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Volcanic, health-giving, tumultuous. Three words epitomise Somló’s history – a tiny wine region situated in Northwest Hungary. Somló Hill, a 350m volcanic cone known as “Witness Mountain”, rises steep between the Marcal River to the West and Lake Balaton to the South – it has kept watch over the surrounding vineland for millennia. But Somló Hill has not only been witness to the ancient tradition of Somló wine production. Its very formation shaped it, providing the secret to Somló wines – a black basalt bedrock covered by sediment from the Pannonian Sea (which once engulfed the area). Retaining heat from the day, warmth radiates to the vines on chillier days while a constant breeze and low humidity facilitate plentiful organic viticulture. Location is influential to wine style, with sites to the East of the hill providing lighter wines; dark, heat-retaining soils to the South yielding very ripe grapes; and stony soils to the West contributing a minerality for which Somló wines are famed.

Working in one of Hungary’s smallest wine regions, Somló’s wine producers have been subjected to a history as tumultuous as its geology. Somló wines, which are mainly white, historically travelled well thanks to high acidity (typical of Somló white wines today). They were sold in pharmacies for health-giving potential, dubbed ‘wedding wines’ – rumours that these wines increased the likelihood of a male heir established a tradition for Habsburg emperors to drink them on their wedding night. That marketing is hard to beat. The introduction of Phylloxera and Hungary’s political nationalisation in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, however, dramatically impacted Somló’s quality production.

Despite a slow path to recovery, the past fifteen years have witnessed Somló’s rebirth, with the number of serious winemakers – mainly small – growing considerably and, with them, Somló’s reputation. You can expect largely single-variety wines here and Somló Furmint sits atop the list: austere in its youth with a steely spine, salty minerality and piercing acidity balanced through barrel ageing and time on lees providing a generous, and often creamy, body. Something that producer Tornai delivers in all of this glory.

We know, we had you at “Somló”.

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