Klearhos Kanellakis was born in Athens, Greece. After working for Michelin-star restaurants and boutique hotels in Greece he moved to London in 2015 to be part of the opening team at 67 Pall Mall. Four years later he moved to Trivet restaurant, working with Isa Bal MS. Now he is head sommelier and wine buyer for the Nordic restaurant Ekstedt at The Yard in Westminster, a joint venture between Great Scotland Yard Hotel and chef Niklas Ekstedt (one Michelin star at his Ekstedt, Stockholm).
In my early days working as a sommelier in Greece, I came across a glass of Oremus, Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000. The taste was unreal, and I made it my mission to learn more about Furmint, the main grape behind it. Moving to London, and working at members club 67 Pall Mall, a Hungarian colleague, Eniko, introduced me to the unctuous Essencia and dry Szamorodni styles from the region. More excitement built up. A few years later, I had the opportunity to tour the main wine regions of Hungary, visiting Somló and Tokaj, and tasting many different versions of Furmint. Now I visit Hungary whenever I can, as I’m addicted to discovering more and more styles, and vintages of the grape.
Furmint for me is all about freshness, texture, elegance and versatility. It can produce delicious, Chablis-like crisp, dry wines and up to a Chassagne-Montrachet level of richness if we compare it with Chardonnay; and from trocken [dry] to TBA levels of sweetness if comparing it with Riesling. It can make sparkling, or even vin jaune-type wines, too (matured biologically under a layer of flor).
It is a terroir-specific grape, like Pinot Noir. I am lucky to have experienced the differences between crus such as Szent Tamás and Mézes Mály when I visited The Royal Tokaji Wine Company, and Oreg Király when at Barta. In Somló, I met winemaker Károly Kolonics and he introduced me to a richer Furmint style: textural, juicy, riper and fuller in body than many I had tried in Tokaj. I was amazed at what this grape could show when grown in a warmer region, on basalt soils.
When it comes to food pairing, Furmint is an incredibly adaptable grape in its many expressions. The freshness and citrus character of dry Furmint works well with Japanese cuisine (particularly sushi and sashimi). The dry, single-cru Furmints, with their structure and richer mouthfeel, work well with rich seafood, scallops and fish courses
like lobster in creamy sauces. On one occasion, at home, I paired the dry Király Furmint from Juliet Victor with orzo pasta, prawns and lemon zest – it was a perfect match, the salty notes of the prawns contrasting with the fruity and mineral notes of the Furmint.
Sweet Furmints are a dream match for any fruit tarts. Apple, peach or cherry tarts (tarte tatin is a personal favourite) will beautifully pair with the balanced sweetness and the huge range of Furmint’s flavours like honey, ginger, peach, apricot and orange blossom.
Szamorodni and late-harvest Tokaji, which are less sweet than the 5-6 puttonyos category, pair well with spicy Indian food, making the level of spice appear milder. The saffron and ginger spice of the botrytis highlights the Asian spice profile of the dishes.
Discover Furmint: Kanellakis’ two to try
We’re focusing here on the drier side of the grape. First, Juliet Victor, Király Dry Furmint 2017 (£41.69 Vida Wines & Spirits). The Király vineyard is one of the steepest in Tokaj and produces focused wines, with minerality, fresh citrus notes and the structure to age for a decade at least.
The Sanzon, Rány Furmint 2018, on our restaurant list (or £18.90 Hungarian Wine House), has 5g/L residual sugar and so is slightly off-dry. It’s a cooler, more delicate expression, lighter and more floral than the Király wine, with a developing nose of stone fruits, honey and a touch of saffron from the botrytis. Erika, who runs the small family winery, produces about 2,000 bottles. I’d recommend waiting for three or four years after the vintage to open these wines, when the fruit profile will be more developed.