AXA Millesimes has many wine properties around the world – including Disznoko, an ancient property in Tokaji which the French insurance company restored. I and others are to visit as a most generous scholarship offered by AXA for winning an essay in the Masters of Wine educational program.
Because of a threat of a strike, we took an earlier plane to Hungary to visit the Disznoko property in Tokaji. Joining us were some journalists friends based in Bordeaux, as well as Marie-Louise Schyler who with Corinne and others planned our trip.
We arrived at the hotel just in time for dinner, where we had the pleasure of meeting Lazlo Meszaros, Managing Director of the property. Lazlo is a very intelligent, kind, man who is passionate about wine and very excited to show us Disznoko. He took us to a fabulous and very elegant restaurant where we enjoyed Tokaj wine with specialties such as cantaloupe soup, and actually experienced violin players who came to play at each table.
This night at dinner I also met two key women who were to be our guides, Geraldine Giroux, marketing manager who works very closely with Marie-Louise Schyler and travels to all the properties, and Andrea Hanyecz, whose title of sales manager for Disznoko doesn’t seem to match her many and varied responsibilities. During our stay in Tokaji, Andrea would be our fearless leader, making sure we got to all the wineries on time and were excellent fed and cared for.
The next morning, we took a bus to Disznoko arriving at the property on a crisp gorgeous morning with sun bouncing off the nearby hills. We are greeted with coffee, pastries, and walnuts from a nearby tree. Lazlo has taken the step of preparing a special itinerary for us, personally inscribed with our names. Very impressive!
In past centuries, the estate had been an icon of Tokaji wines. It had fallen into disrepair after the socialist era, and since AXA acquired it in 1992, it received the investment necessary to bring it back to its former glory. The modern (new) winery was designed by Hungarian architect Dezso Ekler in a way that resembles a village. The old winery had been turned into a restaurant, Yellow House, where we will have dinner.
Presentation from Lazlo Meszaros
Lazlo leads us into the winery where he tells us more about the region and the grapes. The climate is continental, with the fluctuation between cold winters and hot summers rendering it ideal for the production of botrytized wine. The soil is firm clay settled on volcanic rock, rich in minerals. It has a very good structure and ideal water retaining ability. Also very important, the soil warms easily to radiate heat towards the vines.
The proportion of native grape varieties mirrors that of the wine region as a whole:
60% Furmint: this noble variety gives firmness and strength to the wine. It ripens late, has a lively acidity.
30% Harslevelu: this local variety has loose clusters and a pleasant aroma.
9% Zeta: a cross of Furmint with Bouvier.
1% Yellow Muscat: an aromatic variety.
At the time of full ripening, before botrytis, Furmint, Harslevelu, and Muscat grapes are harvested to make dry wines.
Now, in mid-October, it is the time to harvest the Aszu grapes and in the vineyards the pickers are out in full force. Lazlo leads us into the field where we watch pickers, and then are given shears ourselves.
Unlike Chateau Suduiraut, we are encouraged to pull berries instead of clusters. Lazlo is very specific about the exact type of berry to be plucked … it must be very dark and small. Pickers clearly must go through the field several times a day to get even a half bucket of appropriate grapes.
The grapes are taken to a large container, where a man steps inside and stomps on them to reduce volume and begin the release of free run juice. This juice is pumped out to become Essencia, leaving the residual pulp for masceration with a base wine. Base wine is created from berries remaining after the picking, and fermented about 14 degrees for three weeks. Then the Aszu berry pulp and the base wine are mascerated for 48 hours in ratios of 1 kg to 1 litre in stainless steel tanks that can hold quantities in multiples of 140 litres. For example, 140 kg of Aszu (7 puttonyos or 20kg each) when mascerated with 140 litres of base wine becomes 4-0 litres of 7 puttonyos wine.
The Aszu is run off to casks, and a slow second fermentation takes place for at least two years in underground cellars. During this time the Aszu wines come down to the 5 or 6 puttonyos level. The skill of creating the best Aszu wines is in the blending, which is where Lazlo shines.
Lunch in the Fields
Disznoko is a gorgeous property with an incredible view, and it was such a fabulous idea by all who planned the trip to have a picnic lunch.
Of course, I was expecting just sitting on the grass and having a sandwich, but AXA went all out with a catered affair, complete with a barbeque grill and selections of Dry Furmint and some offdry wines as well.
At my table I had the good fortune to be seated with Marie-Louise Schlyer, looking very elegant in her Kenzo scarf and gold earrings, and one of the Bordeaux-based journalists.
Secrets of the Cellar
Lazlu takes us on a magical tour of the cellar, where the bottles of wine glow orange in the darkness like some luscious gold elixir. He carries with him a very elaborate glass object, seemingly very old and traditional, which he uses to take the wine from cask and into our glasses.
This is a dream for sweet wine lovers and wine students, since we are able to taste so many varietals and so many vintages at so many stages in their evolution.
Then he takes us to the hallowed area where the Essencia is aging. It is richness beyond belief!
Lazlu put a lot of energy and effort into arranging a vertical tasting, and it was extremely interesting to see how different the vintages presented themselves. Even more impressive was Lazlu’s incredible knowledge of all the vintages and weather patterns. This quality is shared by all the AXA producers I’ve met.
Overall, we tried the 1993 (dried fruit spices, slight coffee), 1995 (creamy), 1997, 1999 (surprising blue cheese and candied lemon!). 2000 (white peach) and 2002.
Lazlo arranged a dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Ős Kaján in Tolcsva, and it was charming! He is a very elegant host on AXA’s behalf. This restaurant is very eclectic and popular with VIP type people – a top politician from Spain was at the next table. The hosts knew him well and it was a great place to spend the last night as a group.
Touring Budapest and Other Tokaji Wineries with Andrea Hanyecz
Andrea is a young and very energetic individual who we first met at our first dinner in Budapest and acted as our guide through the entire trip. When Lazlo was not dazzling us with his brilliance and showing us the secrets of Disznoko, it was Andrea who was taking us to fun local restaurants in Tokaji (Goulash, anyone?) and leading us to presentations at other Tokaji properties such as Royal Tokaj, Oremus, and Hétszőlő.
The Tokaji portion of the trip was incredible and extremely valuable as a wine student – AXA went all out to really give us a picture of the region in all ways: Disznoko, of course, yet also the other major producers. And from the simple goulash lunch one had the opportunity to see the ‘locals’ and get a real feel for the spirit of the people.