By Robert Marshall
It’s fair to say that most of us enjoy a bottle of wine from time to time, and, often, we plum for the same plonk in order to avoid disappointment, aiming to stay solvent whilst compromising our sobriety. The vinous seas that surround wine world are vast, difficult to navigate even for us professionals. Many wine buyers are reticent to fork out another 5 or 10 euros on a bottle for fear of disappointment and there’s nothing worse than exceeding your budget on a big name wine and then desperately trying to coax enjoyment and pleasure out of your glass, all the while doubting whether it was worth paying the extra cash for something that tastes unfamiliar, abstract and strange.
Christmas is all about indulgence, and hopefully our seasonal tipple tips will give some guidance on a selection of Romanian premium wines and explain why it can be great to push the boat out when it comes to choosing your high-quality plonk to pop open this festive season.
CARASTELEC – CARASSIA – BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT MAGNUM
Whether it’s a party or a just a nicely prepared dinner a sparkling wine is a great way to kick off the celebrations and with Carassia Blanc de blancs brut Magnum you have a fair amount of fizz (1.5 litres) to start the festivities. Under law Champagne must be made from grapes grown, fermented, matured and bottled in the delineated area that is the Champagne region of France and as a famous luxury product it carries a price tag to match. This doesn’t mean that other producers can’t produce a mousse to rival the French famous fizz in other parts of the world.
Hailing from the north-west part of Romania, Carastelec have invested in similar technology and planted the same grape varieties as Champagne producers and the result is a beautiful, elegant and award-winning wine (Gold Medal at Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship 2018, no less).
Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes the second fermentation takes place in the bottles with 30 months ageing on ‘the lees’, or dead yeast cells, which gives its characteristic voluminous texture and biscuity aroma. Delicious and refined on the palate, the combination of citrus fruits and green apples leads to long and honied finish.
CRAMA BAUER – BAUER O.R.A.N.G.E. 2016
It would be normal to list a white wine, or at least a rose, in our list of xmas recommendations, but the shelves are stocked with flavourful examples of refreshing, crisp Sauvignon Blancs and oaky, well-rounded Chardonnays, not to mention an overbearing amount of rose wine, enough to satisfy us throughout the year. So, as we enter a new decade, why not try something new? Why not try an Orange wine? As opposed to red wine most white wines are made without any contact with the skins of the grapes.
Oliver Bauer, owner and winemaker of Crama Bauer, allows the grape juice to ferment with the skins, which not only produces a distinctive orange, golden huge but also adds a more complex, and often savoury, flavours as well as a textured mouthfeel that has more in common with red wines. The floral and vegetal notes means O.R.A.N.G.E teams up well with roast veggies, especially parsnip and pumpkin, combined with a pleasant and refreshing citrusy finish. Orange wines are becoming increasingly popular with consumers and are more readily available in wine shops and restaurants not only in Romania, but throughout the world.
PETRO VASELO – OTARNITA – 2017
Choosing a good red for Christmas largely depends on what will be on the menu for dinner. Always remember that if you start at lunch with a big, robust red the likeliness of making it into the afternoon, without a nap in the armchair, is fairly low, as is the likelihood of properly enjoying subtler white, such as sparkling or sweet wines, later in the day.
This beautifully velvety Pinot Noir from Petro Vaselo has all those delicate nuances of light floral and cherry notes on the palate, and because Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape you don’t get a big, chewy taste of tannins in the mouth meaning you can remain on course throughout the day. Otarnita is the creation of Petro Vaselo’s Italian winemaker Marco Feltrin and like Marco, who is a mere 31 years of age, this wine is youthful and elegant and great company for Christmas dinner. Perfectly paired with Turkey, and all the trimmings, it works equally as well with succulent pork and cabbage, as the fresh cherry and cranberry flavours cut through the fatty flavours and textures, cleansing and refreshing the palate.
AVINCIS – CUVÉE GRANDIFLORA
Avincis is a winery that hit the ground running when it was first established by the Stoica family in 2007 and has consistently produced exciting and complex wines made from both local, indigenous varieties from Drăgășani, and from well-known international varieties
Cuvee Grandiflora is a graceful combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and depending on the vintage – the local grape Negru de Drăgăşani, blended to create an intense and ripe red wine that is perfect for more robust, gamey and spicy meat dishes. Like all classic Bordeaux influenced blends the Cabernet Sauvignon delivers nuances of blackcurrant and subtle violet, whilst providing structure and weight to the wine. The merlot balances this robust intensity with fruitier flavours of red currants and cherries and a portion of the of the varieties are aged in new French oak barrels for just over a year, which rounds off the sharp edges and helps develop notes of vanilla, coffee and spice. If you have the patience; give it a decant or several generous swirls in your glass before tucking into your Christmas dinner.
LILIAC – ICE WINE
During the previous two centuries luscious sweet wines were appreciated and prized by royal courts across Europe and these luxurious liquors were supposedly dabbed on the lips of dying Dukes and Kings to revive them from their deathbeds. Sweet styles of wine are largely ignored by most modern wine consumers who want cool, dry crisp whites, whilst keeping a check on their waistlines, and wines with a high sugar content have fallen out of favour with the public. This doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a market for this style of wine and with its heady and decadent flavours lusciously sweet wines are perfect for gastronomic indulgences and, along with sweet sherries and port, are easily enjoyed at Christmas.
Sweet wines are made in small quantities, and usually come in half bottles, because the grapes are late harvested ( in autumn, when then obtain maximum sugar levels) or, in the case of Liliac Ice wine, when the berries are actually frozen and still attached to the vines. For Liliac this is a labour intensive process that takes place at night, before the berries thaw in freezing Transylvanian temperatures. Because the water in the pulp is frozen a natural, pure and very sweet grape juice is extracted using a delicate pressing which, after a period of 9 months maturation, produces intense aromas and flavours of lychee, tropical fruits, ripe apricot and peach supported by a nice, clean finish. If cloying sweetness is not to your taste, just remember that a great sweet wine will always have a backbone of acidity that keeps the palate refreshed and can be the perfect elixir of indulgence to compliment a Cracking Craciun!