What is Furmint? Furmint is a white grape considered indigenous to northeastern Hungary’s Tokaj region. The climatic conditions in this region—foggy mornings and sunny afternoons—are perfect for botrytis (noble rot) to flourish in the vineyards.
Furmint’s thin skins make it the perfect host for botrytis, which allows moisture out of the grapes thereby concentrating the sugars, resulting in one of the world’s best and most famous, luscious dessert wines. Dry wines from Furmint are made from non-botrytis-affected grapes, and have floral notes and a distinct minerality.
According to the FurmintUSA website (http://furmintusa.com), “In International circles, Furmint is considered comparable to the world’s greatest varieties because ‘it has the weight and structure of Chardonnay, the fruitiness of Chenin Blanc, and the acidity and minerality of Pinot Grigio and Weisser Riesling’ .”
There are a few legends surrounding Furmint and how it came to the Tokaj region in Hungary, including tales of it’s being brought to the Tokaj region from Italy, either in the early 12th century by missionaries, the mid-12th century from Formia in Lazio, or by a soldier from Collio in Friuli during the Seven Years’ War (1755-63). These legends are doubtful, since Furmint has no genetic link to any Italian grape varieties. DNA testing has shown that Furmint is the offspring of Gouais Blanc (French grape) and an unknown grape variety that is now extinct. Gouais Blanc was widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages, and is one of the parents not only to Furmint, but also to Chardonnay, Gamay, and Riesling.
The first reference to the variety name of Furmint dates to 1611 in an ecclesiastical document regarding a grape grown in a vineyard in Erdőbénye in the Zempléni Mountains, which are about 12.5 miles north of the village of Tokaj.
Phylloxera, a root louse inadvertently brought to Europe on cuttings of North American indigenous vines, ravaged vineyards in the late 1880s. When the vineyards in this region were replanted, it was predominately Furmint and its offspring, Hárslevelű.
Following World War II, the region, including vineyards, was divided between Hungary and Slovakia and both are allowed by law to use the Tokaj name. The quality and reputation of the wines declined while the region was under communist control, which ended in 1989.
A new generation of winemakers in the region are making dry wines from Furmint and are working hard to rebuild the region’s reputation and promote their wines by holding #FurmintDay. Have you tried Furmint, yet?