With its fiery acidity, fabulous aromas, vibrant palate, complex body and long finish, Furmint wines are flat out thrilling. From dry to sweet, Furmint encompasses the best of a few white varietals; Riesling’s aromas, with some having that hint of petrol that makes it so intriguing, and its racy acidity, Chenin Blanc’s waxy, honeyed texture, and Chardonnay’s body and balance. Steeped in almost a thousand years of winemaking history, and once the toast of Europe, Furmint fell into oblivion after the chaos of World War II. But since the late 1990’s, the wines have been revived and retooled, crafted in a more modern style, with dry wines taking center stage. FurmintUSA, on a tasting tour through the US, hopes to win over wine lovers, demonstrating the range of Furmint, its complexity and food-friendliness, and mostly its incredible value for the price.
Furmint, indigenous to the Tokaj region of Hungary, are very mineral wines, reflecting the diverse soils of the region. It’s geographic pedigree reflects a volcanic past, the layers of fractured soils yield a mineral content that infuses the wines with hints of iron, limestone, and clay. Tokaj Hill wines, springing from quartz particle sediment, are lighter and fresher, with more fruity aromas. The Mád Basin wines, sourced from volcanic soils, are more mineral and acidic, and typically more elegant.
Furmint grapes make up over 70% of all the wine grapes grown in Tokaj. The wines were relatively unknown, except for its sweet version in Tokaj Aszú, which was once revered across Europe, with French King Louis XV’s proclamation, “the wine of kings and the king of wines”. Dry Furmint has been a local secret, until now. These modern white wines are refreshing when young, but magical when aged. Furmint’s acidity gives it an edge for aging, even a little bit of time in barrel makes the wines enchanting, like an aged Riesling, with its smoky minerality.
FurmintUSA, started by Balazs Humayer and László Bálint, is getting the word out, that Furmint is more than Tokaj Aszú, that dry Furmint comes in many styles, pungent and intense, with the constant of racy acidity and minerality, and flavors of pear, oranges, and lime at its core. Humayer, in an interesting twist, is a distant relative of Count Agoston Haraszthy, who is considered the father of California viticulture in the 1800’s. On their LA stop of their US Tour, 17 Furmint wines from 9 producers were poured at the Hungarian Consulate, many of them single vineyard bottles which illustrated the differences in terroir.
St. Donat Estate’s winemaker, Tamás Kovács, was passionate about the mix of soils that surround his vineyards around Lake Balaton in the Csopak region, with rock samples that show why this region is different from Tokaj, in addition to the climate. Red clay forms the base, rich in iron, calcium, and magnesium, capped with different types of Marl, a type of limestone infused with iron and calcium. His 2013 Márga Furmint ($24) springs from this mix of soils, you can taste the saltiness and deep minerality of it, organically grown grapes, fermented with natural yeast, and aged for 4-6 months in tank and used oak. Kovács says, “we focus on quality, not quantity”. Two dry Furmints are made each year, with a small production of 700 cases. Kovács poured Basilicus Winery’s 2012 Estate Furmint ($19), a blend of Furmint and Hárslevelú, more floral, balanced with citrus, apple, and pear fruit, less acidic, from a cooler climate with volcanic soils, a touch of sweetness on the palate accents the whiff of petrol on the finish. Kovacs also poured the Holdvölgy Winery’s 2013 Vision Furmint ($26), a blend of Furmint, Hárslevelú and Kabar, all indigenous grapes, bright and lemony, with round acidity and full body, more complex with its aromas, flavors, and finish.
Dávid Regéczy of Béres Winery poured a stunning aged Furmint, the 2011 Löcse Furmint ($25), their flagship wine. Aged for at least one year in bottle after 6 months in new and neutral oak barrels, this is an elegant and full bodied wine, with nutty notes and that whiff of petrol, it’s mesmerizing, perfect with game and red meats. The 2013 Majoros Estate’s Deák Furmint ($22) displayed nectarine, Meyer lemon, quince, and almond flavors, with a crushed stone minerality, and a whiff of honey on the nose, beautiful and lively, good with grilled meats. Jarecsni also presented two wines from Barta Winery, the 2012 Old King Furmint ($38), a single vineyard beauty, cultivated with organic methods on volcanic soils, fresh and robust, mineral-driven, perfect with fish and oysters. The 2012 Szamorodni Sweet Furmint ($47) was not so syrupy, well balanced with a blend of healthy and botrytized grapes, its acidity offset the sweet, aged for 18 months in oak barrels, it’s a charmer.
Sándor Zsurki of Gróf Degenfeld Winery poured his 2013 Estate Furmint ($18), a blend of five vineyards, aged in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, a round wine with a touch of sweetness, perfect with Indian food and pork dishes. His 2014 Zomborka Furmint ($24) is a single vineyard wine, aged in neutral oak barrels, a refreshing, lighter style wine. Zsurski represented two other wineries, the Erzsébet Cellar 2012 Estate Furmint ($20), which reflected the wild yeast that was used in the fermentation, with a long characterful finish, and Kvaszinger Winery’s 2013 Estate Furmint ($22), subtle and delicious, with lemon, green apple, and grapefruit flavors, a good pairing for seafood, poultry, and salads.
These Hungarian producers are hoping that Furmint’s future will parallel the story of Austria’s Gruner Veltliner, that once discovered, it will be a major player in restaurant food pairings, and relished by the glass. Once you taste a dry Furmint, you’ll be hooked, captivated by its aromas and flavors, transfixed by its structure and acidity, enthralled with its lingering complexity, and delighted with its price. To learn more, FurmintUSA has an incredibly informative website, with videos, tasting notes, and food pairing ideas, it’s a wine whose time has come.