Let me get down on my knees and pray to the gods of wine drinking. “Please, oh gods who bestow blessings upon those who call themselves wine drinkers, let me continue to be surprised and delighted by random wines that I stumble across in my life. I don’t need to taste the vintage of the century, and I probably can’t afford it, but I really want to still be finding out about wines like this when I’m eighty-five.”
Of course, this is where the fantasy of being a sommelier comes along. Imagine spending your days actually hunting down these wines. What a life. I have a nameless sommelier to thank for this one, an alternative presented as I waded through a list of Alsatian wines looking for something that would go well with the fish dishes that were on their way to the table.
This 500ml of personality in a bottle is made by the Királyudvar Tokaj Wine Company, Ltd. a recent (1997) joint venture between Anthony Hwang of the A&E Group (an Asian based conglomerate), and winemaker István Szepsy, one of the most famous winemakers in Hungary (his family has been making wine in the region since 1600). Together they purchased and renovated an old winery and its surrounding vineyards in the heart of the Tokaj region of Hungary. Királyudvar, which means “imperial courtyard,” was not just any old winery, apparently, but was the primary press house for the wines of the royal Hungarian court. Located in the village of Tarcal in northern Hungary, the estate sits in the middle of some of the regions most prestigious vineyards. Apparently all but three of the estates vineyards are in the “first class” according to two historical surveys which attempted to classify vineyards much in the same way as the First Growths of France.
The nearly 300 acres of vineyards are planted with an amazing array of unpronounceable and unrecognizable varietals including Ezerjo, Mezesfeher, Dinka, Kadarka, and Hárslevelu, along with Furmint which has traditionally made up the majority of Hungary’s most famous wine, the sweet Tokay. This wine, too, is mostly Furmint (78%) with the balance being made up of Hárslevelu.
This wine is actually a single vineyard bottling of a 40 acre vineyard site called Lapis in which those two varietals grown that same proportion along the main road to Bodrogkeresztúr a stones throw away from the river Bodrog. The vineyard faces South and slopes up in rambling bulges away from the river which brings thick morning fogs to cool the 26-year-old grape vines. In this vineyard, as in all Királyudvar vineyards, aggressive pruning and water management techniques result in extremely small yields of very high quality grapes.
While labeled as “late harvest” it’s important to note that this wine does not resemble any late harvest wine I have ever had. It can only barely be described as “semi-dry” and in some circles could pass for a highly aromatic, completely dry wine. It does have a small bit of residual sugar, but is definitely a table wine made for food rather than as an aperitif or dessert wine.
One of the first wines that Királyudvar has produced, this wine comes from what is described by the winemakers as one of the best possible vintages imaginable, certainly the best year of the decade, and promises to age spectacularly.
Unfortunately I don’t know much about the winemaking for this wine, but I’d like to. If anyone has any information, I’d appreciate it.
A light straw color in the glass this wine has a mysterious and delightful nose of pears, white peaches, candied cashews and honey. On the tongue it is silky and just barely sweet with primary flavors of sarsaparilla, honey, chamomile and various floral notes. It finishes long, with a nice level of acidity and slight hints of pine sap. This is a complex wine, and one that seems like it would do interesting things over time in the cellar, or at the very least, last for quite some time. It is definitely one of the more interesting wines I’ve had in my mouth in a while.
This wine goes beautifully with meatier fish dishes (though I also tried it with a beef brisket and it was fantastic). I suggest matching it with something like this miso glazed roasted black bass.
Overall Score: 9/9.5
How Much?: $20
This wine can be purchased online.
September 14, 2005 at 9:24 PM
Ah, Tokaji. One of my favorite dessert wines.
As for wine making, the main thing to know is puttanyos. Those are the baskets used to harvest/collect the botrytized grapes. 5 puttanyos means they added 5 baskets to the barrel. 4,5, and 6 are the “acceptable” levels. Supposedly, IIRC, the Tokaji wine makers were the first to “discover” botrytis. The story goes that an abbey (city?) was besieged by the Turks during harvest. The siege was lifted, and all the grapes in the vineyard were moldy. What the heck, said the wine makers. Gotta have wine. And they tasted it, and it was good.
Beyond the puttanyos there is at least one level, called Tokaji Essenzia. That’s wine they make without pressing. They just put all the grapes into a container and let the natural weight of the grapes squeeze out the nectar of the gods. It’s barely fermented, there’s so much residual sugar. I’ve never had it; it’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.
September 14, 2005 at 9:26 PM
Except for being totally wrong. All that stuff applies to the Tokaji dessert wine, which I initially thought this was. So disregard all that, and replace it with “I don’t know how it’s made” 🙂
I think I’ve had that before, or one like it. Oddly it was listed in dessert wines at bacar, but I agree that it was more of a table wine.
September 14, 2005 at 9:30 PM
Heh. Heh. No harm no foul. Very interesting information nonetheless.
September 14, 2005 at 10:02 PM
I’ll admit to knowing less than either of you about how this is made, but Alder, your post has inspired in me a compelling need–storage space be damned–to buy a case of this wine. Hopefully it won’t be gone by the time I get there–this is some of the best marketing any wine could hope for!
September 15, 2005 at 2:10 AM
I just got hooked on your blog from Derricks site. I am always looking for new sites to read and yours is a good one. Very informative! A little background, my hubby is a wine guy and foodie and used to write about wine and food. He has taught me a ton. My problem? I am Chinese and have the enzyme problem, I can’t drink a whole lot but I am a good taster. You sight will help me expand my horizons.
September 15, 2005 at 3:58 AM
I am a bit surprised this was a “random wine”. I thought Istvan Szepsy is quite known even abroad. Anyway, he’s the unquestioned nr. 1 Hungarian winemaker, a genuine visioner, famous not only for his wines but also for his modesty. He’s also known for uncompromised, ‘natural’ wine-making and using almost no technology.
This wine is a well-known and highly appreciated one in Hungary, albeit hard to categorise as it’s neither really dry nor late harvest. If you guys liked this one, you should have a look at the (sweet) ‘aszÃº’-s, which open new dimensions in complexity and beauty.
Have to choose carefully however as all Tokaj wines tend to be expensive but quality is very mixed.
Send me a mail if you’re puzzled.
September 15, 2005 at 7:15 AM
A simple drawing how the Tokaji vines are made.
September 15, 2005 at 8:11 AM
Glad you’re enjoying Vinography. My wife is Chinese and she has found a way of moderating the flush (http://www.vinography.com/archives/000019.html), and over the last few years she has built up a greater tolerance.
September 15, 2005 at 8:16 AM
Well, it is quite likely that everyone knows more about Hungarian wine than me. I’ve had one or two traditional Tokaji Aszu’s before, but had never heard of more dry wines coming from the region, nor was I familiar with Szepsy, so this was definitely a surprise.
Thanks for the offer to help sort things out.
September 15, 2005 at 12:07 PM
Congratulations! The information you could gather is impressive. Being a Hungarian I am glad that you liked this wine. It represents a new wave in Tokaj region dry wines, hopefully, one day, they will be just as famous as the botrytized sweet “aszÃº”. Try other Hungarian dry whites, too if you can get hold of them. HÃ¡rslevelű is one my favourite varietal, try some from Imre GyÃ¶rgykovÃ¡cs, SomlÃ³ region.
September 15, 2005 at 12:47 PM
Thanks Temy! (who knew I had so many people in Hungary reading Vinography).
I’d really like to try a bunch of Hungarian wines. Maybe I’ll just have to visit on of these days.
September 16, 2005 at 12:21 AM
Just drop me a mail if you happen to come to Hungary and I’ll show you around.
Until then, Cheers.
September 16, 2005 at 10:24 AM
why don’t you talk to IstvÃ¡n Szepsy directly? You should visit him in Tarcal. You will learn a lot. He is not only one of the top winemakers in the world but a real good man.
If you are interested we can help.
September 16, 2005 at 2:56 PM
To the first comment (Derrick Schneider):
The Tokaj wine is puttyonyos, not puttanyos.
That is all what i wanted to tell.
September 16, 2005 at 4:03 PM
Holy cow. Where are all you Hungarians and Hungarian wine lovers coming from !? This is great. I’m sure I would love to chat with IstvÃ¡n Szepsy. I just need to figure out a way to get to Hungary. I gotta go out and sell more advertising for Vinography.
Thanks very much for your offer of help. If and when I am in a position to visit I will definitely take you up on it.
Keep reading Vinography !
September 16, 2005 at 4:12 PM
Alder, this article has been mentioned at one of the most visited online Hungarian newspaper called Index, so expect even more Hungarian readers. 🙂
September 16, 2005 at 4:27 PM
Wow. I love the Web.
September 16, 2005 at 6:10 PM
i just came form the website mentioned above (index.hu), and let me tell you, that this is pretty good, what you do here.
the other hungarian fellow-readers were/are right, you should taste more wines from Hungary and not just the ones from Tokaj. we need the (good) publicity! 🙂
and – for Linda – just to make it sure it is “puttonyos” but what the hell, it is about the wine, not how you say/write it!
have a good one!
September 17, 2005 at 12:57 AM
the index.hu portal holds a blog called “the educated alcoholist” which is a wine blog, sommeliers, well known columnists, writeing there. They mentioned your post (a link to your blog on the sidebar being there since the hungarian blog started) so know those whom reading the educatied alcholist comeing here:) The hungarian bloggers recommended to the readers, that someone should invite you to Hungary:)
September 17, 2005 at 1:02 AM
For white wine fans Hungary can serve positive surprises. I myself prefer red wines, but there are some interesting wines from Tokaj too. My favourite Tokaj wine is dry szamorodni. A bit hard to find a real good one, but it worths seeking. About three weeks ago I tasted some really good white wines from JÃ¡sdi cellar at Csopak, try them! Last year I bought a really “hitting” white wine at the Budapest wine festival, this is a year 2002 SiklÃ³si Chardonnay from Mayer winery, and thats a really special thing, as this wine came from VillÃ¡ny area, which is traditionally a red wine area. Only the SiklÃ³s part is used for producing white wines. So you can find many interesting white wines in Hungary and not only from Tokaj area. In my opinion red wines from VillÃ¡ny are really top wines compared to any red wines!
September 17, 2005 at 3:17 AM
just amazed, how nice comapany of wine-lovers here..:)
I do love Hungarian red wines most, but agree, there’s a lot of surprisingly good white ones around here.
Let’s taste more and more of the bests and share our opinion even here!
God bless all of us, and may let us have as many beautiful Hungarian wine as we can!
September 17, 2005 at 4:39 AM
If you really come to Hungary, don’t forget to taste wines in the region “SiklÃ³s-VillÃ¡ny”, for example in “VillÃ¡nykÃ¶vesd”. I had two bottles from this region yesteday with friends, fantastic!!!
September 17, 2005 at 9:10 AM
Thanks for the comments and for the recommentations!
September 17, 2005 at 9:12 AM
You said it ! Thanks for your comments.
September 17, 2005 at 9:22 AM
Thanks for the recommendations. Their wines sound interesting. Some of their tasting notes are especially intruiging for their wines.
September 17, 2005 at 1:32 PM
This year’s biggest surprise for me is Tiffan’s Pinot Noir from 2003. Delicious! But we got quite far from Tokaj white wines….
September 17, 2005 at 3:32 PM
The Hungarian wines are very very good:)
September 17, 2005 at 7:35 PM
Sort of a side comment: The availability of Hungarian wines, especially good ones, is quite poor in the US. For example, it doesn’t look like the Tiffan Pinot Noir is available in the US. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-dessert Hungarian wine in the US other than the widely available Bull’s Blood.
September 18, 2005 at 10:17 AM
As you can see, you must come to Hungary. Visit Tokaj and Villany regions if you want to have a short but tastefull visit. When you are in Villany look for Attila Gere and try to convince him to let you taste his Solus red vine. Than you will really know what are these hungarians are talking about…
September 18, 2005 at 8:20 PM
After all this discussion, it’s certainly going to be higher on my list of spots to visit.
September 19, 2005 at 1:09 AM
give me your email adress, I will pass the contact to Szepsy. He is not an internet fan,but it will work. By the way http://www.szepsy.hu is launched. At this moment only in native hungarian,but it is promised to be englished soon.
October 2, 2005 at 5:29 PM
I am going to Budapest in November for a (very) short stay en route between Prague and Istanbul. I’d like to use the little time I have to experience an orgy of Hungarian wine tasting, and I’m wondering if anyone knows where I might be able to find that in Budapest or, for that matter, in Prague. I found a site for a place called the “House of Hungarian Wines” near the castle grounds in Buda, but it looks pretty touristy. Also, if anyone has some advice on what I should definitely try/buy there which is generally not available abroad. Does anyone know about Turkish wines?
Thanks for your input, and for an awesome site
p.s.-I have zero experience with Hungarian wines.
October 2, 2005 at 5:34 PM
Nate. I encourage you to leave your e-mail address so that any of my readers who want to help you out can communicate with you directly.
October 2, 2005 at 6:52 PM
My email is:
November 13, 2005 at 9:03 AM
Ok, I live in Hungary for a while now… I am Hungarian too but from Slovakia…(complicated I know blame history) as other people mentioned Tokaj is a wine region and Furmint is a grape variety. So Tokaj Formint has nothing to do with aszu. Formint is a part of aszu (and another 3-4 grapes) the secret of aszu is late harvest and noble rot. The grapes are all shriveled and ugly to make the amazing drink… Hmmm… If you are in Hungary (I guess Budapest) do not miss the House of Hungarian wines in the castle district… Very good deal…
Unfortunatelly the best wine regions Tokaj and Villany are pretty far away from Budapest… ohh well…
November 13, 2005 at 9:07 AM
oh and i forgot… if you are in hungary i can offer you some nice slovak wine… as a gift for a great blog. I can offer you very nice riesling from “Jobbagy and Jobbagy” cellar. It is from village of Saint Peter south of Slovakia. My vineyard is not far away from there… but i have no wine yet :((( mail valcs at seznam.cz
November 20, 2005 at 7:09 PM
I stumbled across this website and postings about Hungarian wines by accident, and am quite happy to have done so. We actually tasted this wine with Istvan Szepsy at his cellars in early October, and it was a truly special experience!
Nate, if you only have a limited time in Budapest, then the House of Hungarian Wines is a good place to stop because they have an impressive selection of wines representing all of Hungary. For a reasonable tasting price, you get to sample a wide array of wine, and can purchase those wines that you really like. I suggest Gere, Bock and Malatinszky wineries from the Villany region.
December 5, 2005 at 8:56 AM
I was very interested to note that there is a general ignorance of Hungarian Tokaji wines here. We are producers of some of the finest Tokaji wines and if you have any questions regarding how it is made I would be very pleased to answer them. If you log on to the attached URL there is a brief explanation of some of our wines.
December 8, 2005 at 3:25 PM
Interesting comments. I have had this wine. You got it at a good price.
Remember that unlike any other area in the world, the winemakers in Tokaji make a dry wine to which they add various amounts of the very dry, mashed rotted grapes. This first requires that each raisined grape is picked individually. Then the wine must be kept in barrels for a given time before it can be bottled and sold. This all means that the process for Tokaji-aszu is costly. So to bring in some cash, they are doing a number of other things.
For example, “late harvest”. These still have botrytized grapes, but by using that name, producers are not bound by the rules regarding Tokaji-aszu. Fuleky for example, has a wine called “Pallas”, which is just a fantasy name. So producers can release the wine earlier, pick and ferment grapes at whatever sugar levels they want (whereas 4,5,6 puttonyos each require certain minimum levels) and generally have more freedom. Without the additional oversight, they can keep their costs lower.
This does NOT mean that there is any diminution of quality. The people behind this winery are clearly among the best winemakers in Hungary. They make great dry wines and great sweet wines. And FWIW, Szepsy’s ancestor was reputedly the priest who wrote about the winemaking method back in 1632.
January 4, 2007 at 5:00 AM
Hi Wine Lovers! This is a great site! Congratulations!
I am from the Tokaj region. Couple of comments explained the method of making Tokaji AszÃº pretty good. But if you really want to understand the Tokaji wine history and techniques, you must see this place!
In Budapest visit House of Hungarian Wines (castle district) or ‘Wine 4 U’ wineshop on Damjanich st.
August 5, 2008 at 1:36 PM
Hello fellow vino lovers,
I was very surprised to find Kiralyudvar Tokaj, Sec at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. They have an amazing wine list, and i say this only because of my great find. 🙂 The food isn’t shabby either.
I am having the hardest time finding it in stores, but i did stumble upon it at the Whole Foods store in San Mateo, CA.
WOWOW that was an other amazing find, and i can’t find it in any Arizona stores, where i live. I am asking the Whole Foods in Scottsdale to try and get in a case for me.
If you have not tried it, it is a MUST TRY , it is delicious and it’s not Aszu.
We need to REQUEST to have more Hungarian wine varieties in the US stores. Only our demands will get it into the stores.
October 14, 2008 at 1:43 AM
Tokaji is one of those sweet wines that was once only drunk by kings and nobles – so in a sense it also gives you the chance to taste one of the Royal luxuries of those day – something we can take for granted now days!
As Loius XIV said – “Wine of Kings, King of wines”
December 26, 2008 at 1:25 AM
i salute the wines from szepsy. i was in another world i must say tasting those wines poured from the very hands of this master wine maker from his 16th century cellar. I want india to know about these great wines. so you guys from tokaj send me all the info which i would like to pass on the wine lovers in this part of the world. cheers! randhir