13 February 2020 We're republishing free this excellent guide to Tokaji producers and dry Furmint to be read in conjunction with today's Furmint – Hungary's trump card?
21 February 2019 Tam goes Mád about Hungary's signature grape variety at Wines of Hungary's tasting in London to celebrate Furmint February, and does some Furmint food pairing as well.
Much as we don’t like to think of ourselves as stuck in a rut, when it comes to grape varieties most of us – trade and civilians alike – tend to stick rather unimaginatively to a bucket of about 15 varieties.
These varieties, often dubbed ‘noble’ or ‘classic’, are the ones we learn to pronounce correctly and recognise blind. They are the ones we feel safe to buy; we hold them up as benchmarks of what wine should taste like; and winemakers round the world try to imitate their French (or Italian) styles in order to win applause. Of course obscure, autochthonous and indigenous varieties have received much attention in the last 10 years. It would be deeply untrendy not to have a pet favourite Petite Arvine or Trousseau in your pocket. But they're still, unofficially, the lesser grapes. Chablis is surely grander than Carricante.
So when a variety with truly noble bearing but without membership of the inner circle is poured into our wine glasses, we fumble for words, not knowing whether to praise it for doing so well despite its peasant heritage or whether to be cautious because of its peasant heritage. Often we dig out the family tree, determined to find a royal connection in its past that might justify our admiration. Furmint is one such grape.
We could validate it by comparing it with Riesling, its ability to span the gamut of bone dry to lusciously sweet while holding on to its razor-sharp acidity; or with Chenin, as full of flavour and structure at 11.5% as it is at 15.5%; or with Chardonnay, turning out stainless-steel-fermented, youthful crispness as easily as oak-fermented, barrel-aged richness. It’s all those things. But it’s none of those grapes.
Furmint is unique, distinctive, with a flavour profile quite unlike any other grape variety I have ever tasted. It has distracting, playful beauty; a wild, gypsy-like character; and the formidable bone structure and posture of an aristocrat.
Wine Grapes notes that although the etymology of Furmint is unknown, it is related to Gouais Blanc, which is probably one of its parents (making it half-sibling to Chardonnay and Riesling among 80 others), and it is related to Hárslevelű, which is most likely the offspring of Furmint.
The birthplace of this variety is north-eastern Hungary, in Tokaj, where a document dating back to 1571 first mentioned ‘the genuine Tokaji Aszú grape’ in the Hétszőlő vineyard. In 1611 the name Furmint was recorded for a vine growing in a vineyard 20 km north of the village of Tokaj. Today there are about 4,000 ha (9,800 acres) planted in Hungary, most of which are planted in the Tokaj region.
It is rarely found outside of Central Europe, with just 9 ha (22 acres) in eastern Austria, about 700 ha (1,700 acres) in Slovenia and 420 ha (1, 040 acres) in Croatia where, in the latter two countries it is known as Šipon.
Until relatively recently, the traditional style of Hungarian Furmint has been sweet, more often than not blended with Hárslevelű. It ripens late, is prone to botrytis, retains high acidity and builds lots of sugars – in short, a gift to the gods of dessert wine. But around the turn of this century, dry, varietal Furmints started appearing and gaining traction.
Producers quickly saw the potential. This is a grape that not only makes a high-quality wine at all sweetness levels but can be used to make good sparkling wine. It responds, Chardonnay-like, to winemaking techniques such as lees ageing, bâtonnage, malolactic conversion (full or partial), skin contact, fermentation and ageing in barrel, and blending with other varieties. It also ages very well.
But despite its 500-year history in Hungary, Furmint, as a dry wine, has some pioneering to do. The vineyard classification of Tokaj, one of the oldest in the world, graded vineyards in the early 1700s on soil, sun exposure and potential to develop botrytis. The question as to whether these first, second and third growth categories are relevant to dry wines today is one that will, at some point in the near future, need to be tackled. This becomes particularly relevant in the light of Caroline Gilby MW’s statement that Furmint has a particularly sensitive ability to transmit terroir. What may be first-class terroir for Tokaj Aszú may not be first-class terroir for a dry Furmint varietal. The higher, cooler vineyards (and parcels of vineyards) that aren't affected by the botrytis prized for the sweet wines might well turn out to make the finest dry wines.
Having said that, what Hungary does not need to do is prove that its dry Furmint, especially from the stony, volcanic soils of Tokaj pictured below, is capable of producing fine, layered, astonishingly complex and ageworthy whites. They speak for themselves.
The 70 tasting notes below are grouped by alphabetically listed producer.
János Árvay was born in Rátka and didn’t plan on being a winemaker, but he and his wife received 450 vines in the Meggyes vineyard from his father-in-law. That eventually grew into a 17-ha (42-acre) estate across five vineyards. His first job was with the state wine company, and then at Disznókő, but now he runs the family estate with his wife and two children, Angelika and Szabolcs, who are very involved with the winemaking and day-to-day running of the estate.
Only 536 bottles. RS 1.3 g/l, TA 7.3 g/l.
A whiff of cigarette ash but with so many people crowding around the table it was impossible to tell if it came from someone near me or from the wine. Dry yet honeyed, with a thick syrupy texture. Lots of chamomile and some beeswax character. Substantial weight and dramatic flair. Lacking a bit of grace, but it’s certainly concentrated. (TC)
Istenhegy (meaning Hill of God) is the vineyard, in Rátka village. Volcanic quartzite rocks with zeolite mix in one portion of the vineyard. RS 5.8 g/l, TA 7.3 g/l.
Ripe peaches on the nose. Bone dry, confident and broad shouldered but with a scythe of acidity. Savoury-salty lemon-essence intensity. (TC)
A small property owned by consultant viticulturalist István Balassa. He has 7 ha (17 acres) over 10 sites.
Smells of fresh Amalfi lemons – I could happily be drenched in this scent. Dry but not bony – fantastic, mouth-filling, juicy stuff with bold acidity. Lovely sweet-waxy finish. Utterly drinkable. (TC)
Incredible nose – it smells like a bakery in the early morning, warm Danish pastries, fresh custard tarts, apple and cinnamon. Honeyed, wide-open richness. Dry but powerful. Extraordinary depth and clout for just 12.5%. (TC)
Károly Barta is an economist who, with no background in wine, decided to establish a winery. With advice from Ervin Demeter (see below), he bought an abandoned vineyard, covered in black locust trees, on the Király Hill. This was once the prized, historic Öreg Király (‘old king’) vineyard, pictured top right and also below, covered in snow. The highest, steepest vineyard in Tokaj, it was abandoned after phylloxera swept through the region, being too hard to work for too little return. Barta cleared it, planted vines in 2004 and the first harvest was in 2006. The family owns 8 ha (20 acres) on volcanic soils, farmed organically, and the wines are made with minimal intervention. His winemaker is the young and very gifted Vivien Ujvari. She qualified as an oenologist in Budapest and trained in Napa as a winemaker’s assistant for a year, then toured New Zealand and Australia. She started working for Grof Degenfeld back in Hungary in 2013, before joining Barta in 2015.
Fermented with wild yeast, one-third in barrel and two-thirds in stainless steel, before ageing on fine lees in 500-litre third-fill and fourth-fill Hungarian barrels. TA 7.8 g/l, RS 8.4 g/l.
Sharp, bright, edgy, packed with fruit but no frivolous sweetness. A melange of green, orange and yellow citrus. Like a splash of sunshine spiked with lime. Rock and roll! So drinkable! For an entry-level wine, this is outstanding. GV (TC)
Slow fermentation with wild yeast and spent a total of nine months in a mix of first, second, third and fourth-fill Hungarian oak barrels, mostly light-to-medium toasted, before being bottled in August 2016. This was the first Barta wine to be filled into the new Tokaj-style dry-wine bottle, introduced in the region in April 2012. TA 6.8 g/l, RS 7.7 g/l.
I actually wrote ‘OMG’, which doesn’t make for an eloquent tasting note. But that was my first reaction and I stand by it. Wildflowers, honey, shimmering like a long gold dress on a tall slender creature. If you could mix firelight and candlelight and stars on a cold night and press it into liquid, this would be what it tastes like. Such layered complexity of flavour – apricots, dried pears, saffron, pimento, cherries and marzipan – and then this crystalline, precise structure. Goosebumps and glory. I swallowed. (TC)
Botrytised Furmint grapes grown on the Öreg Király vineyard, aged in oak barrels for 18 months.
Waxy, frangipani and golden-pear-syrup scented nose. So mouth-filling and fragrant that I almost had a head rush. Deeply, deeply fragrant. Acidity so fine and tense that it tingles in the bones. The delicate strength of gossamer, and if you could bottle the sound of a thousand violins playing sweet haunting music, perhaps this is what it would taste like. There's a brushstroke of spice and herbs over lemon marmalade, and a touch of salty citrus lingering on the finish. (TC)
Medium gold. Heady, tropical-waxy flowers, papaya dripping with honey. Lusciously sweet and the heavy, silken texture of clotted cream with the ripe tang of passion fruit and mango coulis. So rich and deep and gloriously, fearlessly, outrageously golden that the room seemed to grow strangely dim by comparison. There's a frisson of spice in the far background, but this wine is terribly young and it will take years for that spice to come forward and the voluptuous tropical fruit to allow the full complex spectrum of this wine to shine. Wait, if you can. (TC)
5-ha (12-acre) estate near the Bodrog River started by friends János Hajduz and Krisztián Farkas in 2007, when they were fresh out of university. They have several parcels of land, each with distinct terroir, and they make four single-vineyard wines. 20,000 bottles a year.
Fermented with wild yeasts in used, local-oak barrels; regular bâtonnage, full malo and about nine months on the lees.
Has a jasmine-apple-soap scent. Leafy and white floral on the palate, the acidity lifting it high. Pirouettes on point. Limes and flowers and so fresh-morning that it’s as if it just stepped out the shower. Mouth-watering. (TC)
Wild yeast fermentation. Six months in old barrels and then in cellar for one year. Sold out.
Heady, giddy, incredible fragrance. So juicy, a kind of sweet green citrus with a cheeky note of cotton candy just at the end. But there’s also a salty, dark underline – underneath the playfulness, this is a pretty serious wine. (TC)
Started in 2000 by the Budaházy family with 3 ha (7.5 acres) around Mád split into nine parcels across three vineyards (Szent Tamás, Nyúlászóés Kishegy). They do not use herbicides and pesticides. They harvest grapes for dry wines in the early stage of ripening, the wines ferment spontaneously and age on lees until bottling. Annual production in 2017 was around 10,000 bottles, most of which are sold abroad. Winemaker is Ákos Szolokai.
From a premier cru vineyard, just 600 bottles. Not certified but they work organically, with very low sulphur additions.
Incredibly heady perfume. It soars out the glass. Chalk and minerality and piercing spine of acidity. Incredibly elegant – high cheekbones and long fingers. Wild flowers and jasmine trailing on the finish. I desperately didn’t want to spit this. Surely I misheard the owner when he told me £13 retail?! (TC)
Very pale. Elderflower honey and something that reminds me of highland heather. Fragrant. Quite fine-boned for a sweet Furmint, thanks to tightly wired acidity. Liquid lemon-drizzle cake. Gorgeous. (TC)
A wine that tastes like oranges and apricots poaching in lavender-scented honey with cumin shortbread. There’s a touch of balsamic and a touch of orange-liqueur fire and a floral spiciness like dried marigold petals and ginger. Sweet but minty fresh. This would be pretty stunning with creamy, fruity turmeric-dominated curry dishes. (TC)
Endre Demeter has 8 ha (20 acres) and one of the oldest, deepest cellars in the village of Mád, a multi-level labyrinth system over 300 m (985 ft) long and 17 m (56 ft) deep. Although the estate dates back to the 17th century, father and son team, Ervin (pictured above) and Endre Demeter, have been making wine there since 2003. They are certified organic and their gobelet-trained vines are all tended by hand. 15,000 bottles a year.
Water white. Great purity. Essence of apple and then a flinty skinny-elegant acidity and minerality. Very pure. You can taste rocks in this wine. Reminds me of fine, dry Riesling. Hint of smoke. Long and tingling and bone dry and lean. (TC)
57 is the parcel number in the Úrágya vineyard, at the top of the volcano, no soil, just rocks, 98-year-old vines (planted in 1921). Fermented in local wood – his university friend is his cooper.
This is wonderful. Intense and just a little wild. Lime peel steeped in salt and jasmine tea. Shimmers. Has some heat. Pepper. Cardamom. Piercing. Super-elegant. And long, long, long. (TC)
Disznókő has been going since the early 1700s but was purchased by AXA Millésimes in the 1992. Unusually for Tokaj, it is a large single vineyard of 104 ha (256 acres) and every wine they produce comes from this vineyard.
Stainless-steel fermentation. Slightly nutty and herbal. Very dry. Not the prettiest Furmint – tastes a tiny bit industrial. (TC)
80% Furmint, 20% Hárslevelű. Barrel aged, a mix of old and new.
A touch of lime wax. A touch of smoke. A touch of Brighton-rock sweetness. Good strong acidity giving backbone and direction. (TC)
Smells of golden currants and jasmine tea leaves. Delicate, sweet, gentle and lapsang-souchong smoky. Bit of bite. Long, lazy bite. Smoky gunpowder-tea-leaf thing going on into a long finish. (TC)
Jasmine honey and frangipani. Quite delicate, despite the luscious sweetness. Could do with just a bit more delivery of that linear Furmint acidity to freshen up the finish. (TC)
Aszú grapes 100% Furmint, macerated in base wine and must (mainly must) of both Furmint and Hárslevelű.
Deep gold. Marmalade and stones and roasted mushrooms. Complex and deep and reverberating. This is stunning. Fresh greenness threading through all that golden wine, crushed mint and green tea leaves. Such a beauty! (TC)
Their website explains that Dobogó literally means 'clippity clop', the sounds that horses' hooves make on the paved streets of the little town of Tokaj. 'This is what we found out when we bought the winery, an abandoned house dating back to 1869 with underneath it a magical cellar’. Currently owned by Izabella Zwack and winemaker Attila Domokos, the winery was bought in 1995 by the Zwack family, a big alcohol producer and distributor, most notably of Hungary's famous liqueur, Unicum. Izabella spent some time abroad with Vanya Cullen, which has influenced the way she works. The vineyards are farmed on organic principles, ‘a green philosophy’.
Fruit from 35-year-old vineyards in Betsek and Szent Tamás in Mád. Low yields, hand harvesting, wild-yeast fermentation. 90% old barrel, 10% new, 10 months ageing.
A little smoky. Laurel leaf and oak spice on the nose, amplified on the palate. Dry, compact, not trying to seduce, but with inner poise and restraint. All the steely tension of a young Grosses Gewächse Riesling. There’s a lovely red-spice element, and grippy texture – white wine for red meat. (TC)
A five-hectare, single-vineyard wine – just 850 bottles. Sulphur added only once before bottling.
Where the estate Furmint doesn’t try to seduce, the Betsek Furmint can’t help but seduce. It soars. It’s salty and mineral, deep dried-apricot fruit, poached-quince perfume and intensity. The acidity flies through the wine. It’s long, strong, persistent, brave, and delicious. (TC)
Founded in 1998 with 25 ha of vineyards, with four single vineyards. They make about 10,000 bottles of estate-grown wines and 35,000 bottles in all. Their entry-level wines (made with bought-in grapes) were not shown. The winemaker is György Brezovcsik, above.
Beautiful nose – sweetly golden, Cape gooseberries and lime sherbet and Brighton rock. But it’s stones and formidable acidity on the palate – impressive structure. Proud and fierce. Long and sappy and mouth-watering with real presence and persistence. (TC)
One sniff and it's Christmas cake and saffron and clementines all tied up in a bow. Exciting, lifted stuff yet with wonderful ballast – rounded and yet not remotely fat. Poached quince and spice. Carries its 14% with head high and chin up and a sweep of the shoulders. (TC)
An estate with 17 ha (42 acres) of vineyards, although only 11 ha (27 acres) are currently under vine. Very diverse soils. They grow Furmint, Hárslevelű and Yellow Muscat. Very clever labels depicting vineyard maps and highlighting the relevant vineyards that go into each wine.
Screwcap (unusual in this tasting). 50% stainless steel, 50% old oak.
Dusty, ground lime, spices. Quite a bit of grip and rub, with an almost sweet jalapeño bite to it. Interesting. Long, persistent, rock-guitar-solo acidity. (TC)
10% new Hungarian oak.
Dusty slate nose. All rocks on the nose but much sweeter and rounder on the palate. Honeysuckle and cherries with lingering cumin spice. Quite exciting, but ambitious and serious and set for the long run. (TC)
László Szilágyi took over the wine estate in 2004 and named it after his grandmother.
Furmint with a small amount of Hárslevelű. This is their estate wine, which makes up about 80% of their production. 50% barrel fermented, 50% stainless steel. Aged four months in oak.
Very floral, lifted – elderflower and honey. A bright modern wine that leaps out onto centre stage blazing banners of electric-green apple fruit. Fun. (TC)
From the Mád region. 1,300 bottles. 60% barrel fermented.
Straw and sweet spice and the taste reminds me of dried pears. Has an intense sweetness of fruit, despite being dry, with an almost gingery heat to it. Guitar-string acidity. I can just imagine this with roast pork. (TC)
40% vinified in Hungarian oak, mainly old. 448 bottles.
Smells like essence of golden apples, set into deliciously bitter grapefruit pith. And then, on the palate, some saltiness. And pepper. And a bit of ground granite with coriander spice. There’s richness but it’s fine, like a paintbrush dipped in gold running around the frame of the wine. (TC)
Single vineyard. This is the first time he’s made this as a wine on its own – usually it goes into the estate wine. 367 bottles.
Creamy, broom flowers, a little wild and wide enough to fill the mouth with golden fruit and electric acidity. Generous, and broadened by oak, but carried on the hallmark Furmint spine of acidity. (TC)
This state-owned company is responsible for 40% of the region’s total wine production. They have 70 ha (173 acres) of vineyards, and buy grapes from 1,400 growers (about 1,150 ha/2,845 acres of vineyards).
50% fermented in oak, 50% in stainless steel.
This is the first Furmint I’ve tasted today which has that could-be-any-young-white-wine hard-candy smell and taste. Great acidity, super-fresh, clean, but it could be anything from anywhere. (TC)
Fermented in new Hungarian oak and aged for six months.
Tastes and smells strongly of new oak. Savoury, a bit blunt, too oaky. (TC)
First established in 1502, Hétszőlő has been through a series of owners but last changed hands in 2009 when it was bought by Michel Reybier of Ch Cos d'Estournel fame. They started to make dry wines under the new ownership, judging that their high-elevation vineyards which had very low botrytis might be better suited to dry wines. The soils are heavy loess over volcanic rock. Certified organic.
Vinified in stainless steel. No malo, lees ageing for six months. TA 7 g/l.
Very distinctive, very unusual. Smells cigarette smoky over Cape gooseberries in syrup. Massive acidity, almost rigid in its austerity. Apples, but with an ash-smoke edge and finger-drumming nervousness that borders on anxiety. I don’t know if this needs time or a pill.
Tasted a week later at Caravan in Clipstone St:
In a totally different environment, all those appley, smoky, ashy layers are still there, but it has a gentleness and Asian-pear fruit that I didn't see on the day of the Furmint tasting. Minty finish. It went really well with their spiced grilled cauliflower and salted edamame beans. As is so often true with wine, context can make a difference. I changed the score from 15+ to 16. (TC)
From the top of the slope, south facing, 300 m elevation. In 2016 it rained a lot in July and August. Fermented in used barrels, weekly bâtonnage, TA around 7 g/l (similar to the estate Furmint). He thinks it’s losing its toastiness and will age well.
Smells a bit like the inside of a shoebox (a new one). But it tastes like dried apples and black pepper. Wonderful acidity – determined. Draws geometric lines around the fruit. (TC)
Holdvölgy is Hungarian for Valley of the Moon. Pascal Demko's French mother asked him to find vines in Tokaj as a birthday present for her Tokaj-native husband. His search resulted in Demko getting so excited about the potential of the region that he now has 25 ha (62 acres) of vines in the commune of Mád. This very ambitious estate has built an impressive modern winery above 2 km (1.25 miles) of cellars dating back to 1866. The vines are managed and harvested by hand. They use small steel tanks to separately vinify 22 different parcels across 7 vineyard crus. Only wild yeasts are used, the dry wines are fermented and aged mainly in steel with some used oak, while the sweet wines are aged in a mix of French and Hungarian oak. The winemaker is Tamás Gincsai.
Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kabar.
Apple blossom. Clean and straight and super-refreshing. Great purity. Zing and zest and thirst-quenching. But certainly not one-dimensional. GV (TC)
From single vineyard Király. 100% dry Furmint.
Punky, vibrant fruit, that tastes like grown-up jellied grapefruit and watermelon konfyt. If ever a wine played Mozart on an electric guitar whilst tap-dancing in neon-pink platform shoes – without missing a single beat – this is it. Such vibrancy and energy. So much fun, and yet pretty damn serious wine at the same time. How do they pull that off? Long, waxy finish. (TC)
This is the 18-ha (45-acre) Mád estate belonging to József Váradi, the founder and CEO of Wizz Air –‘Juliet Victor’ being the call sign for letters J and V in the NATO radiotelephony alphabet widely used in the aviation industry.
TA 6.8 g/l, dry extract 20.1 g/l, RS 2.1 g/l. A blend of vineyards: Betsek, Király, Bomboly, Úrágya, Szent Tamás.
Very pure; a sweet-orange nose that seems to open like a summer flower in the glass. Peaches and marmalade peel on the palate. Just a little spicy – is this the grape or a bit of barrel influence? Golden turmeric spiciness finishing earthy and with a sense of honey. Confident, strong shoulders, long stride. (TC)
Single vineyard. TA 6.8 g/l, dry extract 19.6 g/l, RS 1.4 g/l.
Spicy, tense, broad – a wine that reminds me of spiced pistachios and ras al hanout and paprika. Almost more of a red wine than a white wine, although there is a dried-chamomile-flower character that I often find on white wines made in an oxidative way. Full creamy weight trellised on stark, piquant acidity. Dramatic white-pepper fireworks at the end. (TC)
Single vineyard. TA 6.8 g/l, dry extract 20.1 g/l, RS 1.4 g/l. Just bottled.
A hint of cobblers glue on the nose, but it seems to heighten rather than detract from the intense ripe-apricot aroma. Salty, concentrated, like fruit leather. Full of cumin and caraway spice. Seems more linear and focused in one direction than the Király. Fantastic food wine. Buzzing with character. (TC)
Gábor Kardos grew up in a winegrowing family who also ran a small wine bar in Mád. He learnt how to make wine from his father, and took over the winemaking in 2008 when they decided to bottle their own wines. His father is responsible for the viticulture.
Three months in tank.
Oranges and oolong tea. Strangely perfumed on the palate (like getting eau de parfum on your tongue) with a strong note of smoky tea leaf. Very dry and firm. Iron. Interesting if a little unforgiving. (TC)
Not quite as bone dry as their entry-level Furmint. Sweet fennel and peach iced tea. Seemed to fall away a little, without quite the depth and intensity of other single-vineyard Furmints at this tasting. (TC)
A tiny 3-ha estate in the smallest wine region of Hungary.
On volcanic soil.
Smells of bay leaf and cherries. Very very dry – a little sharp, the acidity seems to be in overdrive, everything else has shrunk away. Perhaps with food this will make more sense? (TC)
Smells of sugar snap peas. Minty, chewy, herbal. Folded sharply inwards, a wine that doesn’t taste nearly ready to drink – it almost feels like crunching rocks between your teeth. (TC)
Smoky, and smelling just a little bit like the green-iron of spinach water. Rigorous and lean, with a dangerously sharp, flinty edge, but there’s depth here. Needs time. I can’t see this ever turning into a voluptuous smoothie, but with time you might be able to get past the drawbridge. (TC)
30 ha (75 acres) of sustainably farmed vineyards producing nine varieties of grapes (some international).
Fermented in steel tanks and barrels, and aged in 225- and 500-litre Hungarian and French oak barrels on lees for 10 months. TA 5.2 g/l, 28 mg/l free sulphur, 2,866 bottles made.
Rich, serious aromatics, unfurling lime marmalade, then toast. Very much in the vein of a GG Riesling with the same towering structure, ineffable elegance, fruit and acidity precision engineered, taut and aloof. A steely, long gaze. But there is a weight here that Riesling seldom has, a rich ballast of lime-powdered, ripe fruit that tastes both sweet and dry. Mineral intensity. Damn delicious and like a volt of energy. (TC)
10.4 ha (26 acres) made up of eight vineyards and 15 plots in Mád and Bodrogkeresztúr. Géza Lenkey’s father bought the vineyards in 1999 but passed away two years later, and Géza (pictured above) had to take over. They have not used herbicides or insecticides since 2005. They were certified organic in 2015. Minimal intervention in the winery: no inoculated yeasts, no added sugar, no acid adjustments. They believe in lengthy ageing in both barrel and bottle before release.
Spends 39 months in barrel and ‘a long time’ in bottle.
Low-key nose, tiny hint of mimosa blossom and some lime flower. Waxy and broad, like melted candles and crystallised rhubarb, perfume rising in the glass as it warms. Echoes of Aszú here, on this dry wine that then turns savoury, with the texture of parchment, and the flavour of ground spice and powdered apricots building on the finish. The acidity and minerality run together: firm, linear, almost baobab-fruit-like. Powerful rather than graceful. (TC)
Smells unmistakably like golden, ripe Cape gooseberries. Smells so sweet, and yet it’s bone dry on the palate. Hay and burnished gold, the acidity as fiendish and highly strung as a Paganini violin caprice. Taffeta texture. Oranges and rooibos tea. Very, very complex wine. Not a wine to pour for a busy noisy table. You need some space for contemplation with this one. Deeply provocative. (TC)
2006 was their most rigorous green harvest ever – they picked in November, just 6 bunches per vine. The wine spent seven months in barrel and 10 years in bottle! Bottled 2016.
Pale gold. On the nose it’s clementines in syrup and Cape gooseberry (like the 2010), and some faintly woody cigar spice. The acidity hits you first. Linear and flat as a blade. Salty, intense, like Lebanese pickled lemons. Saffron. A shadow of honey. So BOLD, so intense, so fierce, it almost delivers an electric shock. Extraordinary. And yet just 12%. It gives you some idea of the extraordinary ageing potential of Furmint. (TC)
Smoky! And bitter orange peel. Powerful wine with jagged, dramatic edges. Something of grand cru Chablis in this, although more honeyed. Prominent oak, although not unbalanced. Plenty of firm texture and chew. Served very cold –I’d have preferred to taste it a bit warmer. (TC)
Dried orange peel. Again, very firm, very oaky, slightly austere and a bit smoky. I feel like the fruit/terroir has been obscured just a little by ambitious oak. Pushing everything to the nth degree. But probably with food and a bit of time to warm up and open out it would make more sense. My gut instinct is that this would age well. (TC)
The 85 ha (210 acre) estate is owned by Dezső Kékessy and his daughter Katinka Kékessy. Their eight vineyards across five villages are premier cru and they grow Furmint, Hárslevelű, Sárga Muskotály, Zéta and Kövérszőlő. Their Furmint vineyards have been organic since 2015, with the other vineyards uncertified but farmed with minimal use of chemicals. Their winery is designed to move grapes and juice around by gravity flow, they use selected, neutral yeasts, and never chaptalise.
Entry level, vinified in stainless-steel tanks.
Bright and light, with super-charged aromatics and crisp, sweet apple fruit. GV (TC)
From a selection of vineyards, aged and fermented in barrel, mix of old and new oak. RS 7 g/l.
Starts with sweet, tiny, rounded high notes, a piccolo of powdered parma violets, and then the acidity comes in like a forest of fiddlers. You want to get up and dance. The finish is good. Firm and fresh. (TC)
Co-founded in 1990 by Peter Vinding-Diers and Hugh Johnson as a joint venture with about 60 growers to revive the glory of Tokaj, the company now farms 112 ha of its own vineyards.
Half stainless steel and half Hungarian oak, 10-15% new. Bottled under screwcap, one of the few at this tasting.
Smoky, sesame seeds, with some bitterness, as if picked a little underripe. Crisp and green. (TC)
100% barrel fermentation and élevage. They work with clean must and leave on fine lees.
Creamy, sage leaf and a hint of green lime candy. (TC)
Single vineyard, 100% Furmint, ‘premier cru’ classification. Made in first-fill Hungarian oak barrels, six months’ ageing.
Very quiet nose. Sweetness and tang. A concert of apricot: baked, jam, poached and green all coming together in a triumphant blast. The acidity and sweetness like cymbals in an orchestra. Emphatic and invigorating. (TC)
75% Furmint, 25% Hárslevelü.
Cold sample which may be why it doesn't smell of much. Piercing sweetness, piercing acidity. Apricot syrup. Wax. Rich, baroque, tremendously impressive. Carries the weight of tradition with gravitas. (TC)
Elfin, wiry and with a quick, wide smile, Erika Rácz grew up in the Tokaj region but left to study economics and law and to work abroad in IT. In 2014, thanks to inheriting a tiny vineyard from her parents, she came back and founded Sanzon with her husband. Today they farm 3.8 ha (9 acres) organically on the volcanic soils of Tokaj-Hegyalia, making just 5,000 bottles of wine a year from three grape varieties.
100% Furmint, cold fermentation in stainless steel. Three months on fine lees. Her ‘everyday wine’.
Like bay leaf dipped in lemon sugar on nose. And then this crackling, sparkling acidity on the palate, firing in every direction. Angles and crystals, green and gold and light shifting. If this wine doesn’t snap you awake, nothing will. Tastes incredibly youthful – I’d be very interested to taste the 2016 and 2017. (TC)
100% Furmint from vineyards with rich limestone soil. Six months in old Hungarian barrels.
Honeysuckle and a fine line of oak spice pencilled across the nose and palate. A wine with depth and breadth and scintillating acidity. Tightrope balance and precision, a wine that spins with energy and control. Beautifully choreographed. (TC)
100% Furmint. A single vineyard on volcanic rock.
Rich and dramatic; lime green, sherbet, frangipani and the deeply heady perfume of sweetbox blossom. Multi-layered, flute-like purity, everything thrown into sharp relief by the high-wired acidity. Tirelessly long. (TC)
Established by two Hungarian businessmen and István Szepsy Jr (18th-generation winemaker and son of Hungary's famous winemaker István Szepsy Sr), with Szepsy in charge of winemaking and day-to-day management. They have vineyards in 11 villages and over 15 ha.
Bay-leaf scented and herbal green on the palate. Lean and dry, laurel and white pepper. A green-detox-salad wine without the characteristic perfume and generosity of Furmint but it would be incredibly useful as an aperitif, especially at that low alcohol. (TC)
One of the best vintages recently for dry wines. High temperature and lack of rain especially on the southern part of the region with almost no botrytis and one of the earliest harvests in recent years – ideal for dry wines. 60% Hárslevelű, 40% Furmint. Region: Mád. Vineyard: Nyulászó. Yield: 3,5 t/ha. Harvested September. Fermented and aged in first- and second-fill 500-litre Zempléni oak. Bottled after 10 months' barrel ageing. Acidity: 6.6 g/l, RS 2.8 g/l.
Big apricot nose with a touch of wood glue. Bone dry and vibrating with citrus-sharp energy. There is what I can only describe as intense structure, the flavours of fruit and faint notes of spice laced lightly around fierce bones of acidity and minerality. So long through the mouth that it almost seems to come out the back of your neck. Piercing. (TC)
100% Furmint from the region of Mád, vineyard Percze. Fermented and aged in new 300-litre and second-fill 500-litre Zempléni oak. Bottled after 10 months in barrel. TA 5.8 g/l, RS 2.4 g/l.
Nutty, a little toasty, the scent of baked yellow plums, just caramelising on the edges. Quite a bit more weight and substance than the Nyulászó single-vineyard Furmint. This has real fire. Quince-like sweetness, clotted cream and then a deeply toasty framework spiked with icicles of white citrus. There's a burgundian-grand-cru-like grandness and gravitas to this wine, and I'd say it has a long and interesting life ahead of it. (TC)
100% Furmint. Region Tállya, vineyard Dongó. Fermented and aged in new 300-litre and second-fill 500-litre Zempléni oak. Bottled after 10 months in barrel. TA 6.8 g/l, RS 1.9 g/l.
Smoky quince. Ripe pears. Sweet, peppery spices. Layers and layers, like paper-thin slices of crystallised citrus and apricot, arching elegance and glistening with jewelled light-filled life that almost seems to catch fire, the way the evening sun flares through glass. And yet the texture has a fine, fine waxiness, with a bitter, scented note that reminds me of pomelo fruit. Long, persistent, insistent. A wine that wants all your attention. (TC)
One of the driest and warmest vintages in the last decade with very little botrytis. Acidity dropped quite steeply just before harvest. Fermented and aged in 500-litre Zemplén oak. 10 months' barrel ageing. TA 5.2 g/l, RS 1.8 g/l.
Medium gold. A broad brocade of golden fruit on the nose, sumptuous, saffron-spiced, clementines and waxy lemon peel. Bone dry and so searingly elegant that it physically tingled down my spine. The vertical depth of the wine seems to pin you to the ground with an invisible steel. Dried pears and apricots, marigold petals and the dust of a thousand softly sifted spices settling so lightly on the tongue that you breathe them out. So full of life and minty freshness. Hard to believe that this was a low-acid vintage. Stunning, breath-stealing wine. VGV (TC)
70% Furmint, 25% Hárslevelű, 5% Muscat Blanc á Petit Grains.
Honeyed apricots, so pure and sweet that it tastes like the sound of a golden trumpet. And then the taste-sound resounds in your mouth with glorious abandon. Freshness thanks to a taut, lemon-sharp acidity of the ilk of fine Riesling and Chenin Blanc. I'd have this with yogurt for breakfast if I lived on an island with no one to disapprove. VGV (TC)
István Szepsy must be Hungary’s most iconic winemaker. Born in 1951, with a family winemaking legacy that goes back over 500 years, his CV includes the Mád state co-operative, Royal Tokaji Wine Company and Királyudvar Winery. He established his own wine estate in 1988, which he ran alongside his full-time jobs until 2005, when he resigned from Királyudvar and Szepsy became his sole focus. Today the estate has 63 ha (156 acres) of vineyard on premium sites and produces 50,000 bottles a year.
Blend of three vineyards. Not totally organic. But natural yeast, no chaptalisation, and they’re trying to minimise sulphur. They green harvest three times. All their dry wines are made in the same way. Fermented and aged in lightly toasted 400-/500-litre lightly toasted Hungarian oak barrels. Sometimes they go through malo.
Wild flowers, very light and high and flighty with a touch of barrel spice. A touch of toast. Incredible, direct, linear, spear-like acidity. Beautiful tight vibrations through sweetbox perfume and bay leaf and essence of citrus. It finishes like that moment when you snuff out the last candle, and the sweet-smoky smell of melted wax fills the quiet night. (TC)
Úrágya means ‘where the sun goes to bed’. Just released. 100% Furmint, single vineyard, grand cru. Aged in 400–500-litre Hungarian oak.
Smoky, austere and deep. Palatial in its marble-colonnaded power and structure. A wine that tastes of lime locked in iron, of cold smoky marble. Intensity that walks slow goosebumps down your spine. You could not (should not) drink this wine in a noisy crowded room without space to think. (TC)
Furmint and Hárslevelű blend. Szamorodni sweet wines are also made from botrytis but differ from Aszú in that the wines are vinified in the same way as Sauternes. 2013 was one of best years in the last decade. Harvested November, RS 180/190 g/l.
Hard to describe. Tremendous power and weight, yet translucent. Rich, regal bearing yet racy. Golden apples carved into apricot syrup, cardamom and saffron spices. The wine seems to be lit by an internal luminosity. Very complex, but too young to broach. (TC)
Sisters Petra and Kata took over the six-year-old wine estate from their father when he died in 2011. They were 24 and 21 years old. Today they have 13 ha (32 acres) in nine vineyards. All their wines are made from estate-grown grapes. They use only manure for fertilising, strictly limit the use of chemicals in the vineyard, and ferment in barrel with ambient yeasts.
Minty on the nose, and then super-fresh and invigorating – like sweetened mint tea and lime and sugar-spun tea leaves. This is good. Cool and long and fine. (TC)
Vineyard selection. Spontaneous ferment, barrel-aged Hungarian oak.
As with their Nagy-Somlói 2015, this has a slightly minty top note. You can taste the oak here, but it’s a gentle, integrated spice and as the wine still seems terribly young I am pretty confident that the old will meld seamlessly with a bit of time. Direct and intense, especially on the finish. A wine that seems to take your hand and hang on tightly. (TC)