Ten grape myths and legends

18th July, 2017 by Rupert Millar

Furmint

The myth: ‘Furmint is from Italy’

Furmint’s confusion with Altesse was covered in the previous slide but there have also been persistent legends about it having an Italian origin.

Like all good legends there is never one concrete story but the two most plausible centre around the Middle Ages.

In the first instance it is suggested that Italian monks invited in by Stephen II in the 12th century brought the grape with them, likely for use in the Eucharist and/or to provide wine for their new monastic community.

Another story from around 1250 says that, following the devastation of Hungary by the Mongols, King Béla IV called for foreign workers, particularly those with viticultural knowledge, and many people from the town of Formia in Lazio answered the call, bringing their local grapes with them.

The rather taller tale concerns an Italian soldier during the Seven Years War (1756-63) called Forment. Apparently so-called after the Italian for wheat (fromento’) because of his reddish-blond beard, Forment distinguished himself during the war and was made Count Formentin and given land in Tokay by a grateful Empress Maria Theresa. Whereupon, of course, he swiftly introduced Furmint from his homeland of Friuli.

The Italian connection is sometimes supported by the idea that its name derives from ‘fiore dei monti’ (flower of the mountains).

The truth: Although one of Furmint’s parents is Gouais Blanc (making it a half-sibling of Chardonnay, Gamay and Riesling among others), Furmint is very solidly Hungarian.

Appealing as the picaresque tale of the Count of Formentin is, we have documentary evidence of Furmint being grown in Hungary a good 200 years before the outbreak of the Seven Years War.

The earlier Italian connections are also, at most, highly improbable. To begin with Furmint has never been observed or documented in Italy.

Secondly, Furmint has no genetic link to any other grape variety being grown in the Italian peninsula today.

One might argue that the missing link was lost to us forever due to phylloxera and it’s ‘possible’ but given the huge number of grape varieties that still exist in Italy, the fact Furmint can’t be linked to any of them makes the hypothesis highly suspect.

2 Responses to “Ten grape myths and legends”

  1. Kent Benson says:

    Another common grape myth is the still prevalent claim by Argentine producers that their Bonarda is from Italy. DNA profiling has shown it to be the Savoie variety, Douce Noire, also known as Charbono, Corbeau, and Charbonneau.

  2. DC says:

    Can’t quite see how number 10, Merlot, is a “myth” when the author goes on to say that the “folklore” is “in all likelihood true.”?

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