07 December 2023 / Edit Szabó (Translated by Sue Tolson DipWSET / Photos: Bulcsú Böröczky)
It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of an audience and present twenty vintages of a dry white wine. When did you decide to show all the Dobogó Winery’s estate wines to members of the trade?
This is not a new initiative for the winery. We held our first vertical tasting in 2012, then with ten years of production, and then five years later, we stood up before an audience again, with all the estate Furmints. That was on 18 November 2018, and I already knew then that we were going to have a 20th anniversary tasting too.
Why were you so sure of that?
Because the wines had held up surprisingly well, and I felt that they still had so much potential. And after this tasting, I can say that we should celebrate our quarter-century anniversary in a similar way. We still have three or four bottles left from the early vintages, just enough to show a small group of people what a 25-year-old Tokaji Furmint can do.
Did you taste all the wines when you were preparing for the event?
Yes, in mid-summer, ten of us got together and opened a bottle of each vintage. I was not surprised, but the others were really astonished. The 2004, for example, everyone thought it might have been from 2014 or 2015, so they guessed it was a good ten years younger than it was. It’s almost unbelievable that a Furmint from a difficult vintage can defy time so beautifully. If we had known that at the time, we would have kept back 100 bottles, not 50.
What was it that surprised even you?
The early vintages always surprise me too. It’s amazing that the wines from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages show no signs of getting old, no deepening of colour, no oxidation, no signs of fatigue. When poured into the glass, they are all beautiful, oily, with a slight petrol aroma, but you can still feel their power. It’s good to see that our Furmint from the difficult 2010 vintage is still full of energy, and our first wine under screwcap, the 2009, is also in very good shape.
Were there any wines in the flight that showed less well?
There were two years when we used glass stoppers to close our estate Furmint. That was in 2006 and 2016. Interestingly, these wines, although still holding their own, are a little weaker than the others. This was a lesson for us, that the glass stopper had not lived up to our expectations, and we will also go back to cork for our single-vineyard wines.
At this year’s tasting, you presented 20+1 wines, the +1 was this year’s wine, the 2023. Are there any of these that you won’t be able to show at the tasting in five years’ time?
Only the 2006, but only because there are just three bottles left in total. I don’t think there is any reason to worry, experience thus far has convinced us that even the oldest wines have at least five years left in them.
In 2003, when you made the first estate Furmint, there were only a few wineries bottling dry Furmint in Tokaj. You didn’t really know who to turn to for help, but you were onto something, as the wine is still in stunning shape today. What was it that you did so well then?
When we made our first wine, we had no idea it would still be showing so beautifully twenty years later. I can honestly say that I have never tasted a 20-year-old dry white wine in such good condition. We started winemaking with “virgin hands”, but not without knowledge. It took a combination of many small things to produce a wine of this quality in our cellar, but none of those were things that somebody else couldn’t have done. We grow vines like plants in our own garden. We always do everything at the right time and do our utmost to minimise any adverse effects in each vintage. When the grapes are ripe, you have about three days to harvest at the optimum time. We try to hit that three-day window, and it’s important that only healthy bunches end up in the press. There have been years where have had to do three selections on the entire harvest, but nothing that doesn’t belong there should make it into the wine.
Speaking of which, please tell us something about the winemaking!
We don’t crush the grapes, just destem them, then gentle pressing, settling of the must and just very minimal sulphur dioxide is added. This was already the case when we began in 2003. We used to stir the lees, but slowly abandoned this from 2007, and since 2013, we have not made any sulphur dioxide additions to the grapes, must or wine. Instead, we top up twice a week and wash down all the barrels twice a day, because hygiene is very important. Our cellar is spotless. Two years ago, we developed a procedure whereby we don’t move the wine when racking, we just let the lees out. This method not only makes racking less energy and water intensive, but also much simpler.
We know that barrel use is very important when making a wine. What kind of barrels do you use for your wines?
In the early years, we didn’t have a well-developed concept, we used premium barrels from different cooperages, but since 2011, we have only used Kádár Hungary barrels in the cellar. However, the real breakthrough came in 2016 when Kádár Hungary launched their Petraea barrels made from Zemplén sessile oak. This is the benchmark for me, we age our wines in these barrels, with different toasting levels. We don’t want to mask Furmint’s flavour, so it’s important to us that the barrel only supports the character of the wine and doesn’t hide it.
Nowadays, we often hear that Furmint is a great grape variety, but in fact, it makes a truly memorable wine when blended with 15-25% Hárslevelű. What do you think about this?
I say, thank you, I’m happy with Furmint because it has proved itself. We offer up our Hárslevelű to botrytis and use it for our sweet wines. We like our Furmint pure. This variety is happily married to Tokaj. It ripens late but it doesn’t lose its acidity, and it can absorb minerality from Mád’s diverse rocks and subsoils that is still noticeable in the wine twenty years later.
Can you describe what the Dobogó estate Furmint is like?
You’ve tasted the entire flight, so you’ve obviously felt that these wines have somewhat stern aromas. They are not overwhelmingly fruity, but they do have very nice mineral notes, and, like good Riesling, the older Furmints also have a discreet petrol note. They are really great food wines and pair well with fish and seafood. I often add it to risotto too, for example, as Furmint’s mineral flavours really work well here.
The beauty of the 2023 wine was also highlighted by many during the tasting. When will it be released?
We have a long ageing process; all our estate Furmints are barrel fermented, then age in barrel for 10-11 months and rest in bottle for 3-4 years before being released. The current vintage is the 2019, so this year’s Furmint will be released around 2027. We produced 4,500 bottles. We have invited many of our foreign distributors to this tasting, so that they could see its prospects and because we want to show people that they shouldn’t be afraid of laying down any bottles they buy for a few years.
You cultivate four and half hectares, with vines in three emblematic Tokaj vineyards, Úrágya, Szent Tamás and Betsek. You have established your estate centre in the heart of Tokaj, in a beautiful 150-year-old building that houses a 450-year-old cellar carved into the loess. Is the winery open to visitors?
Although exports are very important to us, as 90% of our wines are sold abroad, we also want the Hungarian audience to be familiar with us. We currently trade in eleven countries and, as we don’t have a lot of wine, good management is necessary to ensure that it is available to everyone. Those who do us the honour of visiting us in Tokaj will be shown the building, the winery and, of course, the old ageing cellar, which has a really special atmosphere and makes your pulse quicken. This is an experience that every visitor takes away with them along with the wine, and when they open the bottle at home, they may well remember the picture of the bottles resting peacefully within the old walls.