David Copp: Travels and insights in to Romanian wine Winegrowers insights of Romania
Romania: four days, seven wineries, 134 wines, 945 kilometres, David Copp reports on the recent Circle of Wine Writers trip to Romania
Following the fall of communism in the 90s, the Romanian wine industry was keen to shake off its image as a producer of low grade, bulk wine and invested millions of euros in replanting vineyards and replacing outdated machinery with new stainless steel equipment. The project has benefited from substantial EU funding and the country is ready to shout about its quality wine.
Romanian Winegrowers, a group of eight leading Romanian wineries, invited 12 Circle of Wine Writers members to assess the progress of their wines.
Out of the seven wineries we were to visit, only one was familiar, Halewood Romania. It's fair to say that the company has done much to keep Romanian wines in front of British wine drinkers while the industry was re-establishing itself after a difficult political and economic period.
Senior winemaker Lorena Deaconu led us through the company's extensive portfolio of well-made, clean, bright wines which represent tremendous value for money. It was her Theia Chardonnay, however, that caught my attention for the daring and decisive use of partial malolactic fermentation to allow some residual sugar to lift the wine and give it a distinctive fruit flavour. The Hyperion Feteasca Neagra was another outstanding wine and completed a extensive, but excellent tasting session.
Over in the western region of Banat, Recas is championing international varietals with great success. With 800 hectares under vine and annual sales of around 8 million bottles, it is an impressive and well run modern winery. Wine after wine hits the button in terms of taste, quality and price so it is hardly surprising to hear that Recas wines have been well received by the larger supermarket chains that constantly need to be alert to changes in consumer preference, and international currency rates that influence entry level priced wines.
The strong world demand for Pinot Grigio has exhausted Italian stocks and Recas has timed its entry into international markets very well. Its light styled Pinot Noir is smooth, mellow, and easy drinking yet has all the flavours we associate with this grape.
We were also impressed by some of the smaller producers' grit and determination to create boutique style wines at higher price points. Stirbey, based in the Dragasani region, blew us away with their elegant, terroir driven wines. Indigenous varietals are at the forefront of their winemaking, which is led by Austrian winemaker, Oliver Bauer. Cramposie and Novac were two grapes I'd certainly never heard of, but the quality of these domestic wines should earn them a well-deserved place on an independent shelf in the UK in the very near future.
One of the industry's rising stars Aurelia Visinescu, is based at Sahateni in the Dealu Mare. Aurelia is a highly qualified oenologist who joined the State Co-Operative and was sent to South Africa and Australia to gain winemaking experience. A born horticulturalist she tends her vines well and makes a range of wines from both indigenous and international varieties which demonstrate her imagination and determination to develop fruit flavour. Her whites are fresh and fruity and her reds more work in progress but she is definitely a winemaker to follow very closely.
S.E.R.V.E is also one to watch. The winery, based in the Dealu Mare, was established by the late Count Guy de Poix who had already been successful as a winemaker in Corsica and was interested in the potential of Romania. Sadly he died prematurely earlier this year and his charming and very able widow Mihaela has taken over leadership of the winery team.
She proudly showed us the results of the count's considerable investment in new plantings and a modernised winery where we tasted the range of wines which included 2007 Cuvée Charlotte, an excellent blend of Feteasca Neagra with Cabernet and Merlot, and the rich and generous Cuvée Alexandru made purely from Cabernet Sauvignon.
The overall impression from this well organised and wide ranging visit was that Romania is at last expressing the potential it has promised for so long. The country is already known for its Cotnari wines and the occasional Pinot Noir but the current resurgence is due to fine vineyards in great locations, well tended and producing healthy grapes processed in modern wineries by skilful, contemporary oenologists.
Even the small wineries we visited and Prince Stirbey in particular, showed that Romanian terroirs can deliver superb wines.
However, the trade would be wise to be cautious. There are many other growers that have not yet got their act together and judging from the state of some vineyards don't look likely to do so soon. The eight wineries we visited are very much ahead of the rest.