2016 Royal Tokaji Essencia


Royal Tokaji has released only eight vintages of Essencia in the last three decades: 1993, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2009. A fallow period ensued until the imminent release of the 2016 in September/October, limited to 2,300 half-bottles in individual red lacquer boxes with hand-crafted crystal spoons.

The season witnessed uneven fruit set in spring followed by almost perfect conditions, avoiding hailstorms in August. Widespread botrytis followed that augured for a great harvest until rain spoiled September. Yet high-quality aszú berries could be picked, several tries through the vineyard to select perfectly raisined berries. Each picker gathered around five kilos of fruit per day, and around 40 kilos are required to make just half a bottle of Essencia. Consequently, picking was not finished until early November. The free-run aszú juice, eked out by gravity drop by drop, was bottled in glass demijohns and left to ferment in Royal Tokaji’s cool 13th-century cellars. Such high sugar levels meant aging creeps along at a snail’s pace. By December 2019, there was still only 1.9% alcohol, the whopping 535g/L residual sugar counterbalanced by the 15.5g/L acidity.

I received one of the half-bottles, which I proffered at lunch in mid-June. A spoonful or two were given to my Hungarian next-door neighbors. The remnants, two months later, still in my fridge, taste just as fresh. The moral of this story is: Don’t feel you have to drink it all immediately, and just like eating too much confectionary, Essencia is best consumed in small doses.

The 2016 Essencia is a refulgent deep gold color. There’s no dabbling on the nose as it bursts with scents of Clementine, Japanese yuzu, quince and marmalade, all the tropes one expects from a Tokaji. Yet this being Essencia, those flavors are amplified without any loss in delineation. The palate is as unctuous as you expect, lacquering the inside of the mouth (and this is why a spoon is included, not for show, but the most efficient means for transferring the wine straight onto the tongue.) The tastebuds tingle with glee, reveling in untrammeled sweetness, effortlessly offset by that razor-sharp acidity that renders it not cloying in the slightest. Purer than an angelic choirboy, the 2016 is armed with immense tension on the citric finish that offers Seville orange marmalade, strawberry, mandarin and quince. Outrageous and yet sophisticated and probably indestructible. 98/Drink 2023-2200.

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