Hungary. Fine wine. Who knew?

So what flavors do you get when you plant Furmint grape vines in the varied, volcanic soils of Hungary? Sweet, savory and unctuous, with apricot notes and a lingering finish? Or dusty and dry with steely and mineral influences?  Or everything in-between? Surrounded by Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine, Hungary is the eighth wine-producing country in Europe and the 14th in the world in wine production by volume. Its wine production predates Christopher Columbus by two and a half centuries.

Even its first vineyard classification predates Burgundy’s by a century and a half. But Hungary’s wine production was interrupted or shut down many times over the centuries.  In 1241, half the population was killed or enslaved by invading Mongols. In 1526, the Turks invaded, controlling the country for 150 years.  In World War I, Hungary allied itself with Germany and Austria and lost hundreds of thousands of its citizens. In the Second World War, it was overrun by German forces and again lost hundreds of thousands. The next 40-plus years saw the Communist occupation, which all but crushed good wine production.  In 1989, Hungary finally became an independent democracy.

So when it comes to this nation, wine production is as old as the hills and yet brand new, with the country still in recovery mode. Investors have seen the opportunity and have moved in, buying land and planting vineyards. The majority of Hungarian wines are white. I was invited to a tasting of Furmint wines recently at the Consulate General of Hungary in Manhattan where we had the opportunity to taste the wines of nine producers of Furmint. The wines were all over the map in the taste profile with this common thread:  Each wine was delicious and wonderful. It was easy for anyone to find the appropriate wine on the dry-to-sweet continuum to suit his taste, mood and specific food pairings. But there was more. The flavors of the wine were evocative of a variety of well-known grapes. The information I read indicated the winemakers present offered white Furmint wines that showed the “weight and structure of a Chardonnay, the fruitiness of a Chenin Blanc, and the acidity and minerality of a Pinot Grigio or a Riesling.”  Although I was skeptical of this claim, I tasted through all the wines and was suitably impressed.

Tastings in Manhattan tend to attract connoisseurs who can identify many grapes by taste alone. That would not have been possible at this Furmint tasting.  Indeed, even winemakers working grapes from a single, relatively small farm were presenting wines that were wildly different.  The sweet wines were easy to spot and easier to identify as they were often poured from 500 milliliter bottles as compared to the more standard 750 ml bottles.  But some of the wines had a fruity, flowery or perfumy presence, anchored with citrus flavors, while others showed wet stone with dry mineral components, reminding you of the terroir.

So if there’s someone you want to impress and confuse, find a bottle or two of Furmint and serve them blind.  The wines are well-made, affordable and worth pondering.  Even knowledgeable wine geeks will be bemused — and bewitched.

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