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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Furmint Grape

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A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
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About Furmint

(Synonyms: Bijeli, Edler Weisser, Gelber Furmint, Mislovai, Mosler, Moslovac, Posip, Sauvignon vert, Sipon, Tokay, Tokayu, Tokayer, Zapfner)

Background

Furmint grapes Map showing the Tokaj-Hegyalja region

Furmint is a white-wine grape originating in Hungary (though perhaps brought there many centuries ago from the Piedmont region of Italy). It is not infrequently used to make a usually monovarietal dry table wine (though sometimes it is blended with Hárslevelü and Sárga Muskotály), but most consider its best and highest use to be in the famed dessert wine Tokay (often spelt Tokaji), and it is that use that makes it generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). Today, production remains centered in Hungary, but also extends to Slovakia and Austria and a few other locales in the same general region. Most dry Furmint today comes from the Somlo region (in northwest Hungary).

The grape is naturally a very high-acid and high-sugar one (as is normal for grapes often used for dessert wines). As a dry table wine, it has the potential to make wines of some power and complexity; notable flavor elements usually associated with Furmint wines are smoke, lime, and pear. As a dessert wine, it has those qualities plus many others: often cited are marzipan, blood orange, apricots, barley sugar,tobacco, tea, cinnamon, and even chocolate. (Per Oz Clarke.) Tokay being so eminent a wine, Furmint as a table wine had almost vanished till its revival in that use in recent years. As the world market is exposed to dry Furmint, it is reasonable to expect that the demand for it will rise significantly, considering its positive atributes. (On this site, we deal only with Furmint as a table-wine grape.)

Factoid: Furmint tends to be confused in the literature with several other grapes, notably Sauvignon Vert, Poŝip, and Grasă de Cotnari; some of the alternate names are really different grapes, but some alternate names for different grapes are also names used for Furmint. It's a mess.


Some Descriptions of Furmint Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The grape has the potential to produce wines with naturally high levels of acidity with complex flavors derived from phenolic compounds in the juice and through brief contact with the grape skins. Furmint wines, particularly the botrytized dessert wines, can have immense aging potential . . . This potential comes from the balance of acidity and high levels of sugars in the wine which act as preservatives during the aging process. Dry styles of Furmint are characterized by their aroma notes of smoke, pears and lime."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Dry styles of Furmint are increasingly popular, and are marked out by their rich, sometime smoke-scented wines. Aromas of lime rind, pears and oranges are often described in such wines. As it ages, Furmint wines take on copper- and amber-like colors and nutty, spicy flavors."

  • Tim Atkin

    "It is an unusually versatile grape. The wines can vary in colour from the lighter, leaner, silver-green Furmints of Austria, right through to the deep golden versions from Hungary, with the Slovenian ones sitting somewhere in the middle. The grape is thought to take its name from froment, the French word for wheat, referring to the more common golden colour it displays. The typical aromas range from green apple and pear through to more tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple. It works well in a fruity, unoaked style, but it also takes very well to ageing in oak barrels. What all the dry styles have in common is a bright, vibrant acidity running through them, making them buzz with energy. Furmint is like a white grape supergroup. It's got it all: the pungent aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc; the richness and oak-friendliness of Chardonnay; the minerality and acidity of Riesling. Somehow it manages to combine all these attributes into one unified whole. Not surprisingly, it is often a pretty intense experience."

  • Royal Tokaji

    "Furmint's characteristics are clear, apricot and a hint of honey on the nose. The depth of fruit is balanced by its mineral backbone."

  • Snooth

    "Characteristics of the grape: natural acidity that adds structure to both dry and dessert wines. As a dry wine, flavors are pear, fresh apricot, peach, smoke."

  • Blue Danube Wine Company

    "Dry vinified Furmint has a bright, golden yellow color with greenish tints, a fruity bouquet reminiscent of ripe apples and hay with hints of spice, and the taste of peaches, apricots and walnuts. After aging in wood it develops an aroma of honey and walnuts. Rich in extract, it makes a heady, robust wine. "

  • Jancis Robinson

    "Furmint, known in Slovenia as Šipon, is of course the classic white grape variety of Hungary's sweet, golden Tokaji but an increasing proportion of it, even in north east Hungary, is now being vinified dry and shows just how noble this grape variety is. Since about 2003, Hungarian growers have been experimenting with making dry whites from this fiery grape, trying out oak ageing and lees contact, and some of them even seeking out specific terroirs most suitable for dry white wine growing."

  • Soilful Wines

    "Many dry white wines are made from the Furmint grape, which is a very high quality grape that probably originated in Hungary. The grape forms the major part of plantings in Tokaj (about 70%) and is known for its complexity of flavor, its finesse, longevity, high acidity and sometimes high alcohol. Young wines . . .can have flavors of lime peel, pears and some steeliness if made in the correct way. Sometimes picking at the wrong times can affect the ability of the flavors to come out, where perhaps the acidity is piercing high but the flavor is subdued."


Some Furmints to Try

(About this list.)

At first, we were pleased with how many reasonably priced dry Furmints seemed to be out there; but, on examination, it turns out that the great part of them are carried by very few retailers, often just a single one. We dont like these lists to virtually lock in some one or few retailers, so we have gone with those that are widely available (but still reportedly fine specimens).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Kiralyudvar Sec Furmint, $10 - $25. (Kiralyudvar makes other Furmints as well; this is their "Sec" type, 80% Furmint, 20% Hàrslevelü.)
         ($18.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Redolent of scents of hay, lemon zest, and minerals, this dry white wine is a blend of furmint (70%) and another indigenous white grape in Tokaj called hárslevelu (30%). It's worth noting that the wine has just 12.3% alcohol. Királyudvar Tokaji Sec 2005 is like no other dry white wine you or I have ever tasted. It reminds one of white Burgundy with its rich, thick texture and exceptional finesse — yet it's nothing like chardonnay in taste. It's more individual and particular than that.

    Light gold, lemon rim. Medium intense, very ripe quince and pear, acacia and floral tones. Quite a low level of sugar giving it a moderate sweetness, crisp freshness followed by honey, peach, quince and balanced by citrus of lime and grapefruit. Rich minerals on the back-palate, very good balance, medium finish. 16.5

    Pale lemon yellow, slightly oxidized style, fat nose, honey, apricots. Very agreeable acidity, fresh even if it doesn't quite feel that way, citrus finish. 84

    Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec 2007 is one of the most extraordinary dry white wines you will taste this year, I promise you. Although labeled as furmint, this wine is actually a blend of two indigenous white grapes: furmint (80 percent) and hárslevelu. Impressively dense, it proffers a striking scent of flowers and minerals with just the barest whiff of honey allied with lemon. Thick-textured, there's a crisp acidity that makes this wine oh-so-drinkable, with that same minerals and flower quality coming through in the taste. And it's just 12.5 percent alcohol. This is a magnificent dry white wine that can accompany all sorts of foods

    Even before its identity was revealed to the panel, this vintage of Királyudvar's dry furmint inspired several tasters to draw comparisons to regal Loire chenins—remarkable given that the winery is owned by the same man who owns Huet. In part it's the way the prodigious peach fruit wraps around the wine's minerality, round and smooth; it's also due to the minerality—more chalk than smoky volcano (someone said it tasted like peaches mashed up with chalk), and powerful enough to carry the sweet fruit firmly into the savory realm. The acidity is electric yet doesn't intrude on the wine's smooth texture, maintaining its freshness for days after opening." - 93 points

    The resulting dry Furmint delighted all of us at the table. It had a rich, enticing and exotic aroma of overripe pear and perhaps a touch of camphor. Others smelled dark berries and even bubble gum. The lush texture and honeyed flavor reminded me of why Furmint and Hárslevelű work so well in Tokaji Aszú. Ample acids provided refreshing balance, and I loved the clean, minerally finish.

    The Kiralyudvar is what I call "dry, but ..." There is an enormous mineral bent to it, beeswaxy texture and an old-attic muskiness, along with robust orange fruits: apricot, grilled peach, orange peel. The "but" is a background sense of sweetness, rather than sweetness per se, if you get me. After a day or even two, the wine continues to live, via baked-in savory vanilla notes. It is thick, masculine, fibrous wine, rich and long-living. Those who describe themselves as "red-wine drinkers" would, if honest with themselves, adore it.

    7 points – a Hungarian star. [0-10 scale]

    Minerally aromas and an unexpected roundness on the palate.

    ♣ Pannon Wine Challenge (2011), a Top Wine.


  • Royal Tokaji Furmint, $13 - $25.
         ($16.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Apparently half of this was barrel fermented but you can't taste any wood. There is some smoked apple initially and rapier-like acidity but the power of this wine is all on the finish. It positively smokes on the back of the palate. Very assertive and great to have a dry Furmint in mass circulation. *Good Value*

    My first taste of Furmint's alternate face, a few years ago, was Royal Tokaji's 2005 vintage. Its smoky floral aromas, bold acidity, flavors of flint, fresh pear and lime, all wrapped together by a rich texture, intrigued and provoked. It reminded me a little of Viognier, perhaps Pinot Gris, but also Loire Valley Chenin Blancs from Vouvray and Sancerre. In other words, it had its own personality. I've been hunting down examples of dry Furmint from Hungary and the neighboring Burgenland region of Austria ever since. This latest vintage from Royal Tokaji, which I tasted in a lineup of recent white wine releases, is as good, and as much of a bargain as the 2005 was.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (December 2012), 90 points

    This appetising Hungarian dry white displays ripe apple and pear aromas with a peachy quality that's refreshing on the aftertaste.

    Full-bodied, well balanced, with nice acidity; moderately round, fresh, with notes of apricots, melons, spices, honey, and a bit of minerality. Very nice.

    [It was] overflowing with lime zest, olive tapenade and mint flavors, followed by roasted walnuts and fresh fruit blossoms on the finish. . . . I was struck by how clean and food-friendly this was, and it deserves mention alongside any other white dinner wine I've ever had the pleasure to taste.

    Elegant and finely detailed, with a waft of smoke behind the white grapefruit and melon rind notes, lingering with traces of spice and chalk. Fine length.

    [G]olden in colour, some rhubarb coming off a richer, darker nose, with a sweeter vegetal aroma, almost like spinach water. The palate has a bit of Tokaji funk, some more of the rhubarb and some wet greens coming through. A strange wine, you notice its Tokaji origins, lots of spice, a bit of nutmeg, and a really interesting finish with nice dried honey flavours mixed with spiced apple. Really interesting and really tasty with a great clean finish.

    My barrel sample was still hazy and clearly in the making but the appley aromas was reasonably clear, and very Furmint-like. It shows what this grape can do so well: a combination of freshness and weight. The use of oak is quite deft, never dominating the fruit. There is a mild alcoholic uplift on the finish but nothing alarming. Impressive how this behaves in the open bottle: stays tight and fresh, almost mentholly. Has personality and outstanding potential. . . Very good length. 90+


  • Oremus Mandolas Furmint, $16 - $28. (Oremus also makes other Furmints, including sweet; this is the "Mandolas" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Intense nose of peach, lemon, lime and markedly oaky. Dry, full-bodied and spicy, a touch boozy, but with firm acidity. Modern, powerful, and intense. Creamy texture, and coconut flavours become more apparent while drinking, and some banana, sweet fruit flavours and toffee on the finish. Unashamedly lush, ripe and oaky, overtly hedonistic. 90 points, good value.

    Now the first thing that you will notice is a very dark and rich colour that you would normally associate with a desert wine. Don't let this put you off as nothing could be further from the truth. The nose is full of tropical fruit and rich lychee with a touch of honey hidden at the end. The tropical fruits greet the palate again but this time I found passionfruit, complete with seeds, showing through and the fresh acidity left my mouth clean and refreshed. Being aged in Oak I expected this wine to be a bit heavier but it is definitely a medium weight wine. I found it very interesting that everyone at the tasting immediately thought of food and in particular Asian food. Don't get me wrong, the wine would be great by itself but we realised how well it would complement the food.

    My favorite was the 2003 Dry Furmint Mandolas, which was all about sugar cookie dough (without the sugar) and velvety apricots, followed by fresh cut grass and starfruit essence. A real revelation, the finish went on for at least a minute and brought a deep smile to my face.

    Focused and reserved nose offering spices, ripe stone fruit, oak and almonds. Ripe but elegant on palate with crispy acidity and good concentration. Finishes with some bitterness but overall very well made and clean. Aged for 7 months in oak of which 1/3 was new. Big ageing potential. 90/100

    Pear and ripe apple, slight hints of hay on the nose; pleasant minerality and acidity; nicely balanced wine.

    [It] was fresh with lemony aromas and some grassy notes. It has great structure and balance and is minerally with a long finish. The crisp minerality comes from the volcanic soils where the vines are grown and according to Pablo Alvarez is “best drunk within 5 years”. This is certainly a wine that will go very well with food and its flavours are associated with the sweet Furmint but in a dry style. Over one year you should see a marked development in the wine.

    [S]picy, minerally, citrus flavors, long spicy finish; a very tasty wine.

    I was able to taste several vintages of Oremus's dry Furmint and my favorite was the 2009 Dry Furmint Mandolas, which was all about lemon, lime, orange zest, flint and sugarcane.

    This shows subtle fruit and intriguing undertones of grilled nuts and wood smoke, with lovely mineral notes in the finish.

    Made exclusively from furmint, its perfume is on par with the slow maturation of the grapes; sweet and caressing aromas of green apple, herbs and white flowers. The "élevage" is of 6 months, on lees, in new magyar oak that brings an unctuous texture and compliments nicely the mineral structure of this varietal that thrives on volcanic soils. The return is all about fresh almonds and a touch of new wood.

    For me the liquid star of the night was Oremus, Mandolas Dry Furmint 2006 Tokaji, which confidently held its own alongside Louis Jadot 2007 Corton Charlemagne (a good wine that ideally should be kept a few years of course). The Hungarian single-vineyard white was equally full bodied and had real tang, verve and persistence with a hint of smoke and fire. They both went well with the first course of prawns, salmon tartare and a lightly chilli'ed guacamole thingy.

    Mandolàs is . . . playful, sunny. Its maker's objective was to impress you immediately when you sniff it. Good job, well done. Well balanced in on the nose, a whirlpool of sweetness and a bitter undertone. When you taste it, the whirlpool takes to the rocky bottom: it's a mixture of minerals and pear, or rather quiche. Yes, because almond is also present with a mouth-filling sensation. Then suddenly, earlier than just a few months ago, its age takes over the taste and turns it into a tart, but still tasty, long finish. It recalls the memories of multi-colored fall leafs in its taste. And nice touch of mineral sensation remains.


For a Splurge

A frequently recommended dry Furmint outside our normal price band is the Szepsy Tokaji Furmint.



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