On-Premise Focus Drives Rising U.S. Interest For The Royal TokajiDecember 31, 2019
One of the most esteemed international wines dating back centuries, Hungary’s Tokaji was devastated by political upheaval and subsequent state control during the 20th century. But since 1990, wineries like Wilson Daniels-imported Royal Tokaji have been devoting themselves to rebuilding the region’s standing, both with its signature sweet aszú wines as well as dry offerings made from the Furmint grape.
“This was one of the first wine regions where the wines were traded internationally,” notes Charlie Mount, managing director of Royal Tokaji. “And it was the first in the world to have official classification done starting in the year 1700.”
The U.S., along with the U.K. and Hungary, is now among the top markets for Royal Tokaji, which sells on average about 20,000 9-liter cases of its dry wines and 120,000 bottles of its Red Label 5 Puttonyos aszú ($60 a 750-ml.) annually. The on-premise is the main focus for both styles, according to Mount. “The aszú wines thrive in that environment,” he says. “They’re dessert in a glass.”
Mount adds that cigar terraces both in the U.S. and internationally are another key venue for Royal Tokaji’s aszú offerings, which in addition to the core Red Label include the higher-end Gold Label 6 Puttonyos, as well as single-vineyard bottlings. This year, the winery began a new initiative in which key on-premise partners could select their own barrels of aszú from the Royal Tokaji cellars, with big names like Mastro’s and Morton’s participating.
Mount also sees increasing interest for the company’s estate Dry Furmint, which retails at around $18-$20 and has been making inroads among sommeliers. “Five or six years ago, if I was in the States at an event, everyone would be asking about the sweet wines,” he says. “Now they’re very interested in the Dry Furmint as well. It’s growing in the on-trade. We haven’t broken through at retail yet, but I think it’s on the cusp.” Royal Tokaji’s Late Harvest bottling ($25), meanwhile, sits between its sweet and dry styles in the portfolio.
As it continues to raise the profile of its wines in the U.S. and around the world, Royal Tokaji has also begun partnering with distilleries to finish their spirits in aszú barrels. “Hopefully, next year there will be a serious distillery releasing a Royal Tokaji-finished whisky,” Mount notes. “And we’re currently finishing 10 barrels of rum that’s between 25 and 35 years old. With the whisky finishing, everything is done in Scotland. But with the rum we’re in charge of deciding when it’s ready, which will be interesting.” —Daniel MarstellerSubscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.