This was the challenge that winemaker István Balassa set himself. With 22 vintages under his belt, his motto remains, ‘always aim for the best’, and his award-winning winery was established in 2005 with that in mind. He has 14 hectares of vineyards spread out over 11 different terroirs encompassing 30 distinct parcels of vines. Expressing these terroirs through different indigenous grapes, of which furmint is just one, and via both dry and sweet expressions, is by its very nature complex. Add vintage variations, the extent of the noble rot that intensifies sugars in the grapes, and the effects of different barrels and you begin to grasp why dessert Tokaji was historically known as the ‘king of wines and wine of kings.’
In the past, dry wines were generally made only when it wasn’t possible to make sweet Tokaji and were treated as a bit of an afterthought. It wasn’t really until the hot, dry vintage of 2003 that a new generation of winemakers was inspired to rethink this approach and to take the crafting of dry wines, and dry furmint in particular, much more seriously.
Similar to riesling and chardonnay, furmint, which is genetically linked to both, is highly versatile, capable of making sweet, sparkling and dry wines that can be crisp and linear or full-blown, complex and layered in style. It reflects its terroir faithfully and allows itself to be moulded by the winemaker’s skill. It also has quite high acidity, accentuated by the volcanic soils of Tokaj which sits on top of hundreds of extinct craters. That acidity balances the sweet wines beautifully and provides a natural preservative that gives the wines a long life. But while Tokaj’s dry wines and those of furmint in particular have been gaining in popularity, they still remain a little off-radar, hence István’s challenge.
What’s in a name?
Looking for an original visual concept for the label of his new wine, István, a talented photographer and wildlife enthusiast, chose an image he’d captured of a very relaxed looking duck on a lake shore. Naming the wine proved more elusive, so he took to social media for inspiration (he should know better!). The answer came when an accidental typo in the vintage – 2109 instead of 2019 – prompted some bright spark to quip that the duck must be Marty McFly, hero of the classic 1980s film Back to the Future, bringing news of great things for dry furmint. It flew, as you might say!
What does it taste like?
The wine is blended from a careful selection of grapes from five different plots. A quarter was fermented and aged for six months in stainless steel, the rest in oak barrels. The result is an intensely aromatic dry wine reminiscent of orchard fruits, nutmeg and cedar with an impressively full, rich palate. The slightly flippant name belies an impressive wine, especially at this price.
How to enjoy it
István has succeeded in his quest to make a wine that is easy to drink, but there’s plenty to keep your senses entertained as you try to pin down the many aromas that evolve as the wine opens up. True to its Hungarian roots, this wine is great with food too. István recommends serving it with sharing platters of cheese, seafood or charcuterie and there’s just a hint of spicy nuttiness which we think would work well with Asian dishes like sushi or tempura vegetables or fusion-style curries.