Kirlályudvar literally translated means ‘King’s Court’, its name derives from the fact that over centuries this estate was supplied Imperial wines to the Hapsburgs. Its press house in Tarcal, dating back to the 16th century, was the centre of the Royal Estate.

The modern face of the winery is somewhat different. American businessman Anthony Hwang bought the estate in 1997, at that time 10 hectares, having been seduced by one of István Szepsy’s Aszús, and who wouldn’t be! Szepsy subsequently became Anthony’s partner and helped him to rebuild the estate, also producing the first wines. Since then, the estate has been added to, with the purchase of further vineyards around Mád and Bodrogkerésztur. The estate now totals around 75 hectares. Királyudvar follows a natural winemaking philosophy, is certified organic and is converting to full biodynamic practices. It uses only wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation in the production of its wines.

Every year, Anthony and the current winemaker, Szabolcs Juhász, with the winery since 2009, present their vintage at the Gerbeaud in Budapest to journalists and other interested parties. This year was a little different – a vertical tasting of their Furmint Sec, from the year of its introduction, 2005, right through to the 2014 vintage. In addition, we sampled three 6 puttonyos Aszús from three different winemakers.

Although particularly renowned for their sweet wines, Anthony realised the potential for dry wines made from local varieties due to their viscous intensity and bright acidity, and has been pioneering amazing dry wines as well as sparkling wines. In a region most closely associated with naturally sweet, botrytised wine, the question arises as to how well Tokaj dry wines age.

With this in mind, Anthony posed those present three questions to ponder during the tasting:

  1. Can dry Tokaj wines develop and age? What taste characteristics develop with age that could be identified as dry Tokaj? Will they go in the Riesling (petrol) or the Vouvray (truffles) direction?
  2. What is the drinking window for Tokaj? Is ten-year-old ‘sec’ still ‘alive’?
  3. Are these wines collectable? Should they be in your cellar?

Anthony first gave an overview of the 2014 vintage and its lessons. It was a catastrophic vintage with rampant oïdium and peronospera, meaning they only made two wines, sec and demi sec, and in very limited quantities. There was only a little fruit, but the quality is acceptable. What they learnt from this was that biodynamics are not very effective in the face of such diseases, requiring frequent spraying to keep them in check. However, they have decided not to compromise their principles and will not be using chemicals. Although, it is clear that the volatility in climatic conditions we are experiencing will only increase the probability of disease attacking the vineyards in future. ‘Biodynamics will not be for the faint of heart in Tokaj!’ says Anthony.

Olivier Puissier, winner of best sommelier in world in 2000, apparently said ‘I don’t understand how your wines are drinkable from start to end!’ Based on our tasting, this would seem to be the case, although the 2014’s piercing acidity made it a little too young to be drinking yet. All those currently released would support this statement! So, how do you think we should answer the questions above?

Tasting notes

Sec 2014
A grainy, vibrant wine with clean fruit notes of ripe apple, pear and quince with some spice. Piercing acidity, with some bitterness and somewhat salty on its lingering finish. The acidity renders it rather too sharp to drink at present, but certainly has good potential to develop.
*Anthony’s comment on the acidity – ‘Without the acidity of Tokaj, I wouldn’t have invested in Hungary.’

Sec 2013
A crisp, bright wine with lively acidity. Flavours of peach, quince and yellow apple dominate the palate. With slight saltiness on its long finish. The high levels of malic acid currently stick out but should soften and blend in with age.
*This wine will be released in 2016. Anthony points out that high levels of malic acid are good for a long drinking window, which is what they are aiming for. They do not carry out MLF on the wines.

Sec 2012
An intense, mouth-filling wine with smoky, flinty notes underpinning the ripe apple, quince and stone fruit. Yellow flowers and beeswax on the nose, with some honey, spice and salt on the palate. Complex, with slightly warming alcohol. A luscious, complex, very drinkable wine.
*Current vintage in Hungary. A very hot year with almost overripe grapes.

Sec 2011
A full-bodied, oily wine with plenty of ripe stone fruits, citrus, apple and honey. Notes of saltiness and beeswax. Zesty acidity balances the richness of the fruit. Elegant and grace combines with power and substance. Slightly warming alcohol.
*Szabolcs’s personal favourite. Anthony calls it a very ‘Magyar wine’.

Sec 2010
A wine of pronounced intensity with beeswax, mushroom, citrus and stoniness on the nose. A bright, taut wine, starting to give some indication of how it ages. Apple and quince on the palate, along with a slight nuttiness and some saltiness on its long finish. Very drinkable.
*2010 was perceived as worst vintage in modern Tokaj. However, it has been popular internationally and is in fact sold out.

Sec 2009
A rich, perfumed, mouth-filling wine with aromas of mushroom, peach and quince, underlain with some toasty nuttiness. Lively, nuanced acidity with honey, ripe stone fruits and some lanolin. Broad on the palate.
*A hot year with low acidity. Wine is perhaps starting to close down a little.

Sec 2008
A beautiful wine with pronounced aroma intensity of honey, wax, quince and a touch of mushroom. Slightly higher residual sugar (11g/l), but nicely balanced by the vibrant acidity. Plenty of ripe pear and stone fruits tempered by a slight saltiness. Shows good potential for ageing.
*Watershed year for winery – first year of pure biodynamics. Anthony believes this is one of the best Tokaj vintages.

Sec 2007
A golden wine with intense aromas of honey, wax, quince and ripe apple. The more mature nose also showing nutty, mushroom elements. The lively acidity balances the touch of residual sugar and luscious honeyed fruit. Rich and mouth-filling.
*An archetypical vintage in Tokaj when everything went right. They made all their main lines.

Sec 2006
Pronounced nose of wax, honey, stone fruits and mushroom with some smoky, flinty notes. Intense, oily and full-bodied with flavours of truffle, honey and dried apricot. Fresh acidity and a lingering salty finish.
*Anthony said this wine has put on weight. Learning point – don’t make the wines too heavy or they will become undrinkable as they develop.

Sec 2005
Intense aromas of wax, mandarin almond and peach. Full-bodied and complex with spicy, nutty, mushroom and truffle flavours. Fragrant quince adds some fruitiness. Still fresh acidity. Balanced and elegant. Still drinking nicely, could still continue to develop for 5-10 years.
*First vintage for the Sec. Although it is unclear how they will develop, the acidity keeps their freshness.

Aszú 2012
Pale gold wine with aromas of honey, mushroom, caramel and butterscotch with slightly floral notes. Sharp acidity balancing the apple, honey and dried apricots on the palate. Quite a light aszú still young, retaining  a lot of apple notes. Lay down for a few years before drinking.
*Made by Szabolcs Juhász

Aszú 2006
Medium amber wine with masses of honey, almond, caramel and marmalade on the nose. Rich and balanced. Zesty acidity complementing the rich dried fruits. Salty note on the finish.
*Made by Zoltán Demeter, but finished and bottled by Szabolcs

Aszú 1998
Deep amber with bitter herbal notes, tobacco leaves, walnut and burnt caramel. The palate delivers prune, butterscotch, Seville orange, liquorice and a touch of Fernet Branca bitterness. The lively acidity perfectly balances the luscious sweetness.
* Made by István Szepsy. The first commercial release of the winery.

The three aszú made in three different decades, by three different winemakers, differ greatly in style, conception and execution.