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The growers usually wait until early November before harvesting. By then, they hope, they will have a crop of aszu grapes, which are grapes that have become raisiny and concentrated due to botrytis. These grapes are deposited in a putton a tub that holds about 25kg of fruit. The unique feature of Tokaji is that these grapes are not vinified directly, as they would be, say, in Germany. Instead they are mashed and then added to a 136-litre cask of dry wine that has been made from healthy grapes picked earlier in the harvest.

The mash and wine are stirred together, provoking a further fermentation. This raises the alcoholic degree by 2 to about 14, and also augments the levels of extract, tannin and glycerol, The more puttonyos added, the richer the wine. The puttonyos scale runs from three to six, and in exceptional years Aszu Eszencia, which is even richer than six puttonyos, is produced.

When the second fermentation is completed, which can take several months, the aszu wine is placed in small casks and aged in the long, humid subterranean tunnels with which the region is riddled. Some exposure to the air is encouraged, giving the wines their characteristic sherry-like flavour, with overtones of apple and caramel and honey. After 5 to 12 years of ageing, the wine is blended and bottled.
Not all Tokaji is aszu wine. In years when botrytis is patchy, healthy and botrytized grapes are vinified together in the ordinary way. The resulting wine is called Szamorodni, and can be either dry or lightly sweet. Single-variety, 75cl bottlings are permitted: Tokaji aszu uses 50cl bottles.

At the other end of the quality spectrum is Eszencia, the free-run juice from aszu grapes. It is so rich in sugar that it can take years to ferment to a mere 3 of alcohol. This nectar is too syrupy and intense to be drunk on its own, and it is usually reserved for blending, but no-one who has ever had the opportunity to taste this incredibly costly wine has forgotten the experience.

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