Two new versions of the Tokaj Product Specification (TPS) are now available on the website of Ministry of Agriculture, one to be applied for wines produced in the 2016 vintage and one for those to be produced in and after 2017. While the 2013 amendments of the TPS mostly revolved around Aszú wines, these most recent changes primarily affect the rest of the region's traditional botrytised wines styles, the most important of which being Szamorodni. The amendments generally aim to give winemakers increased freedom in styling Tokaji wines and allow a natural evolution of traditional wine styles, while also maintaining or improving product quality.
All these changes take effect for wines produced in the 2016 vintage, except for the one change that applies to sparkling wines and is coming into force as of the 2017 harvest.
Here is a summary of the most important changes:
AGING REQUIREMENTS LOWERED FOR SZAMORODNI, FORDÍTÁS AND MÁSLÁS
Szamorodni, Fordítás and Máslás can now be released on 1st January in the 2nd year after the year of harvest
which means that the overall (that is, barrel plus bottle/tank) aging requirement drops from a minimum of 2 years to around 1 year, allowing these wines to come to the market much earlier than before. Longer aging, of course, remains possible, but most producers are likely to take advantage of this change and not have their money tied up in the cellar for years in wines that are otherwise ready for release. For 2016 Szamorodnis, the date of earliest release will thus be 1st January 2018.
Barrel aging requirement lowered from 12 months to 6 months for Szamorodni, Fordítás and Máslás
that is to say, this is how many months such wines need to spend in oak as a minimum before being released.
NEW LABELLING REQUIREMENTS
Szamorodnis to be clearly labelled either dry or sweet
Whether a wine is dry or sweet has to be indicated either on the front or the back label of every wine in Hungary. This change means that the indication of dry/sweet in a small type somewhere on the back of the bottle will no longer be sufficient for this particular style of Tokaji wines, but the label of every Szamorodni wine now has to clearly read Sweet (édes in HU) Szamorodni or Dry (száraz in HU) Szamorodni.
MINIMUM ACTUAL ALCOHOL LOWERED FOR SWEET SZAMORODNI
- The minimum actual alcohol by volume (ABV) in Sweet Szamorodni has been lowered from 12 per cent to 9 per cent, the latter being the minimum level for most Tokaji wine styles. This is a very important amendment as lots of wines made using the Szamorodni method (i.e. picking partially botyrtised whole bunches and then pressing them whole or destemmed) have had to come to the market under the Late Harvest or White Wine* categories because of just barely failing to reach the minimum 12% ABV, a rule that no-one really understood why was ever part of the TPS in the first place. The minimum actual ABV stays at 12 % for Dry Szamorodni wines.
ONLY BOTTLE FERMENTATION PERMITTED FOR TOKAJI SPARKLING WINES FROM 2017 VINTAGE ONWARDS
- Tank-fermented sparkling wines will be officially banned starting from the 2017 vintage, a move that obviously aims to ensure that Tokaj competes in the top league even when it comes to its fledgling sparkling wine sector. The TPS uses the term 'bottle fermentation', so the transfer method remains legal, too. Over the past seven to eight years, the top regionally-based wineries have been using the Champagne method for their sparklers, so this amendment has actually enacted a long standing practice.
DRY FORDÍTÁS AND DRY MÁSLÁS ABOLISHED
- The minimum residual sugar for Fordítás and Máslás is now 45 g/L, which means no dry versions of these styles can be made any more. This change is definitely not going to shake the earth as Fordítás (a wine that is always made through a second maceration and re-pressing of botrytised grapes, already pressed once for an Aszú wine) is normally blended and very rarely released as a standalone product, and if so, it tends to be always sweet, anyway. And Máslás, a wine made the through the maceration of grape must or wine on the lees of an Aszú or a Szamorodni wine, is hardly ever made. These changes all seem to be geared towards further simplifying the Tokaj product range and, perhaps, also towards solidifying Dry Szamorodni as the only traditional botrytised dry style, which is still actually made – though in by no means large quantities.
MECHANICAL HARVEST BANNED COMPLETELY
- Prior to this amendment, only botrytis-affected berries had to be picked by hand for Aszú wines. Now the same rule applies to healthy grapes as well. It is, again, a change that will not have any major practical impact for no-one uses mechanical harvest in the region anyway.
MISCELLANEOUS CHANGES, CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
Minimum total alcohol levels raised across a whole range of products
from 15.12% to 16% for Sweet Szamorodni, Fordítás and Máslás, from 12.8% to 13.6% for Late Harvest, and from 10.5% to 10.6% for Winte Wines. This change is clearly intended to gently force producers to harvest grapes at a higher degree of ripeness for higher quality.
Minimum total alcohol level lowered for Dry Szamorodni
from 13.6% to 12%. This change suggests that the most influential producers consider this style to be a sort of a by-product for which the use of grapes with less sugar is acceptable in order to avoid having to age it long to get rid of high alcohol levels. It should be noted, however, that the grape juice used for some of the region's most special Dry Szamorodnis is just as rich as the juice for their sweet counterparts and the resulting high alcohol is reduced through years of aging in oak.
Minimum actual alcohol slightly increased for the White Wine* category
from 9% to 9.5%, which is a change in keeping with a concurrent rise of total alcohol (see above)
Minimum acidity requirements lowered for some products
It is down from 5.5 g/L to 5 g/L for both Szamorodni styles and from 6 g/L to 5 g/L for Fordítás and Máslás. These changes appear to be in response to the apparently increasing frequency of very hot years that bring about lower acidity levels, although there is definitely no imminent danger of acidity dropping below an average of 6 g/L in botrytised wines.
Minimum acidity requirements increased for Late Harvest wines
from 3.5 g/L to 5 g/L. This change means that the excellent balance of sweetness and acidity that typifies the traditional botrytised styles is now an official requirement for the Late Harves wines, as well.
Eszencia added to statement on ratio of botrytised grapes to base must
The statement on the ratio of botrytised grapes to base must/wine for Aszú wines has been corrected to read that a maximum of 220 litres of finished Aszú and Fordítás and Eszencia can be made from 100 kilograms of botrytised berries. This is sort of a clarification only as Eszencia is the free-run juice from botrytised grapes and as such was always meant to be part of the equation.
The term harvested without selection removed from the description of Szamorodni wines
The description of how grapes are picked for Szamorodni wines in the TPS went like this: bunches that comprise both healthy and botrytised grapes are to be harvested, without selection, and processed. The term without selection was intended to mean that there is no separation of botrytised berries, but it has now been removed because it may connotatively mean that you just pick bunches for a Szamorodni without any care about quality, which is never the case, of course.
Indication of residual sugar level now optional up to 18 g/L in the White Wine* category
This amendment allows winemakers not to label dry or off-dry wines as such in the White Wine category, while there continues to be no such option for semi-sweet or sweet wines (i.e those with residual sugar above 18 g/L). This is a weird rule which is rumoured to have been introduced to satisfy a minority request on grounds that some buyers are said to refuse to buy their favourite dry Tokaji if it fails to be fermented entirely dry in some vintages. Wineries patronised by such buyers may now simply leave this bit of information off the label. However, this option is expected to be exercised extremely rarely. From the consumers' point of view, all it means is that if you should come across a Tokaji wine in the future whose label does not show whether it is dry, off-dry, etc., it will certainly be either dry or off-dry.
Vineyard names added to match map
Names of 38 vineyard sites (dűlő in HU) and 16 sub-vineyard sites (aldűlő in HU) have been added to the list of Tokaj vineyards at the end of the TPS to match the names that are on the vineyard maps, attached to the same. So these additions only constitute a correction, removing the mismatch between the list and the maps. The only 'real' modification to the list was changing the name Bátorka (a site in Tállya) back to historical Bátori.
* White Wine (fehér bor in HU) is the not too imaginative name (only whites grapes are authorised for the Tokaj appellation, so all Tokaj PDO wines are necessarily white) of the category of wines that neither fall into the Late Harvest, nor the traditional botrytised class. For instance, all non-botrytised dry Furmint varietals are released under the White Wine category.