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The Year they Tried to Erase: 1956 Tokaji

Two bottles of rare, museum collection Tokaji Aszú were opened in London last week. I was one of a handful of tasters

Tokaji 1956

Revolutionary harvest: 1956 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos in its special 60th anniversary bottle

For most of its life, this 1956 Tokaji Aszú was labelled 1957. It was not human error but a policy decision. The 1956 harvest started on 22 October and the next day the revolution against the Soviet Union began when students in Budapest took to the streets. When the communist regime realised later how good the Tokaji Aszú wines were, they labelled them 1957: anything rather than acknowledge the year of the uprising.

This bottle and the rest of the 1956 Aszú 5 puttonyos were stored in cellars in the town of Tolcsva, part of a vast government museum collection of 280,000 bottles of more than 100 vintages dating from 1867 to the early 1990s. As part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the revolution, the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture has rebottled 150 bottles of the 1956 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos in specially made half-bottles (37.5cl as against the 50cl Tokaji standard). The individual wines were chosen by tasters from the National Wine Expert Commission (OBB) and other experts.

I got to taste this rare, historic wine when two bottles – i.e. half-bottles – were opened in London for invited guests by Andras Horkay, President of the Central European Wine Institute, on March 1 at a tasting event called SITT. The wine was a green-rimmed amber-brown. The nose was powerful with raisin, barley sugar and toffee aromas – oxidative in character but lifted by an orange-zest intensity. The orange continued on the palate, cutting through the unctuous, viscous texture and the sweetness. The sweetness then gave way to a drier finish with a walnut-skin note and Tokaji’s quintessential high acidity. It’s a different style from today’s fresher, racier wines with their lower alcohol – the 1956 is 13% – but fascinating and exciting on its own terms and a privilege to taste.

For those who like technical data:

Alcohol: 12.93%

Sugar free extract: 56.8 g/l

Titratable Acidity: 8.3 g/l

Volatile Acidity: 0.99 g/l

Total sugar content (glucose and fructose): 127.1 g/l

Photographs by Joanna Simon

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