Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Furmint February puts climate change in the crosshairs as only three out of ten vintages are good enough for Aszú

Published:  31 January, 2020

The extent to which climate change is impacting the production of styles of Furmint was highlighted at recent Wine of Hungary masterclass, where participants were told that making sweet wines will be the “challenge” for Tokaj over the next decade or even century. 

Around 10 styles were shown at the masterclass which aimed to put the versatility of Furmint on display. 

But beneath the growth in sparkling and drier styles is a story of warmer years and unpredictable rain showers, meaning there are now only three or four years out of a decade which are capable of  producing the levels of botrytis needed for quality Aszú wine. 

Because of this, producers are now increasingly having to make a late-in-the-day decision as to whether to go dry or sweet. 

“In September, winemakers have to make the biggest decision of the year,” explained session host, Laszlo Balint. “If you go for dry, you know you have some money in your pocket, but if you hope for botrytis for the Aszú, you could be bankrupt in a year. In the past, we had six good botrytis vintages in a decade, but that is changing.”

Balint added that it is “very hard to find a perfect harvest window” for Furmint, as the ripening process of the grape is “crazy and not uniform all around the vineyard” – an issue which is being impacted by unpredictable weather. 

“In some cases we have un-uniform ripening even in the case of a single bunch,” he said. 

According to Wines of Hungary UK, of the 200,000 of wine produced in Tokaj, (the country’s main sweet producer), approximately 25-30% is now dry. 

This is a vast difference to the mid 1990s, when the Tokaj wine region produced 100% sweet wines. 

The first dry Fumint was made by Istvan Szepsy in 1997. Several established wineries followed suit in the early 2000s, but it was only in the late 2000s that a jump in quantity arrived via a younger generation of winemakers. 

As the march of climate change continues, a number of new techniques are being used to ensure the best production possible of Hungary’s flagship grape variety. 

Clonal selection is increasingly important, with a number of promising clones now in the research and development stages for dry styles in particular. 

Looking at clonal selection and experimenting with fermentation and aging, have been part of an ongoing focus on technology and improvement over the past 10 years, Balint said. 

“Malolatic fermentation doesn’t fit well: if you do all malo, then the ageability decreases rapidly. With yeasts, the idea before was to ferment everything spontaneously, but we realised some yeast cultures could be a good pairing. A lot of winemakers are now doing a two step process, starting will wild yeasts. 

“For aging, [producers are using a mixture] of stainless steel, reductive or light oxidization (with a touch of pyrogranite) and different sized oak barrels. There are new experiments now controlling fermentation even in barrels with special devices to keep the wine cool all the way to the centre. If we can keep the temperature under 17 degrees, the wine will be more floral fresh and fruity.”

When it comes to sparkling, which is now fast becoming a prevalent style, Balint said: “Sparkling wine has been made in Hungary for 150 years. But there was a period when traditional method sparkling wine was too expensive, so the tank method and sweet wines were preferred. Since 2010, we see a lot of companies starting to make sparkling very important in terms of their portfolio, such as Domaine Kreinbacher in Somlo.

“The challenge for sparkling with Furmint is handling the phenolics and high malic acid. So you will often see some partial malolactic fermentation to add a bit of creaminess.”

The focus on Furmint is part of Wine of Hungary’s Furmint February. 

The grape was recognised in the 18th century for its potential to achieve high sugar levels and for being prone to botrytis. 

According to Wines of Hungary UK, total wine production in Hungary is around 2.8 million hls, with sweet wine production accounting for between 5% and 6%.