It's always exciting when a remarkable Hungarian makes waves abroad. Lately, we have seen so many, from film directors to novelists and artists. But it's just as thrilling to discover that a piece of local culture is being pegged as the next 'big thing' in an industry known for its exclusivity and sophistication. We are talking about the embrace of a Hungarian varietal, Tokaji furmint, by international wine merchants and connoisseurs.
Tokaj wine has always found a place on the tables of epicureans: it has been this way for centuries. But it has always been the sweet Tokaji Aszú dessert wine, known as the 'wine of kings' that got all the attention. Now, however, vineyards and fine wineries are turning to what was once considered the plain sister of Aszú: dry furmint, and are getting overwhelming feedback on the results.
For instance, we can cite a sizable article in The Guardian, which asks if dry furmint is the next big wine discovery: "If I had to take a punt on what white wine we’re going to be talking about this year, I’d put my money on furmint. Hungary’s answer to Austria’s grüner veltliner already appears on many fashionable wine lists," wine writer Fiona Beckett said in 2017. The article goes on to favorably compare it to a white burgundy, and points out that the varietal even has its own dedicated web site in America: furmintusa.com.
The website is backed by a powerful marketing initiative, according to Forbes.com. Over seventy tastings of furmint were recently held coast to coast in the States to woo interest from American wine enthusiasts. The article, which calls furmint "lush, intensely sweet and acidic" goes on to detail some huge competition wins for the brand: "In 2016, two Dry Furmints took top medals at the Sunset Magayineás International Wine Competition in Sonoma, California: Barta 2013 Furmint Szamorodni Oreg Kiraly Dulo (Best of Class and Gold Medal) and Béres 2011 Dry Furmint, Lőcse (Gold Medal). Seven other Hungarian wineries won Bronze Medals."
Jeff Jenssen of Wine Enthusiast gets more technical: "Furmint ranges in color from pale straw to light amber, with aromas of pineapple, lemon blossom, orange rind, ripe pear, white peach, yellow peach and apricot….Ripe, unbotrytized grapes are used to produce the dry version, though if botrytized grapes find their way into the fermentation tanks, that adds another level of interest and complexity, with scents of honeycomb and jasmine."
Indeed, the wine is addictively flavorful, loaded with unique fruity and floral notes, but without the heavy mineral quality of the more famous Hungarian whites from the volcanic region north of Lake Balaton.
The road to being an internationally recognized star among wines may only be hampered by the fact that Tokaj is simply not a huge region, and production hasn't grown enough to support mass-quantity exports. Most of its 10,000 acres go to growing grapes of the sweet Aszú wines. Still, limited production is also a good thing: it means that small vineyards still dominate the game, and that a good portion of the wine will remain at home, in Hungary.
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