Around two-thirds of vines planted in Tokaji is Furmint. Although it is by far the most used grape in the famous botrytised sweet wines of Tokaji, it is also now widely explored by producers making sparkling and, most impressively, a wide range of very stylish dry wines.
A long legacy of production
The name Furmint was first recorded in 1611, 84 years after the famous sweet wine of Tokaji, called Aszú, was recorded and today it is largely grown in Tokaji but there are a few other largely volcanic areas that plant Furmint. Historically, however, it was planted all over Hungary.
A Few Furmint Facts
Hungary has a long history of producing wine and in the 18th Century had the third-largest vineyard area in the world with 571k hectares under vine.
Today Hungary grows over 184 varieties of grape-producing 2.7million hectolitres, about the 7th largest producer in Europe and 14th in the world.
The UK is Hungary’s largest export market for bottled wines.
Science and place
In the last few years Furmint grapes in Tokaji have been the subject of scientific studies that indicate the specific vineyard sites have a noticeable imprint on the physical properties of the plant and fruit. This rich geology includes clay, loess soil on top of volcanic subsoil that all contribute to the quality of the land for viticulture.
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Bükk Mountains (translates literally a Beech Mountains) leads into the Zemplén Mountains (nicknamed the Tokaji Mountains). These higher altitudes provide a natural barrier to the Northeast cooler temperatures of Slovakia and Ukraine but more importantly provide the southerly and southeasterly slopes for the vineyards to flourish on. The rivers Tizra and Bodrog both also contribute to the climate that is famously favourable to Botrytis.
A common denominator in all styles
Whether we are drinking the famous sweet Aszú or a dry Furmint, in any number of styles, then there is going to be one characteristic that connects all the wines. This is the acidity that is famous in the sweet wine but perhaps less so to those unfamiliar with the dry wines.
The Master Sommelier, Isa Bal, summed it up when he said that the Furmint grape can take you through a meal from the sparkling aperitif to the aged complex dry wine, to the world-class sweet dessert phase.
Tokaj Nobilis Tokaji Pezsgő Brut sparkling wine took me by surprise with attractive apple and pear flavours, combined with a creamy texture against the clean fresh acidity. Definitely worth trying and very competitively priced against many other sparklers.
Stockists: Tokaj Lovers
Patricius Dry Furmint 2019 is a great example of wine that is not complex but has attractive fresh apple and peach fruit and super fresh acidic structure. It has the automatic pilot repetitive sip quality that makes great kindling for any evening.
Stockists: Waitrose Wine Cellar
Tokaj Nobilis Rány Furmint 2018 - Richer complex style with lees and oak ageing. All perfectly integrated, soft fruit with bright acidic structure. An easy wine to pair with richer dishes like seafood, white meat or baked vegetable dishes.
Stockists: Wine Searcher
RRP: €8.34 - £9.95
Disznoko Inspiration Furmint Dry 2018 - Baked apple, hints of tropical, lovely leesy flavour with the signature tight acidic structure that is perfect for pairing with food. As pictured, great with prawns and salad.
Stockists: International Cheese Company, Bon Coeur, Gauthier online, Wine Ways, South Down Cellars
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The dry Furmint wines offer great versatility, especially for gastronomy but, as Isa Bal says, equally for various stages of wine pleasures that take you up to dessert. I was also very impressed by the price of these wines which makes them highly competitive and encouraging exploring the producers so much fun.
I know this tasting was organised as part of the Furmint February campaign but as we enter March, I really have to stress that Furmint is a wine for all seasons. Let this be the beginning. Factual notes here were drawn from Caroline Gilby MW and Isa Bal MS's masterclass as well as other sources and wine samples gratefully received for the tasting.
An aperitif by the coliseum
As COVID-19 conspires with the grimmest of winds and rain to force a societal retreat behind our own front doors, the word ennui springs to mind. The muddle of displeasure is pierced when Natalia hands me a large bulbous glass of a liquid I do not recognise.
Artichoke pasta and very fine Pigato
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I had warned my significant other that I would be having an inverse departure party, a release of the sanity valve if you like!
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