You’ll no doubt have heard about Veganuary, Movember, or NOctober. Furmint February is a variation on that theme, but with an unabashedly hedonistic agenda. It is a month dedicated to the promotion of the Furmint grape, a Hungarian variety that plays a particularly important role in the world-famous wines of Tokaj.
Furmint is a wonderfully versatile grape. It can produce a whole range of styles and flavour profiles, from masculine, stern and bone dry, through fruity and charming, to rich, creamy and sweet. It responds well to oak maturation, makes fine sparkling wines, and has serious ageing potential. When well made, it is expressive of terroir and has great structure. It may not be the easiest grape variety to grow, but with sufficient care it produces stunning results.
We introduce here three wines from our list, each of which shows a different face of Furmint and is an excellent example of what this grape variety can achieve:
the award-winning Kreinbacher Classic Brut is a dry non-vintage sparkling wine
the Tokajicum Tokaji Furmint 'Vizsla' 2018 is a single-vineyard dry wine
the sweet Tokajicum 5 Puttonyos Aszú 2018 is an age-worthy dessert wine
While Furmint is traditionally associated with Tokaj, it is not the only wine region in Hungary where that grape variety is grown. The Kreinbacher Classic Brut is made in the Somló region, in west Hungary. Because Furmint is not a very fruit-forward grape variety and has lots of acidity, it is the perfect ingredient for stylish, elegant and creamy sparkling wines. Produced using the traditional Champagne method, the dry Kreinbacher Classic Brut shows all the characteristics of classic Champagne: fine but persistent mousse, toasty flavours, good acidity and refined structure. On the palate, fresh pomelo and green apple notes as well as some smokiness, and long, honeyed finish. This wine was gold medal-winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards of 2019.
For centuries, Furmint was used to make the sweet dessert wines of Tokaj. In the last twenty years, however, a revolution has swept through the region and today more and more producers are making dry Furmints, which in the past was an unknown concept. The Tokajicum Tokaji Furmint 'Vizsla' 2018 showcases the lighter side of this quintessential Tokaj variety. A medium-bodied and approachable wine, partially tank-fermented to retain the grapes' delightful fruitiness, followed by a period of barrel ageing for added depth and character. Restrained nose of peaches, pears, honey and a touch of quince. Smooth, creamy palate dominated by peach and pear, elegantly complemented by honeyed notes and buttery, toasty flavours from barrel ageing. A fine wine with good acidity and fine balance.
One of the most exciting qualities of the Furmint grape is that it responds well to noble rot, a fungal infection that attacks the vines around harvest time and which creates shrivelled grapes with amazing concentrations of sugar and flavour. It is this noble rot that gives Aszú wines their unique flavour and creamy texture. To produce Aszú, the shrivelled berries are picked one by one, over the course of several weeks, and soaked in a base wine - a very labour-intensive and risky endeavour, which explains why Aszús tend to be expensive. The key in a good Aszú is the combination of luscious sweetness with intense acidity, which is why the high-acidity Furmint grape is such a great choice. When making these famed wines, Furmint is often blended with other grape varieties, which will contribute other characteristics such as floral and fruity flavours and structure. The Tokajicum 5 Puttonyos Aszú, for example, is a blend of Furmint and Hárslevelű, another indigenous Hungarian variety. The wine has a lovely deepening gold hue with an orange shade. It abounds in herbal and spicy aromas, followed by apricot, honey, caramel and orange blossom on the palate. The lively acidity easily counterbalances the lush sweetness of the wine, which finishes on a long, floral note.
It is a very exciting time for Hungary as winemakers discover the fantastic qualities and potential of Furmint, this hitherto underused grape variety. To quote Steven Spurrier, one of the most senior figures on the world wine scene, ‘Furmint will be the new Albariño. Except people got bored with Albariño after a while; they won’t get bored with Furmint.’ Mark his words.