One of the most exciting wines to emerge from the historic region of Tokaj in north-east Hungary in recent years is a wine known as Szamorodni.
You may well have heard of the iconic sweet Tokaji Aszu wines, but Szamorodni is its little cousin. The sweet style of Szamorodni (it can be dry or sweet) can offer an insight into the decadently complex sweet botrytis Aszu wines of this famous volcanic region, but is often gentler in sweetness, fresher, more approachable when young and more affordable.
Szamorodni (pronounced ‘sam-oh-rodnee’) is not a new wine style. First referred to in 1570, it was popular in the C19, previously known as Fobor meaning ‘main wine’. The name Szamorodni derives from Polish ‘samorodno’ (the Poles were historically great fans of Tokaj) which translates as ‘as it comes’. This means that bunches of grapes picked for Szamorodni contain both botrytis (usually about 20-40% of noble rot grapes which varies between producers) and ripe fruit which are picked and fermented together.
What is new today is the renewed focus that more producers are now putting on this style in the region. Several producers like Holdvolgy, Royal Tokaji, Disznoko and Barta Pince make both Szamorodni and late harvest wines, some like Kata Zsirai at Zsirai winery only make Szamorodni in certain years – whilst others like Zoltan Demeter make Szamorodni in favour of late harvest as they feel this style is unique to the region, whereas late harvest can be made anywhere in the world.
So how does Szamorodni vary from Tokaj’s late harvest and Aszu wines? Late harvest wines, popular since the 1990s in Tokaj, made from ripe late picked grapes are generally lighter in alcohol and sweetness. Aszu wines are made from fully botrytised (noble rot) grapes picked meticulously berry-by-berry, made only in years when the climate is right, when grapes dry and shrivel into raisin-like aszu berries giving very intensely sweet honeyed wine.
Late harvest, Szamorodni and Aszu can be made from the six grape varieties allowed in Tokaj. Furmint is most popular due to its high acidity, but Harslevelu, Yellow Muscat (Sarga Muskotaly in Hungarian), Zeta, Kabar or Koverszolo can be used on their own or in the blend.
The vast majority of Szamorodni made is sweet (look for ‘edes’ on the label) – but just to complicate the issue there are a few dry versions.
The dry (‘szaraz’) styles can be sensational, but are difficult to make and sadly not made by many wineries today (look for Breitenbach, Samuel Tinon, Karadi-Berger and Dereszla). They use fully ripe and botrytised grapes fermented to dryness (maximum 9g/l sweetness) and aged under a veil of yeast ‘flor’. They are reminiscent of sherry, with the added botrytis honeyed notes and nutty saline edge and an alcohol of 11-12%.
Sweet Szamorodni must be aged in oak for at least six months, but is often aged up to two years. The minimum sweetness level is 45 g/l, although many are much sweeter than this up to 120 g/l (so similar to German Beerenauslese level). According to winemaker Vivien Ujvari at Barta Pince, their Szamorodni is usually between 90-140 g/l, but they don’t like going over this level.
With sweet Szamorodni styles growing in importance for the region, I attended a fascinating tasting hosted by Wine Lovers Wineawards in Budapest which showed an amazing range of styles from different vineyards, producers, soils and vintages (watch for 2019 vintage in future as it has been hailed as a superbly good vintage for sweet wines in Tokaj).
What I love about Szamorodni is its elegance, refreshing vibrancy and versatility. Dry Szamorodni works with charcuterie, whilst sweeter styles can be served at the beginning of a meal alongside pate or at the end with apple dessert, sweet pancakes or blue cheese.
DRY SZAMORODNI 2009 Breitenbach
N/A in UK
The famous ‘flor’ yeast meets botrytis in this superb mellow mature blend; fabulously nutty with dried apricot flavours and incredible length.
DRY SZAMORODNI 2016 Karadi-Berger
£24 for 50cl bt Swig
Waxy honeyed dessert wine nose with nutty savoury sherry-like palate and fabulous acidity, made by Zsolt Berger predominantly using Furmint with Harslevelu.
OREG KIRALY DULO EDES SZAMORODNI 2013 Barta Pince ***STAR BUY***
£25.95 – £28.75 for 50 cl bt Corney & Barrow; Vino Wines, Edinburgh
Candied fruit and caramel with bitter marmalade and sweet ripe apricot notes, rich silky texture, dense sweetness, but vibrant and fresh, finishing dry – made from 100% Furmint.
ELOQUENCE SZAMORODNI 2011 Holdvolgy
£21.95 for 50 cl bt Tom Ianson Wines; Novel Wines
A superb effort from a difficult drought vintage; coconut, citrus and honey with exotic fruits and cinnamon spice, clean dry finish – so richly layered. A blend of Furmint with Harslevelu.
EDES SZAMORODNI ‘1413’ 2018 Disznoko ***STAR BUY***
£19.50 for 50cl bt Soho Wines; Vinissimus
Apricot jam and mango flavours with underlying spice, succulent rich ripe and so beautifully concentrated for the price in this blend of Furmint with Harslevelu.
The perfect gift for the wine enthusiast in the family. Rose does In-person tastings too.
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