Monovarietal tastings can be risky affairs. Like being sat next to someone you find hard work, at a wedding reception, they can feel torturously infinite.
As #furmintfebruary23 draws to a close, I look back at the day-long tasting in London, with a good deal of joy. Furmint – back in the days when I was doing my WSET Diploma – was aligned uniquely to the great sweet wines of Tokaj. Hungary’s communist past substantially stifled a wider appreciation of Furmint, and truthfully it has been slow to make its mark on me.
Better late than never. I am a convert. It has charm and character in equal abundance. Furmint is a magnificent storyteller, articulately and deliciously reflecting its terroir. If that isn’t enough to persuade you, then its versatility in style and price and its undoubted gastronomic credentials should do the trick.
Dr Caroline Gilby and Gergely Somogyi’s masterclass, Connecting with Place: The Singe Vineyard Story brought Furmint fully and vividly to life. Given that Hungary’s concentrated quality efforts regarding dry Furmint are just over twenty years old, you must be impressed.
Single vineyards are known as Dülös or Dülöszelektált, and comeees from dül, meaning slope. A Dülö is like the French AOP and there are currently 414 across Tokaj’s 27 towns and villages. Tokaj’s volcanic history gives complex and varied terror and altitude too.
Vineyards are planted on various volcanic rock, including andesite, basalt, rhyolite and rhyodacite. Quartz crystals are found on the top layers, occurring as loess and sandy soils. In some of the finest sites, as many as 35 individual soils layers have been identified.
The masterclass included wines from the Kis-Garai where vines are planted on loess over dacite at altitudes that reach 350ml above sea level, in contrast to wines from Király Szamorodni where soils are red clay mixed with rhyolite and zeolites.
Of the nine wines tasted, I loved the Mestervölgy Furmint 2018 from Füleky Winery. Here the vineyards sit between 140 to 200 meters above sea level on loess and clay soils over andesite bedrock. The wine was wonderfully textural, with benchmark white autumnal orchard fruit – pear and quince with apricot stone too. Impressive length and a lovely supple quality. It was a good contrast to the equally enjoyable but very different Palota Furmint 2013, which is made from fruit grown on volcanic rocks, that brough impressive sip and energy to a wine that is now 10 years old. Evident complexity and breadth make clear the impressive ageing potential of Furmint too.
Outside the masterclass I was deeply impressed by the wines of Zsirai Winery, run by sisters Kata and Petra Zsirai. Their 18-hectare estate includes plantings on some of Tokaj’s finest vineyards: Bestek, Középhegy, Szt. Tamás and Úrágya. I foud their wines to be uniformly elegant and wonderfully expressive. The standout being the 2019 Betsek.
An impressive masterclass, with lots to learn. Furmint has a guaranteed spot in both my wine collection and heart too.
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