Tired of sauvignon blanc? Take a foray into furmint

This Hungarian grape makes sublime sweet wine – and spectacular dry whites, too

I’m always trying hard not to get stuck in a white wine rut – budge over sauvignon blanc! – and have managed it again with a foray into furmint.

If you’ve never heard of this grape you may have enjoyed it, as it’s the main variety behind Hungary’s sublime sweet wine tokaji. Furmint is prone to noble (botrytis) rot, and this combined with its high acid and sugar levels, make it suitable for botrytised dessert wine. The dry whites made from it are less famous, but a few do pop up in the UK and are well worth a look.

Taste a dry furmint and it seems a fairly straightforward, fresh, crisp white. Sip a bit more and you should notice some subtle, complex and unusual flavours. My tasting notes for half a dozen lately include ginger, aniseed, fennel, herbal, lemongrass and lime pith. Acidity is indeed high, and there’s a tart, bitter lift to the finish.

Jancis Robinson MW’s tome Wine Grapes (co-authored by Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, published by Allen Lane) tells us this variety is grown almost exclusively in central Europe, especially Hungary, and is “…intense… producing world-class, fiery, full-bodied, high-acid, long-lived sweet and dry wines” – an accurate description.

The tart quality and bitter twist mean quality dry furmint (like the three on the right) can be a challenge, but take it up, perhaps pairing a chilled glass with scallops, pan-fried white fish like sole and spring vegetable risottos.

And it goes well with dishes based on dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale; I’ll be trying it with wild garlic when the new season’s shoots spring up more.

Try these...

From left: Patricius Tokaji Furmint 2017; Taste the Difference Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint; Disznoko Tokaji Dry Inspiration 2017

Taste the Difference Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint 2017, Hungary

(12.5%, Sainsbury’s, £10)

Good for Sainsbury’s, putting on an own-label version. It’s delicious too, with flavours of tinned pears and citrus peel, rounded out by a dab of honey, but finishing dry. A thoroughly decent introduction to this grape, and best chilled as an aperitif.

Patricius Tokaji Furmint 2017, Hungary

(12%, Waitrose, £9.99)

You can easily imagine this is made from a grape variety that usually creates sweet wines – it’s got candied peel, apricot and light pineapple notes yet has been rendered dry and fresh. This is especially good with scallops pan-fried with twists of white pepper.

Disznoko Tokaji Dry Inspiration 2017, Hungary

(13.5%, cambridgewine.com, £22.99)

A fascinating wine, made from 85 per cent furmint and 15 per cent aromatic harslevelu and aged in oak barrels. The result is a white with herbal and aniseed edges, lemon peel tang and wood-spicy richness. Could take on a premium white fish like sole and steamed dark green leaves.