For the past 10 years February has been the month when winemakers and local communities in Hungary come together to celebrate Furmint, one of its most famous indigenous white grape varieties. Next year Wines of Hungary wants to bring a flavour of those celebrations to the UK with its very own Furmint February promotion, including on January 30 and the day when it claims a record number of Furmint wines and producers (over 20 producers and 60 wines) will come together at London’s 67 Pall Mall to show UK buyers and sommeliers what these wines can potentially do for their wine lists.
Furmint is just one of the many grape varieties that is helping Hungary make waves in the UK on-trade. Buyers now have the chance to see what the variety might mean for their business at an exclusive Furmint tasting in London followed by a month of trade events.
Furmint might have been part of the Hungarian wine culture since the 16th century, but it is only really been in the last 15 years when producers have taken the grape variety so seriously, not only for domestic sales, but developing wine styles that have caught the imagination of wine buyer around the world – particularly the UK. That momentum, buoyed by the earlier fall of the communism regime, has helped producers really take the variety on to new levels as they have found a new purpose for this old grape and how it can perform across different regions, terroir and soil types and under different vinification techniques in the cellar.
Wines of Hungary goes as far to say that the country is going through what it calls a Furmint revolution where, as well as the country’s famous sweet wines, Furmint is now building a strong reputation for dry wines. The current crop of winemakers from Tokaj, says Lilla O’Connor head of Wines of Hungary UK, “is a mixture of well-educated new talent and youth, as well as some very experienced hands”. “Between them,” adds Wine of Hungary’s Zsuzsa Toronyi, “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!”
Caroline Gilby MW, who has been a supporter and advocate for Hungarian wine for some time, says her first memory of the variety goes back to 2004. “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,” she 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’.”
Gilby says one of the most exciting aspects of 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,” she adds. “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.”
Furmint is also a variety that takes on many different guises depending on where it is grown. Or, as Gilby says, its “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,” she explains.
Whilst many might only be getting to know Furmint for the first time – starting next February – this is a variety that has already shown how well it can age and mature. As Gilby says: “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.”
- As well as the tasting at 67 Pall Mall on January 30, Wines of Hungary will be running a month of activities to promote Furmint February including an incentive programme for importers and retailers, to hopefully push Furmint out to more consumers through special events, tastings and promotions, all under the #furmintfebruary19 hashtag.
- There is also a three day trip to Tokaj up for grabs as well for the retailer or on-trade business that goes beyond the norm to promote the initiative. They will need to show what they have done in terms of taking on Furmint listings and then promoting them to their customers through events, tastings and social media during February 2019. Peter McCombe MW will then select the winner from the entries.
- Wines of Hungary is also running a Furmint Lover of the Week competition and the chance to win a case of Furmint wine for each week during February for anyone who shows on social media just how much they love Furmint.
- To get involved or find our more go to furmintfebruary.c0.uk or contact Lilla O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org or Zsuzsa Toronyi at email@example.com.