The Furmint Grape Variety
Furmint is a superior Hungarian white grape variety indigenous to Hungary’s Tokaj region. This particular cultivar has always been widespread; in fact, it has become the predominant grape in Tokaj with over 70% of all current plantings. Furmint grows vigorously, ripens late, and produces wines with powerful yet refined acidity. This varietal is also known for picking up the distinctive minerality of Tokaj’s soil, and beautifully expressing the terroir it has so perfectly adapted to over the centuries.
HISTORY AND ORIGIN
Tokaj Wine Region’s Furmint exhibits very high genetic diversity, indicating that the varietal originated locally. In fact, this hypothesis has recently been confirmed via DNA analysis by Swiss botanist and grape geneticist José Vouillamoz. His 2012 book, Wine Grapes (co-authored with Julia Harding MW and Jancis Robinson MW) includes groundbreaking revelations about grape varieties of Tokaj appellation. For instance, the authors dispel long-held myths suggesting Furmint was introduced to Tokaj from abroad.
Furmint is in fact natural genetic cross between Gouais Blanc (an ancient varietal widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages) and an unknown local cultivar, likely now extinct. DNA profiling has shown that Gouais Blanc is also the source of some 80 West
European grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Gamay and Riesling – all of which, technically, are half-siblings of Furmint.
The first known mention of a Furmint grape varietal dates from 1611: a reference in an ecclesiastical document to this kind of grape being grown in a vineyard near the village of Erdőbénye. Fast forward to the founding of Tokaj Grape Nursery near the town of Sárospatak in the mid-19th century, where Furmint was identified as one of the top three most widespread cultivars of the 63 grape varieties in use at the time. Furmint became truly dominant when vineyards were replanted after the devastating phylloxera plague in the 1880s.
POPULARITY IN HUNGARY AND BEYOND
Today, Furmint is grown on over 10,000 acres, approximately 90% of which are Tokaj wineyards. Furmint did spread from Tokaj to other parts of Hungary as well as some neighboring countries, where it is known by local synonyms including Mosler (Austria), Šipon (Slovenia and northern Croatia), Moslavac Bijeli (Croatia), Som in (Transylvania) and Zapfner (Germany).
Furmint continues gaining popularity with producers and consumers alike. Increasingly large areas of vineyards are planted with Furmint, in Tokaj and beyond. While Furmint remains an essential blend component in sweet Aszú wines, the most prestigious benchmark white wines in Hungary today are generally dry Furmint varietals.
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”. Just another reason why Furmint is ready to assume its rightful place among the world’s very best – and as Hungary’s flagship – white grape varietal.