There are varying accounts regarding its origins. Based on historical and linguistic evidence, the most common theories claim french, italian or syrmian sources, although its diversity with many subvarieties located on Tokaj-Hegyalja claim the region to be the source. The most recent genetic research claims that its parents are the Gouais blanc and the Alba imputato, the natural cross-breeding of the two being the result of it appearing until the 16th century.
Taxonomy dictates that the grape is a subtype, specifically belonging to the pontian subgroup, of the common grape vine (Vitis vinifera). Along with the currently grown White Furmint, collections preserve the Red and the Variable Furmint types as well. The latter receives its name from the berries’ early green colours changing into red, then shifting into a shade between greenish to golden yellow, not unlike the White Furmint.
Ampelography is the discipline which works with the detailed description of grape types. I won’t delve into the Furmint’s total ampelographical explanations here, but I’ll mention some of the more significant details; first, its upright sprouting system greatly helps regarding the ’green-work’ of the grape, which consists of the shearing and other handiwork up until the harvest arrives. Thanks to the fact that the shoots growing from the buds grow vertically upwards, the foliage are much easier and convenient to maintain, at least compared to other unruly and spreading types (such as Sárgamuskotály). The Furmint’s shoots also fortunately tend to stay nestled inbetween the wiring that keeps the foliage together. Later on, the first tendrils above the clusterzone twist around the wires, ensuring that the shoots are safe from being blown out or simply broken by a stronger wind. The leaves’ edges are serrated yet lacy, its teeth rather pointy, therefore with some experience it may be told apart from the Hárslevelű’s lacy, rather round and dull teeth.
The stamp of the 1972 I. World Wine Competition held in Budapest. A stylized Furmint cluster and leaves hide behind a popular aszú bottle, the background showing Tokaj and its traditionally cultivated vineyards from the other side of the Tisza. The stamp was made by József Vertel, one of the most employed hungarian stamp designers. Note the berries’ differing hues, potentially indicating overtly ripened grapes or even the appearance of aszú.
Regarding its ripening tendencies, it is considered a late type, placing its harvest to the second half of October. In its complete ripeness it appears greenish yellow and, if exposed to the sun, a distinct golden yellow hue. The most important qualities include defined acid and high alcohol contents in the balanced overcropped plantations, but also a high susceptibility to shrinking and therefore ’aszú-ification’. Although the Furmint doesn’t have any characteristic primary aromas (let’s mention the muskotály type as a counter-example and as Irsai Olivér), during the process of fermentation the secondary flavours can include apple, pear, peach, white flowers and other similar evocative qualities. Most Furmint enjoy being fermented in oakwood, which ensures tertiary aromas to enrich its already versatile taste.
Ripened clusters, also beginning to show signs of aszú. Furmint is susceptible to ’scrubbiness’, meaning that if the badly fertilized, small (runt) berries find majority on a cluster, it can significantly decrease the yield of the grapes. The left image, however, shows the positive side of this phenomenon, providing healthier, looser clusters, which are more suitable for creating dry wine. The large, stuffy, blistery berries on the right image (Hólyagos Furmint) are much more susceptible to aszú.
The variety identifying as a "Hungaricum" is located on around 4000 hectares in the country, most of it being in the Tokaj Wine Region itself. The most recent data suggests that out of the 5603 total hectares 3726 (67%) is home to its most significant grape.
It’s also on the list of traditionally grown grapes in many other regions, such as the Somló Region and around Pécs and Balaton, amongst several others. The Sopron Region has contained much of its plantations some time ago but today it has almost completely disappeared from there. Beyond our borders it is widely represented in Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria.
translated by Áron Várhelyi