FEBRUARY, THE MONTH OF FURMINT
2021. 02. 10.
Furmint has defined the month of February for more than a decade and also, in a sense, the discourse on Hungarian wine. Why is everyone talking about this grape variety? This article will reveal all.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that Furmint does not equal Tokaj, although it is unequivocally the main variety in the Tokaj Wine Region. This is something worth highlighting, as if you only taste Furmint from Tokaj, you are not giving Hungary’s other wine districts a chance, given that the variety also produces exciting wines in the Eger, Sopron, Zala, Badacsony and Somló Wine Districts. Moreover, in Csopak, Olaszrizling was traditionally valued for its ability to preserve freshness, i.e. the flavours and aromas of Csopak Olaszrizling were indeed provided by Olaszrizling in the past (and increasingly in the present too), but its acidity was furnished by Furmint. (The Wine Act also permits up to 15%.) What’s more, you can also find naturally sweet wines, as Furmint is capable of this too. Maybe you have not actually considered the fact that your favourite Tokaji Aszú could well be made of 100% Furmint.
So, it’s a variety that works well in blends and can also hold its own as a dry white wine. Moreover, it can be light, yet not lacking in elegance, as in Slovenia and around Lake Fertő, in Austria and Sopron, but may also come in new world style versions, with long lees ageing and new oak maturation, maybe from Eger or Somló, but even more so from Tokaj. It would be a sin to uncork this latter style without allowing them to age two or three years in bottle. Indeed, experience has shown that they can even hold and develop for up to 15-20 years, if kept in the right conditions! And if all this were not enough, it is also a great sugar pump, so is a wonderful variety for producing the sweet botrytised wines mentioned above, while increasing numbers of producers are crafting traditional method sparkling wine from it too.
And what can such a great all-rounder variety shine at anyway? We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking here that something that is good at everything will end up not shining at anything. Well, the much ado about Furmint seems to have settled down, which also enables greater thought to be given to the variety. The idea of a pure Furmint sparkling base wine has now been replaced (especially in Somló) by the Furmint-Chardonnay pairing, excessive tannin has thankfully spelled the end for overoaked Furmint and, in the interest of drinkability, some Hárslevelű has now ended up in young, fresh wines in Tokaj, meaning that producers are increasingly using the variety for what it is perhaps best at, as a team player.
And if you’d really like to understand Furmint, you have to realise that this neutral grape variety displays its greatest virtue in how it reflects its terroir, meaning that Furmint can actually help you to better discover the wine districts and their individual vineyards.
In these difficult times, when we are all locked up in our homes, you have the chance to imagine exploring Hungary’s landscapes in your hands or, to be more precise, in your glasses. You can discover the crystalline schists near Lake Fertő and the sailboats beyond the distant reeds (courtesy of the Steigler Winery), find out what a coolly elegant dry Tokaj Furmint (such as Sanzon Tokaj’s single vineyard Furmint) is like and how Furmint tastes after long maturation in oak, like a century ago (some of Géza Lenkey’s wines are good examples of this). Imagine you are climbing up to the country’s highest vineyard on the Nagy-Eged Hill near Eger and harvesting some Furmint (just like Nimród Kovács does), making a wine from grapes harvested at full maturity, or slightly overripe, as was most prized in centuries past (like at the Somlói Apátsági Pince) or seeking the basalt bedrock in your glass (like at Balázs Sike’s winery in Badacsony). Furmint is nothing other than a window onto the world and its diverse swirling as well as onto Hungary’s varied landscapes. So, let’s travel around it together in February with a glass of Furmint in hand.