Wine of Hungary's celebration of 20 years of dry furmint - Furmint February 2.0
I used to be a regular visitor to Budapest on business in the late '90s and throughout the '00s. For a long time, it was by some way the least lovely of the great central European capitals - poorer than Vienna, less buzzy than Prague.
Then, around 15 years ago, it suddenly spruced up and became the sort of place I rather looked forward to visiting.
Kate Green, owner of A Drop of Hungary and originally from Hungary, says that much the same changed occurred in Hungarian wines at the same time.
My experience is that there have long been good Hungarian wines, but perhaps I just happened to know the right people in the early days; Miklos, the local CEO, was something of a bon viveur, while his Financial Controller was - somewhat incongruously - an ex-sommelier.
One change that is not disputed is that around the turn of the millennium, the potential for great dry whites made from Furmint was well and truly proven by Istvan Szepsy with his dry Furmint, Szepsy “Urágya”
Say Tokaji and I immediately think of the great botrytised sweet wines. And there were excellent sweet wines at Furmint February. But the revelation was the sheer quality of the dry whites. As a small wine-producing country, it makes sense for Hungary to follow Austria's lead by focusing on quality, rather than volume. This is partly reflected in the prices and means that comparisons are with the great wines of the world, rather than with everyday drinking wines.
Furmint is a half-sibling of Riesling and Chardonnay via its parent Gouais Blanc; the wines have the poise, elegance and focus of Burgundy with the aromatics and richness of Loire Chenin.
As with the Blaufraenkisch-focused Blue of the Danube event last year, there was nary a disappointing wine on show; all were extremely well made technically and prices rose in line with quality.
Top producers - dry
Mad Wine dry Tokajis, varietal Furmint and blend, priced in the teens and imported by Alliance Wine.
Dobogo dry varietal Furmint Tokaji imported by Liberty Wines and priced in the low 20s
Disnoko dry varietal and blend Tokajis imported by Gonzalez Byass, priced in the teens and 20s
Dereszla dry blend Tokaji, priced around £12
Szepsy serious varietal Tokajis, priced from £30s - £90s, imported by Top Selection
Szent Donat Birtok dry varietal and blend Furmint from Balatonfured-Csopak, priced in mid teens and imported by Novel Wines
Gilvesy dry varietal and blend Furmint from Badacsony, imported by Davy's; unusual skin-contact quasi-orange wine for those curious
Demeter Zoltan dry varietal Tokaji from another pioneer of the style, imported by Savage Selection and priced at £75
Top producers - sweet
Szepsy samorodni from around £60 from Top Selection
Royal Tokaji from mid-teens late harvest to 6 puttonyos at £50, imported by Bibendum