the orange blossom honey nectar.
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„I have sent, last night, a box of Marischino Veritabile of Zara, which I got Jemmy Anderson to buy for me, and twelve bottles of Tokay. I have kept none for myself - being better pleased that you should have it.”
Admiral Nelson in a letter to Lady Emma Hamilton
Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson