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April 22, 2010
In recent years, one of Europe’s most remarkable marriages of wine-producing estates has occurred, with the joining of Domaine Huet, in Vouvray, with Királyudvar, in Hungary’s storied Tokaji region.
Each property is owned—either entirely or in the majority—by American Anthony Hwang. And each estate is making arguably the most compelling wines in its region today. The winemaker is also the same: the brilliant Noël Pinguet.
Last month, The Rare Wine Co. was honored to be appointed exclusive US agent for both estates—continuing our growth as a unique source of handcrafted wines from Europe's greatest small producers.
Started by the Victor Huet in 1928, and raised to worldwide renown by his son, Gaston, Domaine Huet has been the Loire Valley's transcendent name for 80 years. The estate owns two of Vouvray's greatest vineyards—Le Mont, purchased in 1957, and Clos du Bourg, purchased in 1963—in addition to their own outstanding plantation, Le Haut-Lieu. Depending on the year's conditions, they produce wines that range from Chablis-like Sec to riveting, world-beating dessert wines.
When Gaston Huet's son showed little interest in taking the reins at Domaine Huet, his son-in-law, Noël Pinguet, stepped into the breach. Starting in the 1980s, Pinguet worked side-by-side with Gaston—learning from the master, but also introducing ideas like Biodynamics for viticulture. When Gaston passed away in 2002, the domaine could have been split by the crushing inheritance taxes. Noël sought outside help, and Tony Hwang, arrived as a financial partner. Tony had long appreciated Huët's wines, and his investment stabilized the estate's finances and allowed Noël the freedom to be uncompromising in his quest for quality.
On the opposite side of Europe, Hungary's Tokaji had been a prestigious wine region for hundreds of years, but fell into neglect during the 20th century. After the fall of communism, numerous groups invested in rehabilitating this nearly forgotten region. The most sagacious of these investors was Tony Hwang. In 1997, he partnered with the region's most eminent winemaker, István Szepsy, and, together, they rebuilt the historic Királyudvar estate into possibly Tokaji's finest modern practitioner.
Meanwhile, István Szepsy was developing his own estate in Tokaji. When he departed Királyudvar, Tony Hwang asked Noël to assist in Hungary. There are a lot of parallels between the Loire's Chenin Blanc and the similarly rich, but high-acid, varieties of Tokaji, and Noel's experience began to pay dividends quickly. He introduced biodynamics to the vineyards, resulting in an earlier harvest and healthier fruit. Beyond the vineyards, he recognized the grapes' potential to produce great dry wines, as well as the traditional dessert wines, not unlike the wines in his native Vouvray.
With the thoughtful stewardship of Tony Hwang, and the rich experience of Noël Pinguet, both estates are today producing profound wines. At the same time, they are also helping to push the quality boundaries forward for their respective regions. Huet and Királyudvar are precisely the kinds of domaines that The Rare Wine Co. exists to champion. The wines themselves are profound, and both estates have the rich narrative arcs—in the vineyards, in their histories and, most importantly, in the glass—that enable them to transcend category.
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