For the past ten years in Hungary, February has been the month when we celebrate Furmint. This year we will make Furmint February come to life in the UK. On 30th January, some lucky members of 67 Pall Mall and the wine trade will be able to taste over sixty Furmints (almost certainly a record for the number of Furmints ever gathered together under one roof in the UK), displaying different wine regions, winemakers, terroir, vinification techniques and styles of this one variety.
In A Nutshell
Since 2004, when Hungary and its winemakers gave their backing to this variety, we began to recognize the great potential of Furmint and saw how much excitement it could create. Just over a decade after the fall of communism, we Hungarians found a new purpose for this old grape that has been there since the 16th century, as far as anyone knows. Apart from our lovely sweet wines and some good quality house wines, no-one had realised Furmint’s potential for making dry wines. Today we are going through a Furmint revolution. The current crop of winemakers from Tokaj is a mixture of well-educated new talent and youth, as well as some very experienced hands. Between them, this generation of Tokaj producers – and some in Somló and other regions of Hungary – are making some very exciting Furmints. It is has been a revolution and this is the time to get involved!
For the whole month, we will run Furmint February, an incentive programme with the participation of importers and retailers, to serve Furmint to wine lovers, to encourage tasting of Furmint and to talk about the variety. Look out for #furmintfebruary19 online too!
Caroline Gilby MW’s Perspective
We have asked one of the biggest advocates of Furmint, Caroline Gilby MW for her thoughts on Furmint. Caroline says:
“The name Furmint has been quietly cropping up more and more on shop shelves and wine lists in the UK, but if you haven’t discovered it yet, Furmint February is your chance to see why Furmint is the next big thing in wine.
This Hungarian grape variety has multiple claims to joining the ranks of great grapes. It may have originated in Hungary where it first appeared by that name in 1611. As the most important grape in the Tokaj region, it has played a key role in the reputation of the gorgeous sweet wines of Tokaji as the “Wine of kings and king of wines.
One exciting thing about Furmint is its versatility. It has some similarities to Riesling – able to go from bone-dry, crisp and vibrant; to intensely sweet, always with its hallmark steely acidity. At the same time, it has a touch of Chardonnay’s nature about it – capable of fine sparkling wines and able to respond well to oak and malolactic fermentation to give layered complex, almost Burgundian wines. This all makes sense when you look at what is known about its genetics – it is offspring of the prolific Gouais Blanc (aka Heunisch Weiss) making it a half-sibling of both Chardonnay and Riesling.
Another important feature of any quality grape is an ability to reflect terroir. Furmints grown in Slovenia, Romania or even other Hungarian regions like Somló are distinctive, while within Tokaj, single vineyard selections show clearly how it responds to different micro-locations. The final question for a grape to establish its quality credibility is age-worthiness. There’s a long track record of the luscious Aszú wines being able to age for decades, but serious dry wines are relatively new on the scene, though recent tastings of 15 year-old dry wines show that Furmint can mature with grace. The warm dry vintage of 2003 was a turning point for many producers, to think about making dry wines deliberately rather than as an afterthought. This requires different vineyard management for healthy grapes, rather than noble rot. It’s been a rapid learning curve to learn how best to grow and vinify this new generation of amazing dry wines.
Whether your choice is sparkling, dry or sweet, Furmint can offer it all superbly well.”
Caroline’s Personal Story
“I was lucky enough to taste the legendary 2000 Úrágya Furmint with István Szepsy in around 2004. This amazing wine gave me my first inkling that as well as gorgeous sweet wines, Furmint is great enough to make stunning dry wines too. This vineyard name (or dűlő in Hungarian) means God’s bed as it is where the sun sets – a great, if steep, place for a run too”