Perhaps the greatest white wine you've never heard of
[Quick note from the editor: we'd like to welcome long-time Guild member and avid wine-lover Paul Ting to our fledgeling group of wine writers. Paul and his wife Joy (who is a brilliant and accomplished VA viticulturist/winemaker) have been with us at the Guild from its earliest days, so I'm sure many of you already know them well. While he's an anesthesiologist by trade, his love for wine has led him to getting his WSET level 3 certification, and he's currently working on his CSW cert as well. But above all else, I can tell you from much personal experience that Paul knows good wine. Suffice it to say, we're honored and excited to have him on board!]
By Paul Ting
What it is: Dry Furmint from Hungary with pedigree, history, and backstory. It has high ratings from the critics. It’s a darling of sommeliers. It’s organic, biodynamic, hand harvested, naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts, and aged in 500-liter Hungarian oak casks.
Why you need it: Story and trendiness notwithstanding, what’s important is that this is delicious, refreshing, mouthwatering white wine with depth and complexity. It drinks like the great white wines of the world.
Furmint is not a grape that is widely known. If you know it at all, it is likely because it is the primary grape in Hungarian Tokaji, widely considered one of the trinity of great sweet wines (along with Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese). While there have always been producers making dry versions of Furmint, it’s been mostly for personal consumption. Historically, the best grapes always went into Tokaji and the Tokaji was the only wine that made it out of the country. However, in the last fifteen years or so, this has started to change as this small country emerges from a long period of Communist rule and as a younger generation of winemakers looks to innovate but still express the terroir of Hungary.
Today’s offer is the 2015 Tokaji Furmint Sec from Kiralyudvar. This is not simple white wine that you gulp on your deck on a hot day (not that there is anything wrong with that!), rather this is a wine that reminds you of the great white wines of the world. Like these other great wines, the Furmint is full of refreshing acidity that makes your mouth water and makes you want to take another sip. It is a great food wine. It is full of nervous energy andminerality like a great Riesling. It has some viscosity on the palate, almost a sense of creaminess like great White Burgundy. It is a wine with body and density and a lingering finish with hints of chalkiness, and a complexitythat reminds me of great Chenin Blanc from the Loire.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying it tastes like Chardonnay, Riesling, or Chenin. (Furmint has notes of grapefruit, lime, pears, green apples, apricot, tobacco, tea, white flowers, and white stones.) Rather, I’m saying that it drinks like these wines in terms of character and sophistication. Try some and I am sure you will see what I mean. As with those other great white wines of the world, acidity and complexity lends the ability to age, and Furmint made in this style certainly has some potential to cellar and develop more interesting characteristics with some time in bottle.
The comparison to Loire Chenin Blanc is especially apt because Kiralyudvar is now owned by Tony Hwang, who is also one of the owners of Domain Huet. The story goes that in 1997 Hwang was visiting Budapest and drank some Tokaji. Hwang was so impressed that the next day he drove the 125 miles or so to visit the region and bought Kiralyudvar a few months later. Kiralyudvar (“The King’s Court”) once made wine for the Hungarian Royal Family and has been in existence since the 11th century. They have long owned a number of well-regarded Grand Cru vineyard sites.
The volcanic soils of those sites are said to be the reason for minerality in the wine. The grapes for the “Sec” are estate grown; the grapes are hand-picked as they shrivel, and then the wine is fermented dry. The winery claims these grapes don’t have noble rot, but it’s widely believed all grapes grown in this region have at least some botrytis; this only serves to add additional depth, complexity, and intense flavor to the wine.
As Hwang began replanting some of the vineyards and rebuilding the winemaking facilities he consulted with Noel Pinguet, the famous winemaker from Huet, who played a large part in directing the revitalization of Kiralyudvar. It was Pinguet that oversaw the move to organic, biodynamic, spontaneous fermentations with indigenous yeasts, etc.
I would be remiss to not mention the wine is well reviewed and scored, for example a 91 from Tanzer and a 91 from Wine and Spirits Magazine. However, while the high scores tell you this is a quality, well made wine and the history, pedigree, backstory, and winemaking ethos make for great storytelling, none of that can tell you how it feels to drink this wine.
This is a wine for food, for long conversations with friends, for pondering, for aging. This is a wine with energy and soul. You owe it to yourself to experience that.