By Robert Marshall
Perpetually poised to become the next great wine producing country, Romania has the largest area under vine of any of its neighbours in eastern Europe and whilst having the volumes to satisfy the thirst of export markets, only recently has it started to define itself as a producer of quality wines. A continental climate of long and sometimes hot summers paired with cold winters allows viticulture to be spread throughout Romania and grape growing here has a long history dating back at least 4,000 years.
The most recent and evident impact on Romanian viticulture was authoritarian communist rule. State controlled wineries were dedicated to pumping out large volumes of sweetened, cloying wines that still dominates the supermarket shelves today and they remain firmly stuck to the palates of an entire generation.
The fall of Ceaușescu in 1989, and the immediate aftermath, was even less fortuitous for the industry. If you wanted to make money fast in a kleptocracy, then viticulture, with its dedication, conscientious and patience, is not the way to double your dollar overnight.
Romania’s ascension to the EU in 2007 provided the much needed funding and recruited passionate investors, many foreign, who anticipated the country’s potential for quality wine production.
Fresh plantings of commercial clones of well-known international varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, have been a safe and commercial bet for many vineyards, but several producers have opted to replant historical, indigenous Romanian and regional varieties, in particular the Fetească grapes – Neagră (red), Albă and Regală (both white).
This remains the present dilemma for many winemakers – to continue on the path of producing affordable, generic wines with well-known grapes, which are selling well on foreign markets and with a new generation of Romanian wine drinkers or to establish an individual and defined Romanian wine style with less familiar, tried, tested and tasted grapes that are as capricious and varied as Romania’s history.
5 WINES TO BUY AND TRY
Crama Girboiu – Epicentrum
It’s the mineral rich soils and a marginally cooler climate than southern Romania that make the Moldova region perfect for fresh and often zesty white wines. Epicentrum, made by the family run Crama Girboiu, is a reference to the vineyard’s proximity to Vrancea, one of the most active seismic points in Europe. A blend of two local white grape varieties, Șarba and Plăvaie this is a dry wine with delicate floral aromas, with well rounded fruity and balanced by fresh citrus and zesty minerality.
Balla Géza – Clarus
Sparkling wines have experienced continued global growth over the last few years. Although the Italian made Prosecco spearheaded the trend towards affordable sparkling wines, other countries have invested in the technology to make some delicious, bubbly examples. Balla Géza, from Minis in the Banat region of Romania, make a sparkling wine from the local Mustoasa de Măderat grape. What you get in the bottles is a delightful and vibrant sparkling wine, with hints of nectarine and peach, both versatile and affordable.
Avincis – Negru de Drăgășani
Avincis is success story of Romanian investment. This modern and impressive winery sits on the rolling hills overlooking the Olt river in Drăgășani, home to the equally impressive wineries of Prince Stirbey and Oliver Bauer. The grape variety is Negru de Drăgășani, unique to the region, and Avincis make a wine that is soft and velvety with flavours of black cherries, blackcurrants and delicate spices.
Corcova Roy & Dâmboviceanu – Fetească Neagră
Still in Oltenia but heading southwest from Drăgăşani, you reach the County of Mehedinți, home to two great wineries Corcova Roy & Dâmboviceanu and Oprișor.
Corcova makes a round, smooth and fruity style of Fetească Neagră. If you like your easy drinking merlots and malbecs then you will love this easy drinking Fetească Neagră. Perfect with pizza or Romanian pork dishes and like many great wines its strength is the uncomplicated balance between ripe, black fruits, a velvety texture and freshness.
Oprișor – Drăgaică Roșie
A blend of world class, international grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon provides backbone and strength, Merlot – fruit and velvety softness, Pinot Noir – elegance and style and Shiraz – spice and complexity. Drăgaică in Oltenian folklore refers to the flower laden young maidens that ward off evil spirits from the crops. They certainly seem to have been doing a good job with the vines because this is a serious red wine with ripe blackberries, dried plums and rich, deep flavours. It has spent some time aged in oak which gives succulent complexity and nuances of vanilla, dark chocolate and spices. If you like your wines bold and fruit forward – Aussie Shiraz, Californian Zinfandel or even Rioja Reserva – then this is a wine for you.
Robert Marshall is a wine and spirits consultant living and working in Romania since 2007.
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