Welcome to Romania
Millennia of winemaking tradition is being reborn
Wednesday 15 September 2021
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Romania — a gorgeously green, deeply-forested, highly-mountained country that has been making wine for 5000 years. But don’t worry if you’ve never tried a Romanian wine. A lot of people outside of Romania haven’t.
The history of winemaking in Romania goes back a long way. Some sources have indicated that it might have been migrants from the Eastern shores of the Black Sea who brought their winemaking knowledge with them to the Western shores and the fertile areas here. So it must have been one of the first winemaking regions in Europe, if not the world. It’s also one of the largest winemaking regions there is, and the fifth largest producer of wine grapes in the EU. So if we rarely see Romanian wine on our shelves, where does it go? Put simply: Romanians love their own wine. It stays home, and gets enjoyed close to where it was made. When your local produce is this good, you can hardly blame them.
Strong, Sweet or Sparkling
Thanks to Romania’s parallel latitude to France, the wine regions within the country can be described in broadly similar terms. Romania has the Carpathian mountains too, though, a vast mountain range that curls like a bent knee through the whole region, creating cooler plateaus like Transylvania, and high, sun-soaked slopes.
This means that in different parts of Romania you’ll find different styles of winemaking, and different grapes being grown to suit the varying climates. Comparing Romania’s wine regions to those of France is actually quite a useful exercise. Wine areas in the North are of course much cooler, and so you can expect them to focus on white grapes, and on red grapes that enjoy those temperatures like Pinot Noir. Many of Romania’s indigenous grapes thrive in the colder regions, and in the South East winemakers have focused on powerful red varieties.
Cold winters in some parts of Romania also make an excellent stage for icewine, and this style is made at the Liliac Winery in the Lechinta Vineyard region, in the north of the country above Transylvania and to the west of the East Carpathians. Speciality wines in Romania aren’t all about harnessing the cold, though. Many regions of the country enjoy mild winters and hot summers, meaning that sweet dessert wines are a traditional delicacy. In the Tarnave Vineyard region in Transylvania, the Italian appassimento method is used to dry the harvested grapes and concentrate the sugars inside each fruit. (You might already know this type of winemaking well if you enjoy Amarone wine.) Back at Liliac Winery, they use the German Schilfwein method to create the “Nectar of Transylvania” — grapes are harvested then left to dry on straw mats over the winter to concentrate and intensify their flavours.
Romania’s most famous winemaking region, Dealurile Moldovei, is where 12 vineyards specialise in white wine and most importantly, the production of sweet wines. Dry white wines, particularly table wines, are made in many other regions over Romania, but the country is especially proud of their sweet wines, asserting that they are among the best in the world. One such region is Crisana and Maramures, where the climate is favourable to a wide range of grape varieties and winemaking practices. Here they also make a fine sparkling wine, a style that wasn’t always popular in Romania but that winemakers have recently turned their experienced hands to. On the Transylvanian plateau, sparkling wines like Jidvei are made using the champagne method using familiar grapes like Pinot Noir, alongside local indigenous varieties like Fetească Regală.
Wine Culture in Romania
Until the 90s, Romania was under Communist rule as part of the Soviet Union. During this time, wine was usually made one of two ways, either at home for personal consumption (a tradition that continues to this day in some parts of the country) or in large wineries where wine was mass-produced for the state and stayed within the USSR. Many of Romania’s established winemakers used to make wine for the state, and a handful of them are still active today.
Private winemakers only re-emerged in the 1990s, when Romania opened up to the world, meaning that a lot of Romania’s winemakers are quite new. Despite this, most are steeped in national history and a tradition which is both rich and a source of immense national pride.
So when you open a Romanian bottle, it’s wine that’s full of thousands of years of experience, brought into the modern age with new intentions and a fresh, young outlook. Not many regions can say that, can they?
Many Romanian red wines are powerful, juicy, and full of black fruit flavours. One of the wines in the box, Ciocârlie, is a Negru de Dragasani blend from the South, packed with blackberry and sloe flavours, but also blueberry and black cherry too, a great balance between deep fruit and a touch of refreshing acidity.
The blend, like many red wine blends from the South of the country, uses a combination of indigenous grapes and grapes that are found more widely around the world. Romanian winemakers have used grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for years, but now there is definitely an interest in returning to grapes that have grown or been hybridised in the area, not least because of their natural affinity for the local climate.
Competing with international varieties is a tough call for a nation still fighting to overcome a tarnished reputation in the global wine community, and with such interesting and distinctive indigenous varieties to draw on, it seems sensible to play to this natural strength. And judging by what’s in the box this month, we can only agree wholeheartedly. We hope you enjoy them.
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