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UNCOVERING ROMANIAN WINE

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My first encounter with wines from Romania took place in France, precisely in Montpellier, during the 2012 edition of Millésime Bio.

Domeniile Franco-Romane, a Dealu Mare winery owned by Denis Thomas, from Nuits-Saint-Georges, had their organic selection there (www.domeniilefrancoromane.com)

A highly reputed winemaker from Burgundy, Mr.Thomas sold most of his vineyards in France, including all his Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels, with the aim of finding a place in the world where he could produce Burgundy-type wines. He choose Dealu Mare and the results are stunning. His unoaked Chardonnay was crisp and mineral with a great persistence, qualitatively at the same level of a good Chablis Premier Cru. The Pinot Noir is really dark in color, neat fruit of black cherry, salinity and some black pepper in mouth with medium tannicity, but excellent length, the village of Santenay came to mind. Of course I asked him what type of soil could give such a minerality. “Oh it’s very fertile: black clay”, he replied, but, at the dept of 80 cm. starts the rock, I knew it, so I planted at high density so that the roots were forced to develop vertically, not horizontally” But he had also a Feteasca Neagra: being totally naïf to the variety, I found a ripe, round tannins red, similar to a Merlot if it wasn’t for its remarkable spiciness. Much later I’ve learned that Feteasca Neagras from Southern Romania tend to be like that.

After a long time, five years later, I participated to the anniversary event of the #winelover Facebook Community organized in Timișoara in February 2017. The first evening, at Amphora restaurant, Răzvan Stoenescu, Gheorghe Ignat and Zoltan Szoverdi, presented the participants with 13 (if I recall correctly) local varieties. I knew the names of the three Feteascas (Albă, Regală and Neagră), and my eyes opened to a previously unknown world. I was particularly impressed by Știrbey’s Crâmpoșie Selezionato and Avinci’s Negru de Drăgășani. Both wineries are from Drăgășani, in the Southern region of Oltenia ( www.stirbey.com and www.avincis.ro

The second and third day of that happening we went on a tour of Banat and Miniș (the county of Arad, immediately North of Timișoara) At Balla Geza, in Miniș, especially Furmint, Cadarca and Fetească Neagră and were excellent. Very interesting the non-volcanic furmint: mineral but not at the point of some coming from famous Hungarian areas, expressive fruit: a relatively “easy” wine, comparable to a Slovenian Sipo (that’s the way Furmint is called in Slovenia). I still consider Balla’s Cadarca (or Kadarka) among the very best, possibly second only to a Gamza (a Bulgarian synonym) from Vidin. Feteasca Neagră was splenid: lots of red fruit, not much of plums here, the spiciness and salinity gave complexity, while the acidity provided a very good drinkability. (www.ballageza.com)

Romania got me fascinated so I’ve visited it on several occasions during the last year and a half and I had the opportunity to taste Romanian wines in fairs abroad too.

A special attention is, my opinion, due to the vast Northeastern region of Moldova.

Here the big name, in terms of quantity as well as quality is Casa de Vinuri Cotnari (www.vinuricotnari.ro) They produce a vast range of labels, some with varieties peculiar to the region (endemisms). One îs Francusa, a white grape, lovely the Brut made from it, another is Grasa de Cotnari, related to furmint yet different. Most of the bottles of Grasa are made of a dry or half-dry version, still or sparkling

A still, dry, Grasa de Cotnari, can be a beautiful wine, with good length, minerality and complexity. One of winoovers’ Holy Grails is the sweet, botrytized version, a rarity since conditions favorable to the Botrytis Cynerea aren’t frequent in the area. Last September, at the Vin la Cultura festival in Iași I have tasted the vintage 1989, and it was simply great. Nice tertiaries, mostly nuts, with a petrol final. The good acidity kept.

The wine is alive and vibrant, despite the high sugar level and its 29 years of age.

Another “rare pearl” was their 1994 Feteasca Alba also Dulce (sweet). The wine was very fine, the varietal is more subtle than Grasa, even when young, if I had to make a choice I would have picked the Grasa 89, but both wines were memorable. Also Cotnari’s reds can be very good They have different Feteasca Neagras, leaner than their Southern siblings but very nice. Very convincing is a wine issued from another local red variety: Babeasca Neagră.

Also small producers of the Iași’s area should be considered with attention: Gramma make an excellent fresh Fetească Albă, my favorite so far, Strunga is also very good, especially with the Fetească Neagră and Chardonnay.

Still in Moldova, but rather distant from Iași, in Vrancea County, Domeniile Panciu are a must for their Bruts Their Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir) is simply fantastic. They use classical Champagne varieties (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) however their wines are more similar to those issued from famous Northern Italy’s areas (Oltrepo, Franciacorta, Trento), than to those coming from Marne and Aube departments, in other words there is more fruit than in the Champagnes. I also want to stress how good they are in mastering the yeasts, perfect perlage and no excessive bread crust sentors. www.caspanciu.ro

The Coastal Region of Dobrogea makes also excellent wines. Sarica Niculițel by the Danube Delta makes exciting wines: their Caii de la Letrea Fetească Neagră Ediție Limitată is, for my taste, the best version of the variety I’ve ever had, not a fruit bomb, nor overripe notes, a spicy, mineral red with a nearly never ending final. They also make a lovely Aligote, also excellent their rosé.

In Transylvania Crama la Salina from Turda, about an hour drive Southeast of Cluj-Napoca, deserves a detour: great Pinot Noirs, both rosé and red, very good Rhine Riesling and Chardonnay. Also here, minarality reigns. www.cramalasalina.ro

Two final mentions now, one from Crama Bauer, in Drăgășani. It’s the property of Olivier Bauer the oenologist at Stirbey’s, he makes an orange wine: a skin-contact Sauvignonasse. The 2015 was lovely,complex yet fresh. www.cramabauer.com (site still under construction).

Then, last definetely not least: a world class blend: Davino’s Flamboyant 2006: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Fetească Neagră. Immense wine, silky tannins, the level is the same as a top Bolgheri. Since it’s from Deaulu Mare instead, let’s call it a Supermuntenian! www.davino.ro

During the next fortnight I’ll participate to special tours of the Northwestern Crișana region and Dealu Mare with the splendid Rovinhud festival (Timișoara) in between, from what I’ve tasted so far, both tours will be exciting, in Crișana Crama Carastelec and Nachbil are top, in Deaulu Mare, Lacerta, Tohani, Aurelia Vișinescu and many more.

Some suggestions of wine festivals where you can have a realistic impression of the Romanian wine scene.

Rovinhud in Timișoara on the third weekend of November www.rovinhud.ro

ReVino in Bucharest in May

Vin La Cultura in Iași on the last weekend of September

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