As it is currently ’Furmint Februar’ here in Hungary, this is as good a time as any to introduce you to one of Hungary’s key white grape varieties. Although Olaszrizling is more widely planted, Furmint is perhaps more emblematic of the country’s wines. It is one of the main varieties to be found in Tokaj, which could be considered its homeland, and is usually one of the principle elements in the aszú and szamorodni wines produced in the region, along with Hárslevelű and Sárga Muskotály (Muscat blanc à petits grains). As well as Tokaj, it is typically cultivated in Somló and can be found in some areas around the Balaton and elsewhere in the country.
Outside Hungary, Furmint is also grown across the border in Slovakia (previously part of the Hungarian Tokaj wine region) and in Slovenia, where it is known as Sipon. In the past, it was prevalent in the Austrian Burgenland, where it was used to make Ausbruch wines until it was pretty much abandoned in preference for Welschriesling, as Olaszrizling is known in the German-speaking world. Although it is enjoying a bit of a revival now. Here it is known as Zapfner.
A late ripening grape variety, Furmint is capable of producing a wide range of complex sweet and dry wines. Serious acidity means that even the sweetest of late harvest and aszú wines are not cloying. It is also susceptible to the development of botrytis cinerea, noble rot, producing the wonderful orange marmalade, apricot and marzipan flavours to be found in aszú wines.
As the taste for sweet wines is waning, larger volumes of dry and off-dry Furmint are being produced. Typical flavours found in dry wines are pear, quince, lime peel and a steely smokiness.