I’ll Drink to That: Ben Howkins of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company

Episode 390 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently and features Ben Howkins, a founding director of the Royal Tokaji Wine Company in Hungary.

Ben Howkins has had a career in the British wine business that dates back to the 1960s, and this interview doesn’t make the mistake of fast-forwarding to only the latest and greatest part of it. Instead, it takes the opportunity to delve into the London wine trade with the same candor with which the program has often explored the New York wine scene. This episode descends into underground caverns to make wine sales to coal miners, falls for Bull’s Blood in a London bistro, and hashes out the dice players from the order takers at the office. It also winds its way into hallowed halls, finding its route past the several exquisite antiques and into the cellar of Lord Jacob Rothschild, and then even to Buckingham Palace. Does the Royal we prefer white Burgundy to Mosel or Rhine wines? The answer is a decided No.

But this episode can’t entirely focus on the funny stories from aside the wine trade, because there has also been some serious work going on in Hungary. Ben was one of the first into the breach when the Iron Curtain was raised, and he has witnessed the redevelopment of the Tokaj region as it went from one state-controlled operation to the current slew of roughly forty wineries working with the wines today. Much of his activities have involved reclaiming what was lost, both in formal boundaries for crus and in winemaking technique. Like with this whole episode, the idea is that saving something known in the past might be helpful to the current situation.

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I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine