Looking for Hungarian wines to buy? Want to try Tokaji wines? Our wine expert Kate Hawkings gives us tips and advice on furmint, Hungary’s indigenous white grape. Next, try our pick of orange wine or check out the best Greek wine.
Furmint has been grown in Hungary and neighbouring Slovenia for more than 500 years and is particularly associated with the Tokaj region, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. It’s a grape that is particularly susceptible to botrytis – otherwise known as ‘noble rot’ – a welcome fungus that grows on the grape skins, causing the fruit to shrivel and their sugars to concentrate and resulting in wines of incredible density and lusciousness.
Tokaj’s sweet wines (Tokaji denotes a wine from the area) have been held in the highest esteem for centuries. The French king Louis XIV served it at his court and declared it to be the “wine of kings, king of wines” – and they still make wine geeks go weak at the knees. But, now it is the dry styles made from furmint that are creating real excitement.
As in many regions previously under Soviet rule, Hungary’s modern wine industry has only really come to the fore in recent years, as modernised viticulture and winemaking techniques have resulted in drastic improvements in quality.
Dry furmints are very much the product of forward-thinking winemakers who, only a couple of decades ago, began to realise their potential for the modern drinker who is less interested in sweet wines, but has an appetite for interesting wines to drink with food.
Dry furmints are very versatile, ranging in style from the light and crisp, to the rich and complex. Feisty furmint combines heady aromatics with steely acidity and responds very well to ageing in oak, and they all share the distinctive savoury, smoky minerality that comes from Tokaj’s volcanic soils.
The region is small, production is limited and, while the best will never come cheap, there are some bargains out there as high-street retailers cotton on. Furmints are one of my firm favourites and I urge you to sniff them out.
Winemaker Vivien Ujvári makes immaculate wines from organic grapes with minimal intervention in the vineyard and winery. This has really pure notes of pears and limes along with a saline minerality and just a whisper of smoke.
Istvan Szepsy pioneered dry furmints and his wines are now considered as some of the very best. This is aged in oak barrels which bring roundness and gentle spice to its dazzling citrus fruit and aromatic floral complexity, finishing with an energetic lick of lava. Very special.
Wonderful sweet tokaji, silky and rich with ripe apricots, tropical fruits, honeysuckle and zing of lime juice freshness.
Fruity but with a brisk minerality and a savoury herbaceous finish. A great introduction to furmint at an affordable price.
From one of Tokaj’s best vineyards, this is concentrated with notes of roast quince, apricots and a touch of gingery spice.
For a glimpse at the glory of sweet tokajis, try this mesmerising wine. Unctuous but not sickly, it’s a great pudding wine but also a luxurious partner for our blue cheese leeks with crispy bacon breadcrumbs recipe.