Know your grapes: Romania
Meet Romania’s fascinating and distinctive native grape varieties
Wednesday 15 September 2021
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Romania’s indigenous grape varieties are what make it such a fascinating and delicious place for wine lovers to explore. Fiercely independent, the vast majority of Romanian wine is made for their domestic market — essentially, what ferments in Romania gets drunk in Romania. That means that there’s a lot to learn if you’re new to the country’s winemaking regions.
To help you get started on your journey into Romanian wine, here are some of the country’s most popular local grapes used to make some of Romania’s favourite wines. Grab your corkscrew and sip along if you like — tasting and learning is a great way to cement new wine info into your brain. Trust us.
Fetească Albă is one of Romania’s most widely-planted grapes, and can usually be found gracing the slopes of Transylvania. It has many, many local names, and is also known as “Leanka” in Romania and Hungary.
A white grape, the Fetească Albă enjoys relatively low temperatures. Its wines are lively with citrus fruits and blossom, and those floral notes only develop with time to give you wildflowers, hay and ripe apricot in the glass.
Fetească Neagră is an extremely popular red grape variety in Romania, and can be found growing over the whole country’s wine growing regions.
This grape loves the sunshine, and produces rosé stunners. Its fine tannins lend it to ageing, and when made into a red wine produces spicy flavours and aromas like cinnamon, allspice and vanilla. Think cherries, plums and bramble fruits.
Fetească Regală is a popular white wine grape that was discovered in Transylvania in the 1920s, and is also known as Danasana (among many other local names). As well as growing extensively throughout the Transylvania region, you can find this Romanian grape in Austria, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary too.
It’s a hybrid of Fetească Albă and Francusa, and thanks to its tannins can make fantastic medium-bodied white wines and excellent sparkling wine too. It’s got a floral personality, giving off decadent aromas of rose petals and jasmine, and can sometimes have almond notes on top of dried apricots.
Frâncușă is an ancient Roman cultivar that’s been grown in Cotnari Vineyard for centuries. It’s elegant and soft, with a fresh acidity and often a slight grassy aroma that’s perfect for pairing with fish and herby salads.
In the glass, Frâncușă wines are yellow in colour and fruity — green apple, peaches, even grapes, believe it or not — but never sweet. This is a dry white to be enjoyed with friends.
Băbească Neagră has more than 80 names all over the world. Chances are, if you’ve had it before, you might have been sold it as “Sereksiya”, which is what it has been known as in the US.
A helpful and wondrous grape for blending with, alone it gives off light, red fruit, acid-crisp, pinot noir vibes, ideal for warm afternoons and also for making aromatic rosés with too.
Negru de Drăgășani
A blend of two indigenous varieties, Negru de Drăgășani was only released into the world in the early 1990s. It’s a black grape bursting with black and deep rich red fruits — blackberries, plums, blueberries, sloes — and it’s spicy too.
Usually aged in oak, this is a grape that makes rich red wine, but doesn’t have to live in warmer climates since it’s pretty brave in frosty conditions.
Busuioacă de Bohotin
Known in different Romanian regions by the names Muscat Rouge de Frontignan, Muscat Fioletovai and Muscat Violet Cyperus, this might be a giveaway as to what its grapes taste like when magically turned into wine… It’s a sweet one!
Honeysuckle, juicy sweet peaches, rose petals, tiny wild strawberries. Are you thirsty yet? Add freshly torn basil and a touch of almond and you’ve got yourself a high acid, sweet rosé of the gods. These grapes and the wine it produces aren’t grown widely at all, in fact there are only 100 hectares of Busuioacă de Bohotin in Romania in total. It’s difficult to cultivate and only enjoys the sunny South East of the country. So can we all please stop pretending we don’t like sweet wine and get behind the production of little dreams like this? Thanks!
A natural hybrid of Welschriesling, Șarbă has the crispness and the aromatics you’d expect from its family line, but offers a lot more intensity.
Honeyed notes give a wonderful backdrop to floral aromas and flavours, like rosewater and orange blossom, and there’s a hint of fresh herbs too — basil, flat parsley, bay. Romanians enjoy this grape with goats cheese, artichoke and duck liver, the acidity really helping to lift and carry the aromatics without them getting too sticky and decadent.
Grasă de Cotnari
Grasă de Cotnari is an ancient Romanian wine grape grown in continuity for hundreds of years that succumbs beautifully to both over-ripening and botrytis cinerea — Noble Rot. As a result, it can produce deliciously rich and aromatic white wines, full of honeyed stone fruit flavours, dried apricots, currants and even nutty flavours (more like sunflower kernels and walnut than hazelnuts).
It used to also be grown in Hungary, however the phylloxera epidemic at the start of the 20th century all but wiped out this grape variety in all but the Cotnari region of Romania.
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