Puttonyos is the unit given to indicate the level of sugar and therefore the sweetness of the Hungarian dessert wine called Tokaji. It is traditionally measured by the number of ‘hods’ of sweet botrytis or nobly rot grapes (known locally as Aszú) added to a barrel of wine, but is now measured in grams of residual sugar.
The Puttony was actually the 25kg basket or ‘hod’ used to pick/ hold the Aszú grapes, and the more added to the wine barrel, the sweeter the eventual finished wine. Measurement used to go from 3 to 6 Puttonyos. Though early in 2014 - Hungary's Tokaji trade council removed the two lower grades of the country's most famous wine. The 3 and 4 Puttonyos categories have been eliminated as of 2014.
Though while there are previous vintages still being produced, aged stocks and existing labels in the market - there will be slight confusion for consumers, but the industries focus is to raise the quality of for all Tokaji wines, by only producing 5 and 6 Puttonyos level Tokaji.
Tokaji is made from extremely dry noble rotten (Aszú) grapes that are fermented in vats of young wine or fermenting must, Tokaji is measured by levels of residual sugar per litre. A 3 Puttonyos Tokaji indicates at least 60 - 90 grams sugar per litre (g/l) • 4 Puttonyos: 90 - 120g/l • 5 Puttonyos: 120 - 150g/l • 6 Puttonyos: 150 - 180g/l • Aszú Essencia: 180 - 450g/l • Essencia: 450 - 850g/l. It should also be noted that before 1945, also 2 Puttonyos Aszú wines were produced. This recent decision is part of a renaissance for the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. The new minimum will be 130g of residual sugar per litre.
The Tokaj Aszú is the typical noble sweet wine from Tokaj-Hegyalja. The basis of this wine; are individually hand-picked, dried (de-hydrated, raisined) and noble rot berries. After selecting, the dry berries are processed into an Aszú dough. Taste and quality of the Aszú mainly depends on the number of hods (Puttony's) filled with dry berries (each basket is 25 kg's), which are added to a cask (Gönc type, 136 litres) of dry base wine. Consequently, the proportion between Aszú berries and dry base wine is about 1:1 for a 6 Puttonyos Aszú.
After several months of fermentation, the Aszú matures for 3 to 8 years - traditionally through oxidative ageing with air contact. Aszú is not made every year. The winemaker decides, if the quality of the harvest allows for Aszú production or not. The Aszú´s decent, stable acidity characterizes this dessert wine, which are one of the slowest maturating and most long-living wines in the world.
A Tokaji made entirely from Aszú grapes is known as Aszú Eszencia, a term used since the early 19th century. There was a wine from the 'comet vintage’ 1811 that was marketed as Aszú-Eszencia. The making of Aszú Eszencia is the same as that for the Aszú. The quality level is not indicated anymore by the number of Puttonyos. It is much higher than the 6 Puttonyos Aszú. The Aszú Eszencia has more than 180g/l of residual sugar, so it can be seen as a 7 or 8 Puttonyos Aszú. An Aszú Eszencia with a residual sugar of 300g/l (which is rare) would equate with a 10 Puttonyos Aszú.
Aszú Eszencia was introduced as an official quality level during the communist era in the 1970s, as a transition between Aszú and Essencia. However, since wine consumers still confuse Aszú Eszencia with Essencia, the Hungarian wine authority decided to remove this denomination. The 2009 vintage was the last Aszú Eszencia wine produced.