Wine of the Year 2020

Judy & Hugh Johnson and CH’NG Poh Tiong at the 10th Anniversary Dinner of The World of Fine Wine on 30 April 2014 in London at Lutyens Restaurant on Fleet Street


The late Christopher – better known as Kit Stevens MW –  was one of the best writers on wine in the English language. Kit had represented – in parts of Asia – Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and E Guigal.

Kit and I shared a mutual sentiment. This was that our favourite wine book was/is Wine by Hugh Johnson. First published in 1966, it is no longer in print.

I read Wine when at university and the singularly great thing about the book is that even if you were not remotely interested in wine, you would enjoy the quality of the prose. In fact, Hugh Johnson could write about dog or cat food and we would still be lapping up every word.

Hugh famously said – when asked how to become a great wine writer – “be a great writer first”.

I was lucky to meet Hugh because about 25 years ago, I was consultant to Jardines Singapore and Hugh was consultant to Jardines International. We became friends and I visited him in London (his flat – since sold – was just off St James’s), and Hugh & Judy in their house in France.

One time in London over dinner with them and their son Redmond and daughter Lucy (there’s another daughter called Kitty), after ordering the bubbly and red, the world’s most famous wine writer asked a young, aspiring  novice if I could choose the white.

I have always remembered this generosity, kindness, and immense courtesy. I learnt from the example and do the same with others when given the opportunity.

Prince Ferenc Rakoczi insisted on the finest vineyards around the region of Tokaji to be classified as Great First Growths, First Growths, Second Growths and Third Growths at the end of the 17th Century, the first to be done in Europe

Based in the village of Mád in north-eastern Hungary, Royal Tokaji was founded by the world’s foremost wine writer Hugh Johnson in 1990

Hugh Johnson founded the Royal Tokaji in 1990. It was the first foreign company to invest in the Tokaji wine region. The pioneering leap of faith prompted the Hungarian Government to privatise other state owned-vineyards and sell them to other foreign investors, mostly French insurance companies.

The wine world and Hungarian growers and producers, therefore, have Hugh to thank for leading the enlightenment.

Royal Tokaji’s portfolio of award-winning wines includes Dry Furmint, Late Harvest, 5 and 6 Puttonyos, Single Vineyard Aszu wines (Mezes Maly, Betsek, Szt Tamas, Nyulaszo and Birsalmas) and the legendary Essencia.

I visited Royal Tokaji about 20 years ago.

Hugh had made the arrangement and the car picked me up from Budapest in the early morning for the about 220 km journey. I missed breakfast and was famished all the way.

After the tour of the winery and surreal cellar, the winemaker (I apologise for forgetting his name but remember his kindliness) sat me down in the very cold cellar for the tasting.

As I was starving, the acidity and freshness in the wines – in spite of their richness – made me even hungrier.

When we finally arrived at the Essencia, it was impossible for me to hide my having missed breakfast altogether. I drank the entirety of the golden treacle.


This is what Royal Tokaji has to say of Essencia:

Essencia is the richest and rarest of all Hungarian Tokaji wines. It is the truest expression of terroir known to man. Typically, this free run juice takes 6 to 8 years to complete its fermentation to less than 3% alcohol. Essencia can reach 85% residual sugar. Essencia wine is legendary. Essencia 2000 (their current vintage) is presented in numbered bottles in a brass hinged wooden box complete with a traditional crystal spoon.

Last Monday 28 December 2020, a generous friend brought the 1993 vintage to dinner.

Herman Iskandar is Maitre Commanderie de Bordeaux Jakarta Chapter and has a home in Singapore. He had acquired the bottle about 16 years ago in the UK and had it shipped back to Singapore several months ago.


Bottled in 2002, this is Bottle 443 of 480 bottles (500 ml or 2/3 of the standard 750 ml bottle size). The colour is a deep dungeon. Essencia 1993 had begun life as liquid gold in colour and value. The evolved complexion has all to do with ageing and the interaction of what – however – little air there is that finds its way into the bottle. The alcohol level is 2.5%. The experience is 200% pure ecstasy. FIGS!! INTENSE BEYOUND IMAGINATION!!

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