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In This Issue
 Offbeat grapes and wine: Furmint The Hungarian grape of Tokaji makes a fine dry wine.
 Oremus 1999 "Mandolás" Tokaji Furmint Dry ($8.99) A year or two on the shelf adds richness and complexity.
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Offbeat grapes and wine: Furmint

Let's wrap up the work week with a quick trip down another of wine's less-traveled byways: Furmint ("Foor-mint"), the white grape best-known as a major player in Hungary's great dessert wine Tokaji ("Toe-kay"), turns up occasionally as a dry white wine in Hungary and neighboring parts of Austria.

Unlike its partner in the Tokaji blend, the thoroughly Hungarian Hárslevelü (which, as far as I know, is never produced as a single-varietal wine), Furmint traces its linguistic heritage not to Budapest but Rome: Early vine growers supposedly took its name from the Latin word "frumentum," meaning "wheat," because of the grape's golden-tan color. (While we're on the subject of Tokaji, by the way, let's take a moment to note that the Tocai Friulano of Northeastern Italy and the Tokay d'Alsace of France are unrelated to Tokaji except by name, a source of linguistic confusion that the European Union's regulators intend to clear up by banning the names of the sound-alike grapes.)

Furmint is an obvious candidate for dessert wine because its thin skin makes it a receptive host for Botrytis cinerea, the beneficial mold called "noble rot" that randomly infests some late-harvested grapes, causing them to shrink and dry so the natural sugars become highly concentrated, producing intensely sweet wine.

As a dry wine, Furmint is typically full-bodied and acidic (think of a Chardonnay with muscles), with bold flavors that the British wine journalist Jancis Robinson describes as "fiery." Robinson, who among other things is a leading wine-grape expert, also advises that Furmint be drunk up while it's young and fresh. But I recently ran across a dusty stash of bottles from the 1999 vintage in a local store - two or three years behind the current release - and to my pleased surprise found that it had gained real richness and complexity with a bit of age, despite presumably having been kept in less than pristine cellar conditions.

This fairly widely distribruted version from Oremus, a leading Tokaji producer, is worth seeking out as a wine of very good value; and if you can't find an older vintage, there'd be no harm in putting a more recent bottle or two away to sleep for a while. (I had tasted the 1998 vintage of this wine in the autumn of 2000, just two years after the harvest, and it was pleasant but much more simple and one-dimensional. Age has served this one well.)

Have you tasted this or other dry Furmints? Are you a fancier of Tokaji? You'll find a round-table online discussion about today's article in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Oremus Furmint Oremus 1999 "Mandolás" Tokaji Furmint Dry ($8.99)

This clear, brass-color wine presents rich and complex aromas of white fruit and butter, with almonds and hazelnuts as subtle background notes. Medium-bodied, fresh and tart, it's more youthful on the palate than the nose: juicy tropical fruit balanced by mouth-watering acidity, with snappy lemons in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Oakland, Calif. (June 9, 2004)

FOOD MATCH: The wine's acidity and richness would make it a great match with pan-seared scallops, good with a broad range of seafood and fish; it worked nicely, too, with a vegetarian pasta dish, broccoli tossed over rigatoni with a Mornay-style sauce made with Swiss Gruyere Reserve.

VALUE: Excellent value at this under-$10 price.

WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, this wine is carrying two or three years of age very well indeed. Those still-subtle nutlike oxidative qualities suggest, though, that the 1999s should be drunk up soon, particularly if not carefully cellared.

WEB LINK: Oremus, a corporate sibling of the Spanish Vega Sicilia group, offers its Website in Spanish, Hungarian and English:

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find vendors and check prices for Oremus Furmint on,


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Friday, June 11, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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