Furmint might not be a name that registers on your wine radar – yet. Maybe you’ve been drinking it and don’t realize, or perhaps it’s what you should start drinking – now.
Furmint is a white wine grape from Hungary. At only 35,919 square miles, Hungary is about the size of Maine or Indiana but has 22 wine regions, is home to the world’s oldest wine classification system and has a wine history rich in royalty, disaster and corruption that can be traced back centuries.
You could say that the Furmint grape is a tale as old as time (in winemaking, that is).
Tokaji Aszú might be a name that rings a bell for you. These sweet wines from the Tokaj region in Hungary were the wines to drink in the 18th and 19th centuries. The coolest kid on the block. The cream of the crop.
But what does this have to do with Furmint? Furmint is the dominant grape varietal grown in the Tokaj region and is the primary varietal in the Tokaji Aszú blends – a fact that Neil Palladino of Boutique Wine Collection says can be overshadowed by the distinctiveness of a name like Tokaji Aszú.
Aszú is a type of wine made from grapes that have been infested by botrytis mold, or noble rot. The high natural acidity and high sugar level of the Furmint grape are improved by the mold, which intensifies the sweetness level and adds flavor complexity perfect for the sweet wines that are still renowned today.
“Sweet wines of Tokaj are really epic wines, wines that will really hang with you,” says sommelier Christian Broder.
But today, Hungarian and other Central European winemakers are crafting a new Furmint tale, or perhaps revising the old one.
Christian says winemakers are appealing to the masses (in recent years, sweet wines have accounted for the lowest preferred wine style among Americans) with the production of dry Furmint – wines that he says are notably fresh, fruity but dry.
On the palate, Christian says you can get tastes of citrus, orchard fruit or stone fruit (lime and pear are typical flavor elements), and you can even get hints of honey, beeswax and ginger – which are the flavors associated with noble rot and the beloved flavors you’d find in the Tokaji sweet wines. Additionally, smoky or spicy flavors can come through aged dry Furmints.
It’s this new, reborn life of Furmint that lacks the history and fame, but is helping the Furmint grape gain wider recognition.
“Overall, the movement to expand the international market of dry Furmint from Tokaj is probably about 16 to 20 years old, with recent recognition coming over the last 6 to 10 years…a blink in the history of the wine world,” says Neil.
Neil has seen a growing acceptance of what consumers consider ‘nontraditional’ grape varieties, which may contribute to the success he sees with the Evolúció, Tokaj Furmint in this month’s box.
What might also be helping Furmint, is that it’s easier for Americans to pronounce than some other Hungarian grape varietals (think: Kékfrankos or Hárslevelű).
Yet another factor, Neil says, is that “its appeal, as a grape variety, starts with its versatility. The wines that can be produced range from dry, mineral-driven and structured with high acidity to the sweet botrytis wines.”
Winemakers are hitting on a taste that many wine drinkers won’t refuse with the dry Furmint: light, dry, crisp, refreshing. While the name Furmint doesn’t immediately invoke these tastes – it has ‘fur’ in the name (though it’s pronounced “foor-meent” in Hungarian) – this is exactly what dry Furmint is.