There has been a long-standing amusement amongst my colleagues for the last four years about my passion for Eastern European wines, and my enthusiasm for them, which was cemented even further last week when I had the opportunity to visit Romania. I really did not know what to expect going over there, but I was hugely impressed, both with the quality of the wines, and the country itself. I visited AOC Recas in the south west of the country, very close to the Hungarian and Serbian borders, and centred around Romania’s third largest city, Timisoara. The city of Timisoara is rich in history, being the birthplace of the revolution in 1989, and the pain and conflict is clearly marked on the historical buildings around the city.
Romania is the 6th biggest wine producing country in Europe, with over 179,000 h/a planted under vine, with over 100,000 h/a being planted under native grape varieties. The vineyard I visited is called Cramele Recas, which has a history of wine making dating back to 1447.
On my first morning in Romania, we drove north to the Carpathian Mountains, into Transylvanian to another AOC called Arad. After leaving the luxury of my host’s car (Philip Cox of Cramele Recas) we got into what has to be the most primitive form of transportation to drive up 45® slopes of the vineyards – a bench attached to the back of a tractor. After the traumatic 30 minute journey up the hill, we got out to admire the view right down to the Hungarian planes and the vineyards to have our first taste of a native Romanian grape variety.
The wine was made from the little known Feteasca Neagra, a red grape varietal. The wine literally translates as ‘little black maiden’ and originates from the Moldavia region (incorporating today’s Republic of Moldova and the Romanian region of Moldova). The wines produced from this grape are full bodied, with intense spice and ripe black fruits. The wines age fantastically well in American oak specifically, adding a sweet coconut flavours to the wines. Throughout the two days, I tasted a dozen wines made from this grape, as well as a variety of international grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Among the most impressive were certainly the Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio which had nice fruit character and refreshing qualities.
We drove back to have a tour of the winery, which once again completely exceeded my expectations. Philip and his wife Elvira have invested £30 million in the last ten years in the winery, ensuring that they have the most up to date technology and equipment to make their wines.
They employ winemakers from Australia, Rioja, South Africa and France to produce their exceptional wines, and the international influence can most definitely be tasted. From the complex Bordeaux style red wines they are making, to the completely unusual Solo Quinta range, which are a blend of 5 grape varieties. They make this as a white, red and rose wine, each blend differing from year to year. They are probably one of the most interesting and diverse wines I have ever tasted. The white is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Feteasca Regala (the white version of Neagra, meaning ‘little white maiden’) and one of the most rare grape varieites of which there is only 13 h/a recorded of being planted in the world, Negru de Dragasani, which, unexpectedly, is a red varietal. The rose and red wines are made in a similar way, using 4 red grapes and Gewurtraminer to make the rose and 4 white grapes and the Feteasca Neagra to make the red. I was so impressed by this take on a wine blend, showcasing the Roman grape varieties and making truly impressive and interesting wines. The two days were an absolute delight and I was hugely impressed with the technology and entrepreneurial approach that Philip and Elvira are taking at Cramele Recas.
Needless to say, I have come back with a renewed enthusiasm for Eastern European wines, which I shall do my best to impress upon my colleagues…watch this space…..or our wine list!