Feature Coverage

Hungary’s Royal Tokaji Releases the World’s Most Expensive Wine–at $40,000 per Decanter

Essencia, like Hungary’s more well-known Tokaji Aszú, is made from grapes that have developed noble rot (known as Aszú berries). But Essencia is sweeter, syrupy, with little alcohol (4% at most), produced in a lengthy process from berries crushed from their own weight instead of pressed.

The 18 1.5-liter decanters being released by Royal Tokaji, each made with some 400 pounds of hand-picked grapes, are also bottled by hand.

James Carcass, a Hungarian-based artist has created the decanters, inspired by the Essencia slowly dripping from the individually picked Aszú berries, according to Charlie Mount, managing director at Royal Tokaji.

“Each decanter has had to be shipped to Portugal to be scanned and have a custom cork fitted prior to hand-bottling in Mád,” Mount says. Mád is a village near Tokaj, in northeastern Hungary, where Royal Tokaji is located.

Royal Tokaji spent two years lobbying in Hungary to get permission to create the limited 2008 Essencia in bottles bigger than the typical half liter regulation size.

“Essencia is a great source of national pride and is understandably protected,” Mount says. “The exemption we have obtained—1.5 liters in a bottle—will hardly ever be repeated, so these 18 decanters, already rare, may also be the first and last of their kind.”

The Hungarian government also requires Essencia to be contained in a bottle of a tightly controlled shape, according to Mount.

Essencia 2008 is very sweet with only 2% to 4% alcohol. British wine critic, Neal Martin, has described past releases of the rich amber liquid as “an otherworldly feat of nature,” and “not wine, but an experience.” Berry Brothers & Rudd sells a case of six half-liter bottles of Essencia 2008 for £1,889 (US$2,500).

The 18 rare decanters will be marketed globally, although several are already committed to international collectors, with the first being sold to a collector in Beijing.

Royal Tokaji, founded in 1990 by British author and wine historian Hugh Johnson in an effort to revive the Tokaj region’s centuries-old winemaking, has offered a few bottles of Essencia only six times in its history.

Fang Block, March 11, 2019
Hungary’s Royal Tokaji Releases the World’s Most Expensive Wine–at $40,000 per Decanter