Imported Wineries of the Year
“When Hugh Johnson began organizing Royal Tokaji in 1989, the region was known to most wine lovers only through mentions in old books; decades of Communist rule had obliterated its historic greatness. Johnson set about recovering all the pre-Communist information he could find, working with Ben Howkins, a fellow Brit and MW who joined the company in 1993 as the director of the estate. They also hired Károly Ats, a local with an intimate knowledge of the vineyards through his years of working for the state.
“With Ats’s experience and the discovery of an old map that set forth a classification of the vineyards, they gathered together 62 growers with vineyards in the center of the region near Mád, and began to work toward bottling the top parcels as single-site wines, all made in a traditional sweet wine style, the ripeness classified by puttonyos.
“After the 2012 vintage, Ats left to focus on his own winery. His former coworker, Fruzsina Ostváth, has stepped in to take his place, working with consultant Stéphanie Berecz.
“Tasting through Royal Tokaji’s 2007 portfolio earlier this year was like taking a master class in Tokaj terroirr. The Mézes Mály shows the fineness of the vineyard’s loess soils in its light apricot flavor, bright acidity and lacey floral notes; the heavier loam soils of Birsalmás give a wine with a deeper, more opulent build, as well as the quince notes for which it’s named. Then there’s the Szent Tamás: The warmth and iron content of its red volcanic rock shows vividly in its combination of sharp minerality and honeycomb richness.
“The ’03 Essencia, a thick, pure distillation of free-run juice from heavily botrytized grapes, knocked the breath out of our panelists with its silken texture and fragrant sugar buzz. Even so, the 6 Puttonyos from Betsek was a close runner-up. From a 37-acre patch of black volcanic soil at the bottom of the valley, it offers the most vivid distillation of place of all the ‘07s, its flavors dark and deep, more pumpkin than peach, with an earthy smokiness. It’s a wine to savor slowly, with a piece of cheese to temper the intensity now or anytime over the next 50 years.”