It would be cliched to think that goulash is the only thing Hungarians eat, but it’s the dish that most commonly springs to mind if you mention Hungary, and it is dark and viscous and stained with pepper and paprika, ruddy and red. Is it just me, or does it seem more likely that Hungary’s natural talent would be for making red wines, not whites?
But actually, the most memorable wines in Hungary are white. The most famous of all is Tokaji – a sweet wine of such thrilling balance between sweetness and sourness and wildness that I once wrote – ‘most sweet wines make your eyelids droop. Tokaji rubs paprika behind them and makes them smart and sweat’.
Ah, but Tokaji is sweet. What about dry whites? Well, Hungary does these as well as anyone in Europe, and, predictably, they are deliciously, challengingly different.
Even in Communist times, Hungarian whites were different – viscous, almost oily, but tangy and streaked with lemon or lime, fiery and intrusive on your tongue, golden but green – ‘stiff’ – as Hugh Johnson called them over 50 years ago.
And they were made from grape varieties with tantalising, incomprehensible names – Harslevelu, Szurkebarat, Keknyelu – and, above all, Furmint. Furmint is the grape which makes sweet Tokaji, but historically Furmint has made more dry wine than sweet. And its dry wines surge through your mouth, leaving the jangles and the bumptious din of their contradictory flavours clinging to the sides of your throat.
They say that Furmint has the highest natural acid levels of any of Europe’s great grapes. It does. But that’s what makes its dry wines so eye-popping, so shiveringly appetising. Don’t over-ripen the grapes in an attempt to neutralise the acidity. Don’t over-oak the wines to try to soften them. Just revel in the un-French, un-Italian, un-Spanish and un-everything else flavours of one of Europe’s most memorable grape varieties.
Oz Clarke will be hosting a ‘Fabulous Furmint’ virtual tasting on the evening of Thursday 25th February. Click here to learn more and book your wine pack to taste along with him.