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Hárslevelű Pushing Furmint Hard

As the frenzy around the Furmint grape goes on unabated, wines from the less-fancied Hárslevelű grape continue to quietly show they are every bit as exciting when it comes to making dry wine. While Furmint is being planted in many parts of the country, or re-planted as it was once widespread before the phylloxera louse wiped it out, Hárslevelű has long had a solid footprint around the land.

From the coolish climes of the Eger wine region, Debrői Hárslevelű 2017, from the barely known Tóth és Tóth Szőlőbirtok és Borpince, is a nice combination of the fresh, floral and fruity, while also having some depth, length and complexity with notes of lime peel and sage.

This is remarkable value at just HUF 1,000 a bottle, but the bad news is that it’s not in the shops yet. You can either pick it up for that price at the cellar in Aldebrő (110 km northeast of Budapest), or get them to send it by courier (the delivery fee for up to 30 bottles is HUF 2,800).  

While the sub-Mediterranean Villány wine region, deep in the country’s southwest, is synonymous with red wine, Hárslevelű and other white grapes do well in the cooler sub-region of Siklós. It is from here that Berlin lawyer turned Villány winemaker, Horst Hummel, has conjured up what is one of the finest examples of so-called “orange wine” – white wine made in the same way as red wine with the grapes kept on the skins during fermentation –in the country.  

While orange wines are very much the flavor of the month on the international stage, Hummel is staggered at how few Hungarian white grapes are vinified via skin contact.  

‘A Red Among Whites’

“I tried to make a fresh, reductive wine from it, but then I realized that Hárslevelű was made for skin contact. It is a red wine among the whites,” he says.

His Hummel Góré Hárslevelű 2015 (HUF 6,580 from Radovin) from Siklós Városhegy was kept on the skins for a whopping three weeks and was aged for seven months in used Burgundy barrique barrels, then bottled unfined, unfiltered and without added sulfur with the complete yeast. It has intense aromas of crème brûlée, dried apricot, orange peel, coffee, honey and ginger. The concentration continues on the palate without the slightest trace of bitterness from the prolonged skin contact, although the tannins from the maceration bring delicious mouthfeel. It is full-bodied with incredible length and complexity. (For more on Hummel’s story, see Page 19.)

Creative winemaking is also in the air at the bijou Szóló winery from the Tokaj hotspot of Tállya. Tango 2014 (HUF 7,500) is proof that you can make a huge wine in a weaker vintage. Wines are available in Budapest by contacting the winery (www.szolo.com).

Following fermentation in tanks, this Hárslevelű was aged first in a new barrel and then in a used aszú barrel under what is known as a flor yeast cap for three years. Dry Szamorodni is also aged under flor (Spanish and Portuguese for flower) but the difference here is that the sealed barrel was filled to the top to ward off oxidation. While this wine has some of a dry Szamorodoni’s intense nuttiness, it also has a fresh streak running through it. It was bottled in the winter of 2017 without fining, filtration or any added sulfur. It is a deep yellow in color, nutty and spicy with marmalade notes and an extremely rich texture and supreme length.

While Szóló winemaker Tímea Éless loves Hárslevelű and believes that it has got great potential, Furmint is still “at the heart of it”. She has eschewed the use of oak with several new Furmint releases, and instead gone for steel container (1945, from 2017, no price available yet), porcelain egg (Puro 2016, HUF 14,200) and ceramic egg (Parlando 2017, HUF 8,800)  for fermenting and ageing respectively.

Frivolo 2017 (HUF 5,500) was fermented in tanks and the wine was aged in a ceramic egg. Like oak, these vessels enable small amounts of oxygen to be absorbed into the wine during the ageing process, enabling complex aromas and flavors to develop, but without any oaky notes to mask the given wine’s natural attributes. Furmint is so often aged in oak but it doesn’t always have the aromatic attack to stand up to a barrage of wood. Solely made in the tank, Furmint can ooze zesty freshness but slightly lack structure, though this is not the case with the powerful 1945 2017.  

Best Blends

It is no coincidence that some of the best dry wines in Tokaj are blends of Furmint and Hárslevelű as these grapes work so well together in Tokaji Aszú, one of the world’s great sweet wines.

Gisella’s Szil-völgy Furmint-Hárslevelű 2016 (HUF 6,650 from Bortársaság) is a case in point. Another example is Holdvölgy’s Vision 2016: 40% Furmint, 40% Hárslevelű, and 20% Kabar, a crossing of Hárslevelű and Bouvier (and one of the permitted Tokaj grapes). Scoring 95 points in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), it provides further proof that white blends work wonders in the dry category, striking just the right balance between freshness and complexity. No pricing details yet, but it should be out on the market soon.

Going one point higher and thus scooping a Platinum medal at DWWA, Kreinbacher’s Prestige NV (HUF 5,500 from Bortársaság), shows that Furmint, in this case with a little help from that sparkling wine supergrape Chardonnay – the blend being 85% and 15% respectively – has the goods to make it as sparkling wine.

Kreinbacher’s remarkable attention to detail in the making of traditional method sparkling wines in Somló reaped further rewards at the recent Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships – with two vintage magnums (the not yet released Classic Brut Magnum 2015 and the Prestige Magnum 2013 – HUF 17,000 from Bortársaság) claiming gold medals and two non-vintage releases obtaining silvers.