Not all wine regions benefit from it – or should even consider it. Single vineyard wines that is. Bourgogne? Yes. Douro? Not sure. Mosel? Yes. Chianti? Maybe. Bordeaux? In rare cases. Tokaj? Yes!
I’m not presenting a remarkable statement in any way. It’s old news. Oldest news in the world actually if we’re sticking to Tokaj. This is the very first regional appellation and vineyard classification in the world going back to 1700 and in the 1730’s the site classification started.
Why was Tokaj first? The answer is probably logical. At the time of the classification, the region were already producing Aszú wines, grapes affected by the noble rot Botrytis Cinerea. This was the stuff to drink back then, if you were someone or wanted to be the cool guy. If you could demand a high price for your wine, you of course wanted to increase the production and make more money. However, you couldn’t expect the noble rot to show up every vintage and thus it was essential to understand and calculate where the potential for Botrytis was highest.
A lot of this knowledge fell into oblivion or wasn’t required anymore, for several reasons; the wines fell out of fashion, better arrived or for political reasons. With the opening up of Hungary again, roughly 20 years ago, it became interesting for investors in Tokaj when buying land for wine production. And if you’re in a region which is located at a northern latitude, single vineyards might be essential in order to understand where a great wine has the potential to see daylight. Might be essential? It is!
Today Tokaj is closing in at around 400 different single vineyard locations, some more famous than others. Betsek, Mézes Mály and Szent Tamás are for example pretty well-known sites. Deserved or not; that’s up to the taster to decide although one can’t deny the historic part of fame. There are reasons though, not to expect greatness just because a wine comes from the Szent Tamás vineyard. There are differences in quality if the vines are from a parcel located at the lower parts or higher up. Sometimes, if your not familiar enough with a vineyard name it is more rewarding to focus on the producers.
This goes for the not so known vineyards of Tokaj as well. Like the Úrágya from István Szepsy. Planted in the mid-1960s, Úrágya are found next to Úrban, another interesting site, close to the village of Mád. Quite a steep site, with slopes around five to fifteen percent ascent, so come well trained if you’re harvesting here. The bedrock soil with red clay doesn’t make the life easier, especially not reaching the site if it has rained. Furthermore, Úrágya feels more exposed weather wise than for example Szent Tamás.
Guess this is a part of the fascination, why some sites receive my curiosity. You see, Úrágya is good, really good -and different in expression. Not much wine is produced by István from the steep site which is at between 200-250 meters above the sea level. Around 2,000 bottles. Most of the vines planted are Furmint, but a fifth is Hárslevelü – planted primarily in 1964.
Úrágya doesn’t possess the elegance of István Szepsy’s Szent Tamás yet there’s a richness which are fascinating. More smoky minerals, yellow ripe fruit, herbal notes and wet wool. The site seems capable of producing grapes of fine phenolic ripeness and to balance this, István seems to prefer leaving a dash of residual sugar. The 2007 Úrágya ha a generous nose with smoke, yellow fruits and unripe pineapple. Wet wool, toasted oak and a childhood memory; modeling clay. What fascinates with these top Furmint wines of Tokaj and Szepsy is the contrast between nose and palate. The taste is leaning towards green apples, and has a fascinating hint of hay, herbs and heather. Quite a fullbodied taste but with oh so lovely acidity and just a hint of sweetness. Six years old, almost, and so alive, so vibrant. Ladies & gentlemen; start discovering the wines of István Szepsy if your wine passion needs a kick.
The 2009 Úrágya seems less powerful, at least when compared to 2007. Both are fine years, warm though. István never rests on his laurels and perhaps this explains why the 2009 is less concentrated. The oak treatment also feels more gentle. The nose is still youthful with lemon peel, slight tropical notes mixed with green apples, wet rocks and toasted oak. Quince and grey pears on the palate! Dry, vanilla and smoky minerals. Again, lots of taste, never exaggerated though. Long, clean and refreshing finale.
Yes, Úrágya is a single vineyard of unique character, a Tokaj Grand Cru, and clearly demonstrating why the region should continue focusing on the almost 400 vineyard sites they do possess. Some would say it offers confusion for the consumer; I say it presents further complexity and passion to the world of wine.
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Photographs are from the Úrágya site.
Map of Úrágya from István Szepsy.