Karadi-Berger Tokaji Szamorodni 2010

An introduction to 'Szamorodni', or 'self-made', an elegant dry white from Hungary's fabled Tokaj region.

Karadi-Berger Tokaji Szamorodni 2010
Tokaj, Hungary

I never had a dry wine from Tokaj before, so this, Karadi-Berger’s Tokaji Szamorodni 2010really caught me by surprise. Off guard even. Even when the word ‘dry’ appears, prominently, in English, on the label.

It’s accompanied by another word, Szamorodni, a style –and name– which dates back to the late 18th century when Polish wine merchants, transporting Tokaji wines north as far as the Baltic, dubbed it Szamorodni, which means “self-grown”, or “made by itself”.

“It’s a strange name,” said Zsolt Berger, who along with his parter, Szilvia Karádi, operates Karádi-Berger, a 4.6 hectare (11.3 acres) property in the village of Erdőbénye, one of the centers of wine production in the fabled northern Hungarian Tokaj region. He then elaborates.

“There were two different sweet wines at that time,” he continued. The first was aszú, which was made from botrytized grapes diligently picked by hand, berry by berry, throughout the harvest and then pressed and macerated in large casks when the harvest was finished. “It was a lot of work, especially at that that time.”

The other sweet wine was easier, Berger explained, a mixture of healthy, shriveled and botrytized grapes harvested in late October, pressed and fermented together. In Hungarian it was called, Főbor, the main, or prime wine. Polish wine merchants named it Szamorodni because it was still fermenting during transport.

“If the sugar content wasn’t high enough, some barrels fermented to dry, very slowly. It could have taken years. Sometimes there was some yeast on the surface of the wine too, sometimes not. The result is a full-bodied white wine with the aromas of botrytis and some moderate oxidation.” The process, Berger said, is similar to Vin Jaune, resulting in a wine comparable in taste to a dry to fino sherry.

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Karadi-Berger Tokaji Szamorodni 2010 was made with Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes –the proportions aren’t important, Berger said, only the botrytis– harvested in late October and early November, macerated for about 24 hours then fermented and aged in traditional Tokaj Szerednyei 220-liter oak barrels for three years.

Thanks to the ample amount of botrytized grapes in the mix, it lends the strong impression of a sweet nutty Tokaji on the nose but be warned: it’s dry and fruity on the palate, very much unlike anything I’ve tried before: a zesty, citrus acidity, with layers of dried apricot, candied apple and honey notes. It’s a mouthful, viscous, full-bodied, earthy and elegant. One every curious wine geek should try to cross paths with. And if you do, snatch it up.

It’s not made every year, only when botrytis hits, and quantities can be limited. Berger, founded in 2000, bottled their first Szamorodni dry in 2003. Only 3000 bottles of the 2010 were produced and is already sold out. The 2014? Just 600 bottles. Little of it leaves Hungary; what has is available in Poland and the UK.

Tasted December 2017

Hunyadi utca 21.
Erdőbénye 3932 Hungary

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