Tokaji producer revives ‘medieval Viagra’

19th February, 2014 by Gabriel Stone

Royal Tokaji is bringing its rare, intensely sweet Essencia to a wider audience through a new project with UK restaurant group D&D London which sees the wine served by the spoonful.

Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Replicating an initiative which has already proved successful for Royal Tokaji in the US, from this week Plateau in London’s Canary Wharf is offering a crystal spoon filled with Essencia, paired with spiced gingerbread and poached pear. The £13.50 price tag compares favourably with the current Royal Tokaji Essencia RRP of around £300 per 375ml bottle, the format it has adopted since 2000.

Noting the wine’s long history and formerly revered reputation as “medieval Viagra”, Charlie Mount of Royal Tokaji said: “It’s a mini dream of mine that more people should taste Essencia; it’s a bucket list thing.”

As a result, he emphasised his own efforts to encourage “accessible” pricing among restaurants who serve Essencia. However, with the wine now available by the spoon in around 20 restaurants across the US, Mount admitted that prices ranged from a relatively modest $25 in some venues to the $130 charged by Saison in San Francisco.

Royal Tokaji is currently selling its 2003 Essencia, only the fourth vintage made since the company was founded in 1990. With each 375ml bottle requiring 20-30kg of aszu berries, roughly equivalent to the amount harvested by a single person in three days, Mount estimated that Royal Tokaji has produced “fewer than 10,000 bottles” of this style in its entire history.

The production of Essencia involves no pressing, but only the liquid that drips naturally from the weight of berries. With 510g/l sugar, the wild yeasts used for fermentation typically achieve a final abv of just 2.3%, which places Essencia outside the jurisdiction of fixed alcohol beverage measures.

Although Mount acknowledged: “We could make it every year when there are good aszu berries,” so labour intensive, niche in appeal and expensive is the Essencia that the company often prefers to “dilute it many, many times over” for use in more commercially mainstream aszu wines.

Elaborating on the decision to offer Essencia in this unusual format, Mount remarked: “For the whole of sweet wine it is a challenge to get it into people’s glass. We have to be interesting, creative and simple.”

He also noted the challenge of finding the right occasion for this style, saying: “I would not take this and nurse a glass all night. A spoonful is enough or you’d be bouncing off the walls.”

Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

As a result, Royal Tokaji is exploring the idea of working not just with sommeliers but chefs too. “We’re going to be shipping in aszu berries to Launceston Place for them to play with,” revealed Mount.

Meanwhile James Jones, wine marketing manager at D&D London set this Tokaji initiative within the wider context of the group’s effort to give customers “access to different wines.” This goal has previously seen it work with high profile producers such as Penfolds.

The Royal Tokaji partnership will also extend to offering other rare wines from this producer through the D&D restaurant portfolio, as well as a number of bespoke events.

Other D&D wine initiatives have seen the return this month of its Love Wine list, which offers discounts of up to 50% on a broad selection of high profile or unusual wines.

The group has also been developing its off-trade business, with wine shops incorporated into its Pont de la Tour and Bluebird restaurants, a limited take home offer at Orrery and the New Street wine shop and bar.

The next step, according to Jones, is to expand its online sales service. “We will be trying to build that this year,” he confirmed, suggesting that the project was due to launch “in the next six months or so.”

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