When it comes to Hungarian wine February is all about celebrating Furmint and Wines of Hungary’s Furmint February promotion as the flag bearer for the country’s wine and, in particular, its journey into the UK market. But there are clearly so many more wine styles and varieties to discover. Here we talk to Hungary’s award winning and champion sommelier Szik Matyás about why he thinks Hungarian wines can be such a success on wine lists across the premium on-trade.
If you are serious about finding our more about Hungarian wines for your list, then who better to ask than three times Champion Sommelier of Hungary, Szik Matyás.
Tell us about your background and how you got into wine?
I started to work in the wine business around 10 years ago. Which is a bit of a departure from my degree in history. But then half of my family works in the on- trade and the other is in hospitality. All my life I’ve known that I like to work with people and that I was more aware of tastes and smells than others. So it was a natural step to want to become a sommelier.
What was it about being a sommelier that really stood out?
I thought being a sommelier is somehow like being a rockstar of the culinary world. I still think the same to some extent, the only difference is now I know all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. But I like to entertain people and like to find the right balance between food and wine, and other drinks, and what is the right combination for any given customer. I also like to learn and how to deal with luxury products and high profile guests. I have always wondered what it is like to become a true gentleman – and I have tried to become one being a sommelier.
What training have you done in your wine career?
I started with WSET and now I’m in the Court of Master Sommeliers programme. My biggest achievement to date has been winning the Best Sommelier of Hungary competition on three occasions, first in 2014 and then in 2015 and 2016. All the endless working hours of learning that went into winning these three times has been all the training I have needed. But now I am looking to go to the next level and am preparing for the certified exam of the Court – and then who knows…
What kind of restaurants have you worked in and what sort of wine lists did they have?
I first started working in fine dining at a high profile steak house. This was my very first serious project working with a wine list and having staff to train as well. Of course, being a steak restaurant, the main focus was on red wine, but we still had the opportunity to build up a nice selection of whites as well. After that, and until December 2017, I spent three years as head sommelier and beverage manager of the Hotel Four Seasons Budapest Gresham Palace. I was responsible for all the hotel’s different restaurants and bars wines lists.
What style of Hungarian wines sell best in Hungary?
Light and easy to drink white wines, but also the more concentrated whites like Furmint and Hárslevelű also do well. Rosé is also very much in fashion in Hungary as well, just like it is everywhere around the world.
What is the knowledge of wine like amongst Hungarian customers?
I would say there is a lot more to do on that. It is getting better year by year, or vintage by vintage. People are now a little more confident about their own choices and which wines suit their personal preferences.
What imported wines are the most popular and is that changing?
I would say Italian and French wines above a certain level are the most most common and popular in fine dining restaurants. But it is changing. New Zealand is coming and there is also some room for the lesser known varieties and countries as well.
What Hungarian styles of wine do you think are best suited to overseas markets?
Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet for sure. The emphasis in Hungary is more about the drinkability than about the variety. I would also Riesling is an easy to drink style from Hungary and there is still big potential in our natural sweet wines as well.
What do you think of Furmint and how it has developed in Hungary?
Furmint is a good chance for Hungary to show it can produce modern styles of elegant and concentrated white wines to match those being made around the world. We need to focus on producing easy to drink wines that can be an alternative to the over extracted and super mineral and complex wines in the every day category. Furmint gives us the chance to produce one of the most concentrated and elegant styles of wine with long ageing potential. Then there is also Hárslevelű too…
Why do you think Furmint is the flagship grape variety of Hungary?
It’s probably the most easy to pronounce variety to come out of Hungary. It is also a style that is a very good option as a gastronomical wine on a list. It does not mean, though, that there are not other styles that also have a bright future.
Why would you recommend sommeliers to list Furmint on their wines lists?
Because Furmint is very gastronomical variety. Like Chenin Blanc it also stretches from the very sweet to the bone dry and you can find the producer with the right style to fit your list. It is also a great wine to go against traditional European and there are endless options for food and wine pairing – believe me!
- Wines of Hungary is 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 email@example.com or Zsuzsa Toronyi at firstname.lastname@example.org.