Furmint is building a reputation as the next big thing for thrilling dry white wines. It channels Riesling in having the ability to go from bone-dry to lusciously sweet in style, always underscored by a streak of refreshing acidity. Then it can also resemble Chardonnay, being capable of producing fine sparkling wine, steely linear whites (think mouthwatering, spicy Chablis) and complex, layered ones (think Burgundy on steroids).
This all makes genetic sense: Furmint is a half-sibling of Riesling and Chardonnay via its parent, Heunisch Weiss (a synonym for Gouais Blanc). But there’s much more to the variety: the way, for example, that it seems to express bohemian wildness along with the poise and build of an aristocrat; or, perhaps most importantly, its extraordinary ability to reflect Hungary’s unique volcanic terroir.
Hungary is the world’s biggest grower of Furmint, with more than 3,700ha planted nationally (HNT National Council of Wine Communities, August 2020). It is inextricably linked with Tokaj, where it’s the most planted grape at more than 3,500ha, though there are also exciting examples on the volcanic soils of Somló and the northern shores of Lake Balaton.
Dry wines have always existed in Tokaj, in years when the noble rot-affected Aszú didn’t work out, but the switch to purposely made, high-quality dry wines is more recent. Good dry wines need healthy grapes, not rotten ones (even if they’re of the noble sort). Higher sites above the fog zone, along with lower-yielding clones selected from pre-communist-era vines and new approaches to winemaking have meant rapid evolution towards today’s exciting new generation of wines.
Dry Furmint: Gilby’s six of the best
Szepsy, Urbán 73, Tokaj 2017 96
An impressive, layered and complex wine with a quality and style that lovers of top Burgundy would recognise. It’s only made in the best years, from a tiny plot of vines from the 1930s in a top-rated Tokaj vineyard. Inviting aromas with notes of ripe apple, yellow plum and meadowsweet lead on to a richly textured mouthfeel underscored by fine mineral acidity and great length. Drink 2021-2030 Alcohol 14.5%
Sauska, Birsalmás, Tokaj 2018 94
From a vineyard carefully restored from its communist history while preserving its precious legacy of old vines, this has a very fine, delicate bouquet with quince flowers (the name Birsalmás means ‘quince grove’), acacia and fresh apple, and a touch of creamy oak. The palate is sleek and harmonious with fine acids, great precision and lovely length. Drink 2021-2027 Alc 14%
Tokaj Nobilis, Barakonyi, Tokaj 2018 93
Sarolta Bárdos inherited her favourite Barakonyi vineyard, and it has been certified organic since 2018. Barrel fermentation and six months of ageing have produced this lovely, expressive Furmint that has peach and floral notes, good body and intensity. Harmonious and fresh, with a twist of orange zest on the finish. Drink 2021-2025 Alc 13%
Barta, Oreg Király Dűlő, Mád, Tokaj 2018 92
£24.75 Corney & Barrow
A limpid, pale green-gold wine with notes of apple blossom, Asian pear and citrus peel. It’s finely balanced and refreshing with attractive fruit weight Subtle winemaking by Vivien Ujvári showcases the terroir – the steep terraces of Tokaj’s highest ‘Old King’ vineyard, carefully restored by Barta. Drink 2021-2025 Alc 12.5%
SanzonTokaj, Rány, Tokaj 2018 92
£16.49 Novel Wines
A tiny 3ha organic estate owned by Erika Rácz and her husband. Organic and minimal-intervention approaches allow the lovely mineral purity of this single-plot Furmint to shine, underscoring gentle fruit notes of nectarine, mango and zesty citrus. Drink 2021-2025 Alc 13.5%
Zsirai, Szent Tamás, Mád, Tokaj 2018 91
Sisters Kata and Petra have produced their first single-vineyard wine from one of Tokaj’s best locations, with stunning views over Mád. It has lovely expressive aromas of blossom, quince and lemon, and fantastic structure, with Furmint’s typical steely fresh backbone. It should age well too. Drink 2021-2027 Alc 13%