The jewel of Hungary

A Foray into Furmint


Hailing from the vineyards of Hungary, Furmint delivers a broad range of quality wines that have made it a favorite among wine enthusiasts and a key part of the growing reputation of Hungarian wines. In this blog, we discuss the origins of this white grape variety, where it is grown, its qualities and characteristics, and the art of pairing Furmint wines with food.

Furmint's origins

Furmint's roots trace back to Hungary, where it has been cultivated for centuries. As is common for wine grapes, there is uncertainty over Furmint's exact origins. It is mentioned in text about Hungary's Tokaj wine region in 1571 and 1623, with some believing that Furmint (also sometimes known as Mainak) was brought to Hungary by migrants during the reign of King Béla IV in the 13th century. Another theory is that Furmint is native to Hungary - based on the fact all Furmint clones discovered so far have been found around Hungary's Tokaj region.

While there may be debate over its origin, there is no debate that Furmint has since developed into the flagship grape variety for Hungarian winemaking - taking up approximately 70% of vineyard space in Hungary's most famous wine region, Tokaj. Despite its Hungarian roots, the name 'Furmint' is thought to come from the word French word 'froment,' meaning wheat - a possible reference to the wheat-gold color of wine that Furmint produces.

Furmint-growing regions today

Today, the grape is primarily associated with Hungary's Tokaj region, which accounts for roughly 97% of Hungarian Furmint production. Located in the country's northeast, Tokaj is Hungary's most famous wine region, with a small part of it creeping over into south-eastern Slovakia. Furmint grown in this region is best known for its role in producing Tokaji dessert wines, but it is also used to make single-varietal dry wines, while more and more is being utilized as a base for sparkling wines. The remaining 3% of Hungarian Furmint production comes from the small wine-growing region of Somló and the northern shore of Lake Balaton, both of which lie in the west of the country.

While Hungary is the chief producer and home of Furmint wines, it is also grown in a few other central and eastern European areas, most notably:

  • Slovakia, which, as previously mentioned, is home to a small section of the Tokaj wine region.
  • Slovenia, mainly in the Styria region, where it is known as Šipon and is often made as a varietal wine in both dry and sweet, Tokaji-like styles.
  • Austria, around Lake Neusiedl, and especially around Rust. Furmint was once a popular grape to grow in Austria's Burgenland region, where it is known as Mosler and has historically been used in the production of sweet wines, but it is now only grown in minute amounts.
  • Croatia, where it is known as either Šipon or Moslavac and is almost always used to make dry-style wines.
  • Serbia, where it is known as Moslavac.
  • Romania and in former republics of the Soviet Union.

Characteristics of Furmint wines

Furmint is an early budding, late ripening grape variety that can express a wide range of aromas and flavors. Furmint wines, which are low in tannins, often feature primary notes of green apple, pear, citrus, and hints of white flowers. When left to age, Furmint can develop captivating secondary characteristics such as honey, nuts, and a distinctive smokiness. The grape's high acidity - a hallmark feature, lends freshness to the wines, allowing for a strong aging potential.

A key variable that affects Furmint wine is its time of harvest. For dry wines, the harvest usually starts in September, while sweet wine-specific harvest can start in the second half of October or even later. We'll first explore the style that Furmint is most famous for - those distinctively sweet Hungarian dessert wines.

A group of SPIEGELAU Festival Tasting glasses on a table. In the foreground two of those glasses are filled with white wine.<br/>

Sweet Furmint wines

As noted, Furmint grapes for sweet wines are harvested later in the autumn. This late harvest, combined with Furmint grape characteristics such as thin skin and high sugar content, allows a process called Botrytis, or 'noble rot,' to occur. During this process, fungus attacks the grapes, causing them to dehydrate, sugars to concentrate, and new aroma compounds, such as peach, honeycomb, and orange, to form and express themselves once the grapes are used for winemaking. In Tokaj, Furmint grapes affected by noble rot are often blended with Hárslevelű and Sárga Muskotály to produce the region's most famed dessert wine, 'Tokaji Aszú.' This wine is so revered that it is sometimes referred to as the King of Wines, thanks to its distinct balance achieved by having a pronounced acidity to offset the wine's considerable sweetness. The climatic conditions required for these wines don't align every year, but that just makes those good growing years all the more special.

Three SPIEGELAU wine glasses on a laid table. Two of the glasses are filled with white wine, one is empty. To the left of a filled white wine glass is another definition water glass filled with water.<br/>

Dry Furmint wines

While sweet dessert wines remain the best-known use of Furmint, dry, sturdy Furmint wines have well and truly joined the party in recent years. Furmint has a long history of being used for dry wine production in villages around the Tokaj region, but it has come to greater prominence in wine circles since the turn of the 21st century with the emergence of single-vineyard selections. The best of these dry Furmint wines are comparable to top wines from Burgundy and Mosel, displaying great minerality, vibrant fruit flavors, complexity, and structure, while also possessing a smokiness that comes from Tokaj's volcanic soils. More specifically, dry Furmint is often compared to Riesling, which can be explained by the theory that Furmint is an offspring of Gouais Blanc, which would make Furmint a half-sibling to Riesling. In any case, the growth in popularity of dry Furmint wines has been a key part of Furmint's evolution from being seen as a sweet wine specialist to a dynamic player in the world of dry white wines.

With Champagne filled SPIEGELAU Highline Champagne glasses on a serving tray on a table.<br/>

Sparkling wines

In recent years, Furmint has emerged as a strong base wine for producing sparkling wines. When picked at the right moment, Furmint can have a similar sugar-to-acid ratio to Chardonnay, along with a refined aroma that makes it ideal for producing sparkling wine. Unsurprisingly, the most notable Furmint-based sparkling wines come from the Tokaj region in Hungary and Slovakia and typically feature Furmint's classic floral and citrus notes. This style of Furmint wine is still a bit of a niche, but it may be one to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Pairing Furmint wines with food

Furmint's versatility extends beyond its diverse range of styles- it also makes it an excellent companion for a wide array of cuisines.

If you're looking for a Furmint wine to sip alongside a main course, dry and off-dry Furmints are the way to go. The bright acidity of these wines cuts brilliantly through seafood dishes like oysters or lobster, as well as creamy poultry dishes, creating a pleasant contrast on the palate. These Furmint wines are also perfect for pairing alongside plant-based dishes, thanks to their low tannins, vibrant fruity flavors, and lightness on the palate.

If you're drinking a late-harvest Furmint-based dessert wine, we recommend considering how much residual sugar your wine possesses. Modestly sweet Furmint dessert wines work well with fruit salads or fruity desserts like an apple tart. If you opt for a Furmint dessert wine with a more pronounced, honey-like sweetness, we recommend something a little richer. Cream pots stand up to the intensity of these wines, while you can also use them for something nutty, such as an almond tart, to complement the wine's underlying flavors.

Spiegelau Glasses

Ideal for Furmint Wines

From its historical role in sweet Tokaji wines to contemporary dry and sparkling expressions, Furmint shines as an adaptable, expressive grape that produces wines with fresh and captivating acidity. Its versatility makes it a strong choice for a host of occasions and food pairings, so there's likely to be a Furmint wine you'll enjoy regardless of your preferences. As the lead grape variety from Hungary's most acclaimed wine region, we can think of no better grape to lead Hungary's charge as an emerging force in the wine world. Egészségedre!