Hungary – a former member of the USSR along with Georgia, Moldova and several other countries -- are producing amazing wines from indigenous grapes at bargain prices. Since the early 1990s Hungary has been governed by a democratic government and features a free market economy. The Hungarian wine industry that has emerged is returning to its quality winemaking roots and the wines they are producing deserve notice.
Until recently a trickling of Hungarian wines available in the United States were limited to golden Tokaji Aszu, late harvest dessert wines and a red wine called Bulls Blood made from the kekfrankos grape, also known as blaufrankisch in other parts of the wine-growing world.
Today the white furmint grape, thought to be indigenous to Hungary, is creating excitement among wine drinkers. Although furmint is the primary grape in the sweet Tokaji Aszu wine, recent interest comes from the dry version of this varietal.
Furmint is a late-ripening varietal that is grown in Hungary's ancient volcanic soils. It produces wine with bold acidity, ample fruit flavors and wines with a distinct streak of minerality. Furmint is also a versatile varietal that can complement many dishes.
We tasted several Hungarian furmints with Noel Brockett, a wine representative for Wines from Georgia and Hungary. Noel said that except for the communist-period interruption, Hungary has produced serious fine wine for almost three centuries. In 1727 it was the first in the region to create a DOC to establish official rules for the production and labeling.
Following are our recommended wines:
Grof Degenfeld Furmint Tokaj 2013 ($18). Although this wine has a bit of residual sugar, the bracing acidity provides a delightful balance with peach and mineral notes, and a smooth creamy finish. Made from organically grown grapes. Highly recommended
Beres Furmint Tokaj Szaraz Dry 2014 ($16). The ample acidity in this furmint is matched with refreshing peach and pear flavors. Noel suggested that this wine could easily pair with some meat dishes such as pork or chicken. It would also be a great match for oysters.
Kvaszinger Estate Furmint Tokaj 2103 ($23). This was our favorite of the dry furmints. Distinctive mineral nose with citrus and pear flavors and a whiff of smoke. The wine features a long creamy finish. Awesome!
Hold and Hollo Holdvolgy Vineyard 2012 ($20). A very interesting bottle with a lime green rubber label. The blend is 65 percent furmint and 35 percent harslevela with a touch of muscat. A lovely floral note in the nose leads to citrus and some spice flavors with a touch of caramel sweetness in the mouth.
Beres Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2007 ($63). This sweet botrytised dessert wine is what originally put Hungary on the wine map centuries ago, especially among European nobility. A very sweet wine similar in weight and sweetness to French sauternes, this wine is a delight to experience. Although sweet, it is balanced with enough acidity to prevent a heavy presence on the palate. Ripe fresh and dried apricot flavors and honey dominate the flavor experience. Puttonyos refers to the level of sweetness in the wine on a scale of of 3 to 6. A very refreshing and satisfying dessert wine.
Sterling Vintner’s Collection Chardonnay 2015 ($10). This is a great value. Simple but yields quaffable pineapple and other tropical fruit flavors.
Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca IGT 2015 ($18). We fell instantly in love with this delicious white wine from Italy. Its name is the grape variety that is blended with a bit of fiano minutolo – not exactly a household name in wine, right? Nonetheless, the combination provides a fascinating break from your usual chardonnay. Generous tropical fruit aromas and flavors with a spirited dash of spice. It won't be easy to find, but it is worth asking your wine store to buy some for you.
Masseria Li Liveli Askos Susumaniello Salento IGT 2015 ($20). Susumaniello is the grape variety and one we doubt many of you are familiar with. We weren't either, but we loved this lively, medium-bodied wine with an array of flavors that range from raspberry to cassis. Long in the finish, it bears a hint of licorice.
Square Peg SP-SL Estate Vineyard, Block 1, Pinot Noir 2014 ($55). With vineyards only 8 miles from the Pacific, this Russian River producer offers a rare, dry-farmed pinot noir that is not only delicious but bold in style. Rich black cherry flavors with a dash of chocolate.
Flora Springs Soliloquy 2015 ($50). This is one of our favorite and most luxurious sauvignon blancs, albeit one of the most expensive too. Flora Springs takes this grape variety to a whole new level by adding some oak aging and stirring the lees several times to give the wine a creamy, textured mouthfeel. Flora Springs uses its own clone -- "Soliloquy" -- that was certified by the University of California, Davis, in the 1980s.
Maison Vialade Vin de Pays d’Oc Villa Vialade Red 2015 ($9). This delicious wine is made from the marselan grape which is a relatively recent cross between grenache and cabernet sauvignon, and predominantly found in Languedoc-Roussilion. The nose is somewhat reminiscent of beaujolais with bright raspberry fruit flavors. Not complicated, but delicious and a great value for the summer.