In the space race to see which nation can expand wine’s horizons the furthest, I’d like to nominate Austria. The land of Riesling of Grüner Veltliner is, of course, so much more than that, with a continental climate well suited for delicious Zweigelt, serious Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, and the bendable beauty of Furmint, a grape more closely associated with neighboring Hungary, but which has roots of equal importance in Austria.
And it is here that we drill a little bit deeper with a singular wine that thoroughly riveted me, and that underscores the nationwide trend to push boundaries in an exciting way: Michael Wenzel’s 2019 “Furmint Under Flor.”
It takes hold of an aromatic spectrum I’ve never encountered before, that recalls the comfort of honeycomb, the brightness of crushed mint, the lift of grapefruit zest and the temptation of salt.
If that name makes you think of a nectar akin to Tokaji Aszú but with sherry-like flavors, think again. This is a dry white wine of exceptional complexity, but at 12.5% alcohol, it never loses its sense of quenchability. It takes hold of an aromatic spectrum I’ve never encountered before, that recalls the comfort of honeycomb, the brightness of crushed mint, the lift of grapefruit zest and the temptation of salt. On the palate, it also possesses leathery characteristics without ever losing any of its radiance or forward-seeking momentum. “The finish stretches out like a cat in a sunbeam” I wrote in my notes. (I was kind of proud of that one). The wine doesn’t even cost $30, but this vintage does appear to be sold out.
I feel it is important to note that you don’t need to memorize — or even internalize — how this wine came to be to enjoy it. It is refreshing, delicious, and more than generous enough for any wine drinker to love and, likely, ask for a second glass. But it is worth noting a few things to deepen your appreciation of this wine, should you find a future vintage (2019 appears to be gone everywhere I look). One is that Michael Wenzel’s father smuggled Furmint vine cuttings across the Iron Curtain in 1984, a risky yet confident bet on the future greatness of a grape that was entirely ignored in Austria at the time. (For a journey through Furmint’s history in Austria — and what she calls the “vinous deforestation of Furmint,” — it is worth checking out Christina Rasmussen’s article and interview with Michael Wenzel on the British wine blog Little Wine).
Secondly, Wenzel has taken Furmint here and rewritten the rules on what can be done with it in the winery. Rather than go all-in on freshness and prickly acidity with stainless-steel fermentation, he has barrel-aged this wine with enough headspace to create a flor — a thin, waxy veil of yeast cells that forms on top of the wine. This leads to a naturally controlled oxidation, gifting us those nutty, honeycomb flavors, without losing entirely the snap and zest of fruit.
It is November, and I am not sure how exactly I will be curating this year’s Top 12 Wines of 2022 article. I still have a second day of the Boulder Burgundy Festival to attend, and Monday I head to the Shangri-La of Italian white wines, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. When this year clocks out, it will certainly go down as a great one for me personally, but it will be hard to see how I can exclude “Furmint Under Flor” from that most-compelling mixed case. It may even come out on top. Keep this producer on your 2023 radar and snatch up whatever you can.
2019 Michael Wenzel “Furmint Under Flor”
Grapes: Furmint (100%)
Opinion: ★★★★★ (out of five)
A beginner might like … how approachable this decidedly geeky and natural wine is. While flor-aged wines are some of the most fascinating to learn about, they are not known for their everyday application. Here, you don’t need to comprehend the processes’ magic to fully appreciate the deliciousness of this wine. Pair it with whatever food or context you like; it’s willing to play.
A wine obsessive might like … exploring the dimensions of Furmint in a new way. This ancient grape variety with an ancient relationship to Burgenland’s terroir may create a timeless tale, but this wine feels decidedly futuristic. Where do you want to go? Wenzel seems to ask with this wine and its extravagantly beautiful wine label. Keep your eyes open for this producer. I am highly intrigued.
Note: This wine was purchased with funds generated from our subscriptions. Learn more.