Royal Tokaji
Royal Tokaji
In The Media
The Wine of Kings
20 November 2019
'The king of wines, and the wine of kings', Hungary's noble sweet wine - like this elegant example from Royal Tokaji - has been wowing aristocratic palates for hundreds of years.

Publication: Squaremeal Wine + Food
Date: 2018
Product: Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2016
Author: Squaremeal Food + Wine

Royal Tokaji wines Late Harvest 2016

What it tastes like: Like a china bowl full of freshly cut orchard fruit. The trademark acidity gleams softly throughout the palate, leaving a clean, refreshing finish.

Where to get it: High Street - £14.95/50cl @ Cellar Door Wines, Constantine Stores, Jeroboams. Restaurants - Avenue, Butlers Wharf Chop House, Kensington Palace.

Pair it with: Peking duck

Royal Tokaji wines Late Harvest 2016

Want to know the most expensive wine that Thomas Jefferson ever bought? Champagne? Burgundy? Trump Estate Cabernet Sauvignon?

The answer will almost certainly surprise you: it was none of these , but a sweet wine from the Tokaji region of Hungary.

Pronounce 'tock-eye', if you go back a couple of hundred years it was a place that was justly renowned among the great and the good for its magnificent dessert wines. Golden, rich, succulent and complex, they were the go-to tipple for royalty, aristocracy and, yes, presidents all over the world.

So popular were the wines, and so high the region's reputation, that Hungary's Prince Rákóczi - the ruler with the kind of moustache that any self-respecting hipster would kill for - classified the vineyards into first, second and third growths at the end of the 17th century. This, in case you're interested, is 150 years before Bordeaux got round to doing the same thing.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, the 20th century basically. The Second World War cruelly wiped out many of the Jewish merchants who had been key to the wine's success, and 'expensive dessert wine' wasn't part of Communism's master plan for the country's agriculture.

Top-class vineyards were ploughed over, abandoned, or planted with high-yielding, boring grapes to slake the uncritical thirst of the mother country.

So the creation of Royal Tokaji in 1990 marked a crucial turning point. With democracy embraced, so began the slow process of restoring the region to its former glory, of re-incentivising the growers, buying modern equipment and telling the world the story of this great dessert wine once more.

Because Tokaji is indisputably great wine - and the bottle featured here is a fantastic way to start appreciating it. Made from botrytised grapes (that have naturally shrivelled because of 'noble rot'), the most expensive Tokajis are incredibly luscious and sweet. But this wine is Late Harvest, not botrytised. So rather than leave the grapes on the vines for months until they shrivel to the size of sugar-filled raisins, these are picked around the end of October.

This is around six weeks later than for a dry white wine and it means that while the grapes still look like grapes, they have had more time build up ripeness and sugar. Ferment them all the way through to dry and they would be incredibly strong, but stop the fermentation part-way through and you end up with a wine that is lowish in alcohol (11%) and sweet.

If you're worried by the term 'sweet', don't be. One of the reasons Tokaji is so justly renowned is that the grape that is crucial to its creation - Furmint - is very high in acidity. This crisp freshness balances the sweet fruit and makes it taste refreshing.

That combination of 'sweet plus acid' makes the Royal Tokaji Late Harvest superb with Asian cuisine, where the trademark sour, sweet, hot or salty flavours in the food can make dry wine taste flat and dull.