I predict a comeback of Romanian wines

The world of wine has changed a lot in the last 25 years. 

I predict a comeback of Romanian wines

Back in 1990 when I first began seeking out varietal wines (as opposed to branded table wines) the best value (drinkable) Cabernet Sauvignon was from Bulgaria and the best value Pinot Noir was Romanian.

I visited a number of Romanian vineyards a few weeks ago and what I found was hugely encouraging and I predict a comeback. It ranks seventh in wine production in Europe and since they joined the EU in 2007 new plantings and investment in wineries have increased rapidly.

Families that had their wine estates confiscated by the communists in 1948 are now beginning to buy back their vineyards.

In other regions enthusiastic blow-ins such as Philip Cox have invested heavily and are determined to revive Romania’s wine image. Philip owns Cramela Recas and is originally from the UK but married a Romanian (his ultra-efficient export manager Elvira).

Cramela Recas is not far from Timisoara in western Romania and their 925ha have been completely replanted since 1999 — they now produce more than 10 million bottles annually.

Sadly the communists knew or cared little about viticulture and little of what is left from their rule is worth saving, due to chaotic planting methods.

Cramela Recas’ main production is international varieties such as Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir but they also grow native varieties such as Feteasca Neagra (red) and Feteasca Regale (white) and currently they are the only winery exporting to Ireland (that I am aware of).

I also visited and was impressed by the recently revived Prince Stirbey and the newer winery Avincis in the small region of Dragasani, three hours west of Bucharest. The Stirbey wines were once served on the Orient Express.

Around the Black Sea and in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains you will find new wineries opening every month. Watch this space.

For the diary: July 11, One Day Wine Course with Maureen O’Hara, €150 - 10 wines, free tasting glasses and lunch included. www.premierwinetraining.com

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Umbrele Sauvignon Blanc, Recas, Romania — €9.99

Stockists: O’Donovans; Matsons; 1601 Kinsale; World Wide Wines; Next Door nationwide; Vintry Rathgar; Baggot Street Wines

Romania may be in eastern Europe but in terms of both latitude and attitude it is more aligned to France. This is clearly a European sauvignon blanc with emphasis on the mineral and green apple elements but also with floral touches and clean crisp acidity on the finish.

Umbrele Merlot, Recas, Romania — €9.99

Stockists: O’Donovans; Matsons; 1601 Kinsale; World Wide Wines; Next Door nationwide; Vintry Rathgar; Baggot Street Wines

Merlot is a varietal you don’t see as often these days (thanks in part to the movie Sideways) but as long as you don’t over-crop this variety it can offer lots of pleasure (generally it is best to avoid cheap Merlot). This has plum fruit, a small amount of structure for balance and a forest-fruits finish.

Dreambird Pinot Noir, Recas, Romania — €9.99

Stockists: Ardkeen Stores Waterford; McHughs Malahide and Kilbarrack; Hollands Bray; Vintry Rathgar

Finding decent pinot noir under €10 is almost impossible, particularly from a relatively cool European vineyard. This has classical pinot noir earthy red fruit aromas, a soft, fruity texture on the palate with lingering light tannins and a final flourish of red currant fruit on the finish.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Kung Fu Girl Washington State Riesling, USA — €16.99-€17.99

Stockist: Matsons Grange and Bandon; Cheers at the Coach House; Carpenters Castleknock; Mitchells

Today is Independence Day in the US and here is a very non-typical wine from the north-west. Washington State is considerably cooler than California and well suited to riesling (and pinot noir). A wine with attitude — apple and stone aromas and flavours. A fine citrus and mineral finish.

De Loach Heritage Reserve Zinfandel 2013, California, USA — €18.99

Stockists: Florries Tramore; Sweeneys; Wicklow Wine Company; La Touche, Greystones; McHughs www.mchughs.ie

You have to drink zinfandel on Independence Day given how much we associate this grape with the US (although it is genetically identical to Italian primitivo). Cherry confit aromas, full sweet fruit flavours with a rich juicy centre, good concentration and ripeness and a dry finish.

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2012, California, USA — €34.99

Stockists: Florries Tramore; Blackrock Cellars; Clontarf Wines; Red Island Skerries; McHughs

Along with the great zinfandels of Ridge Vineyards this is my favourite Californian zinfandels. Fine complex aromas, red and black fruits with violet touches, integrated tannins, finely balanced and supremely elegant. Benchmark zinfandel.

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