Furmint – Tasting Terroir
By Caroline Gilby MW
One of the features that defines a great grape variety is its ability to reflect terroir or express a sense of place – something that Furmint has in spades.
On a wider scale, there are distinct differences between Furmint grown in its homeland of Tokaj’s cool volcanic hills and the other regions it has spread to. Within Hungary, the basalt bedrock and slight milder climate of Somló gives full-bodied, rich dry wines with a hint of wet stone texture about them – Károly Kolonics produces a very typical example. There’s a fascinating comparison at Zsirai who own vineyards in both Somló and Tokaj. Their wines highlight those terroir differences really clearly, producing a textured, rounder wine in Somló and a more linear acid-driven style in Tokaji.
Furmint beyond borders…
Furmint has made it to a few other countries as well, often in the hands of Hungarians living outside the country’s current borders. In Romania, Balla Géza grows it on the rocky red soils of the Miniş hills, where they rise up to 500 metres overlooking the expanse of the Great Hungarian Plain. His wines have an inviting richness with notes of quince and honey, underscored by Furmint’s hallmark steely vibrancy.
Furmint on the Vineyard
At the more micro scale, it has long been established that there are distinct differences between Furmints grown in different dűlő or vineyard crus in Tokaj itself. Indeed the best of Tokaj’s vineyards have been identified by individual names as far back as the 13th century. The first documented mention of Király-hegy (King Hill) is from 1280 where Barta produces superb wines today from its steeply terraced Öreg Király vineyard. The first known formal classification of the whole region dates back to mid 17th Century under Rákóczi rule, terroir characteristics being identified here long before Bordeaux or Burgundy got in on the act. And at the heart of this was Furmint, and its ability to express these differences. The region consists of hundreds of extinct volcanoes and a soil called Nyirok (a kind of clay-loam derived from volcanic bedrock such as rhyolite tuff) is highly regarded for its notably structured, complex wines: for instance featured in the Rány dűlő Furmint from the tiny organic Sanzon-Tokaj.