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Enjoy Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris? Try Hungary’s Furmint!

Enjoy Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris? Try Hungary’s Furmint!

Furmint vines bud early and ripen late

Until I read the Harriet Lembeck article on Furmint (January 2015, Beverage Dynamics), I thought it was a new Swiss chocolate/mint truffle. Lembeck references Bordeaux’s Samuel Tinon a sweet wine maker, who moved to the Tokaji region of Hungary, eager to make wine with botrytis cinera, or noble rot. Unfortunately for Tinon, because of climate change, botrytis was decreasing in the region, forcing him (and other wine makers) to switch from making sweet wines to dry white wines or find another enterprise.

The Grapes 

Furmint (a French word for wheat) is thought to have been given to the grape because of its common golden color. Typically the aromas range from green apple, apricots, marzipan and pear to mango and pineapple while sending love notes of florals to the nose. The honey and nutty notes are derived from the partial fermentation in oak barrels. The newly designed dry wines share a bright and perky acidity making for pleasant sips from brunch and lunch through dinner. The pungent aromas are compared to Sauvignon Blanc, the richness and oak-friendliness of Chardonnay with the minerality and acidity of Riesling, and the fruitiness of Chenin Blanc.

Marks & Spence Jeneve Williams has commented, “It’s only with greater use of modern winemaking techniques that Furmint has become regarded for dry wines – giving very distinctive flavours of quince, pear and green herbs, fantastic mineral qualities and some intriguing spicy notes.”

These wines should be properly chilled (when they reach room temperate cloying sweetness seeps through), and enjoyed while young (no more than 4 years after harvest).

Recommended pairings include lobster in butter sauce, hard cheese (Ementali) and charcuterie.

History

When the Mongol invaders departed in the 13th century, the Hungarian king encouraged European winegrowers (who may have brought the Furmint vines from northern Italy) to bring their wine making skill-set to his country. Through 1990 Hungarians could make wine for friends and family or for the communal vat of a state cooperative. The industry focus was to export wine to the Soviet Union where the emphasis was on quantity rather than quality.

Today, most dry Furmint is found in the Somlo region of the country (northwest Hungary); however, the Balatonfured-Csopak region (northern shore of Lake Balaton, southwest of Budapest), is also growing these grapes. In addition, the area below Slovakia and west of the Ukrainian border is being for Tokaj grapes.

The Tokaj wine region is bordered by Slovakia and the Ukraine. South-facing slopes of rocky ash, dense clay and loamy loess over volcanic bedrock provide the terroir for the region’s grapes.

Tastings

Hungary Heralds 2017: The Year of Furmint

The government of Hungary declared 2017 as the year to celebrate Furmint wines with the objective of bringing the wines to the attention of domestic and international trade and consumer groups. The Consul General/Ambassador of Hungary, Ferenc Kumin, PhD, recently hosted a Furmint wine tasting at the Hungarian Consulate on Manhattan’s eastside. Laszlo Balint, a noted wine expert, the Co-founder and Director of Operations for Furmint USA (www.furmintusa.com) and the importer of fine Hungarian wines, Athena Bochanis, Esq., presented a curated selection of Furmints for review and consideration by wine journalists, educators and vendors.

The food pairings were presented by the Chef Andres Hernadi a graduate of Gundel Culinary School. Prior to his association with the Consul General he was part of the food and beverage team at the Meridian Hotel in Budapest.

Furmint Curated

The vineyards of winemaker, Tamas Kis are located in Somlo-hegy. The area was originally the sea bed of a volcano. The basalt cap resisted erosion and the surrounding landscape are now the Somlo hills. Prior to starting his own winery, Kis was associated with a winery in Eger. In 2014 he started his enterprise in Hungary’s smallest DOC.

Somloi Vandor Furmint 2015

Half of the production is fermented in 500L new Hungarian oak barrels and the other half is spontaneously fermented in stainless steel tanks. Following fermentation the wines are tanked-aged together for six months.

• Clear to the eye while the nose detects earth, peaches, apples and florals. On the palate a hint of salt and stone, along with florals and fruit with a hint of tannins. Long and complex finish. Pair with monkfish and grilled rice, pickled clams and broth.

St. Donat Estate

Tamas Kovacs is both owner and winemaker. The estate is named after the patron saint of the Balaton wine region who started as a legionnaire in Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ elite troops during the 1st century AD. As the battle continued in the Roman province of Pannonia (currently western Hungary), he turned to God for help. A heavy storm quickly formed and destroyed enemy lines, leaving the Romans untouched and ultimately victorious.

• Marga Furmint Selection 2015. Estate bottled

Fifty percent fermented in stainless steel with temperature control, 30 percent in 250L, pyrogranite stone vessels and 20 percent in 225L third filled French oak barrels.

(Pyrogranite refers to ornamental ceramics that were developed by the Zsolnay Porcelain factory and placed in production in 1886. Fired at high temperature, this durable material remains acid and frost-resistant). The wine is aged in stainless steel and pyrogranite stone vessels.

• To the eye, almost crystal clear. The nose is delighted with light florals and hints of bananas, apples, carrots, stones and wet rocks. The palate enjoys sweet apples tempered with a hint of minerality that leads the way to a dry finish. Pair with goose liver pate, grilled and baked fish, roast chicken, or pasta.

Kvaszinger Birtok Furmint 2013

The chief winemaker is Laszlo Kvaszinger. His family arrived in Tokaj in the late 1800s. In 1929 Kvaszinger’s great grandfather, Odon, paid the local baron’s gambling debts and received Hatalos vineyard as a token of his appreciation. The family continued to maintain the land through the 20th century, through two World Wars and the communist control of the country.

Today, Birtok Furmint is fermented in stainless steel tanks with selected yeast. Following fermentation it is aged in steel tanks for 2-3 months and then in 500L barrels for 10 months.

• To the eye, light golden color. The nose detects almonds, herbs and fruits with a backbone of sweetness. The palate finds minerality that keeps the floral notes from becoming exaggerated.

Grof Degenfeld Winery

The German-Hungarian Degenfeld family dates back to medieval Switzerland. Count Imre Degenfeld was a founder of the Tokaj Region Wine Producers Association since 1857. In the 1990s, the family purchased 250 acres of Tokaj vineyards to reestablish the century old cellar that housed the Royal Vintners College. As of 1999 the Grof Degenfeld Winery has produced organic wines on 88 acres in Tarcal and Mad. The winemaker is Sandor Zsurki.

Degenfeld Furmint Dry 2015

100 percent fermented in stainless steel tanks for 2 weeks with selected yeast. Aged in stainless steel tanks.

• Pale yellow to the eye, with hints of chestnuts and flowers to the nose. Modest natural sugars that are the result of searing summer temperatures. Mild and pleasant finish. Pair with roast chicken

More than Wines

From Budapest to Tokaj is a 2.5 drive and it has become a popular wine tourism destination. To support the tourism industry (including hotels, food and wine), the EU (2014-2020) has committed EUR 28 million each year to be spent on planting new vineyards, purchasing machinery and marketing. While other countries have greater opportunities for mass produced wines, the focus of the Hungarian wine industry is on quality.

Because the wine sector is important to the Hungarian economy, pumping millions of Euros into the agriculture sector, The Ministry of Rural Development and the National Council of Wine Communities (HNT) has launched a national wine program and introduced the Wine Communities Act to enable organizational change. The National Council of Wine Communities (HNT) operates as an advocate organization for Hungary’s 72 thousand winemakers.

For additional information on Furmint, click here.

This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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