Restrictions on movement present an ideal opportunity for Peter Ranscombe to return to Romania’s native varieties and great-value wines.
WHENEVER friends or acquaintances ask about the wine adventures on which I’ve been, one trip more than any other always piques their interest – Romania.
So many people still have images of Anneka Rice’s 1990 visit to a Romanian orphanage in their minds that they can’t quite understand that the country makes wine – or that some of it is really, really good.
And I’m not just talking about great-value supermarket pinot noir or pinot grigio either; Romania’s indigenous varieties – as I noted during my visit in 2018 – have real potential and deserve a spot on bottle shop shelves or restaurant wine lists in their own right.
Those national specialities were on show during today’s online tasting with Cramele Recas, the country’s biggest wine exporter and one of its biggest producers.
It’s run by Philip Cox, a Bristolian who bought the winery in 1998, turning it from a bulk wine producer into a key supplier not only to supermarkets in the UK but also the higher-end domestic market.
Orange is the new white
Cox’s Solara Orange (equivalent to £8.67, The Fine Wine Company) brings those two worlds together, with a blend of local varieties feteasca alba and tamaioasa romaneasca with the more familiar chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
It’s a great introduction not just to Romanian orange wine but to orange wine in general, which is a white wine that’s made a wee bit like a red wine.
The juice is left in contact with the white grape skins for a short time so that it picks up a bit of colour, in a similar way to leaving juice in contact with red grape skins to make rosé wine.
Here, the result is jasmine, tangerine, lemon rind and peach on the nose, leading into concentrated peach flavours on the palate and a bit of a rounded texture too.
What’s best about this orange wine is that it’s in no way funky – no off odours, no sharp tastes – and instead acts as a very accessible way to explore this emerging category.
Similarly, the Wine Atlas Feteascã Regalã 2019 (£5.25, Asda) is a great introduction to one of Romania’s white grapes, with stalkier green pepper and lemon rind aromas and fresher lemon flavours, which would appeal to sauvignon blanc drinkers.
It’s ever-so-slightly off-dry, but you’d never know with its crackling acidity.
Feteasca Regala also makes an appearance in the blend of the Wildflower Cuvee Blanc Reserva – which sadly is only available to restaurants, bars and other on-trade premises through supplier St Austell Wines – alongside chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and muscat ottonel.
There’s a creaminess and butteriness to the wine that comes from the chardonnay portion having been fermented and aged for three months in French oak barriques or barrels, with lemon curd flavours to balance its crisp acidity.
For me, oak was also the dominant feature of the Selene Feteasca Neagra 2018 (£16.50, Tanners), which spent 12 months in new barrels and picked up a lot of sweet vanilla – one to visit again once those oak flavours have had more time to mellow and integrate to let more of the feteasca neagra’s blackberry jam flavours shine.
As well as banging the drum for local varieties, Cramele Recas is also a key player when it comes to producing wines from more familiar grapes.
Its pinot grigios are mainstays at Asda and Spar, and its Sorcova Pinot Grigio 2019 is due to launch in Waitrose next month; it’s attractive and fruity, with pear, green apple and lemon on the nose giving way to redder apples on the palate, and the perfect demonstration that pinot grigio doesn’t have to be watery and bland.
If you enjoy your pinot grigio just that wee bit drier then check out Corney & Barrow’s Cramele Recas bottling.
In the same vein, the 2019 Incanta Pinot Noir (£5.99, Majestic Wine) is another excellent example of a great-value Romanian wine, with classic raspberry, red cherry, light wood smoke and a hint of fruits-of-the-forest yoghurt on the nose and then concentrated raspberry jam and spun sugar on the palate.
Cox pointed out that the pinot noir vines are only 15 years old, which makes me impatient to see what their wine will be like in 25 or even 50 years’ time – one to watch for the future yet to also enjoy now.
For more stories from Peter Ranscombe’s The Grape & The Grain drinks blog visit https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/category/grapegrain/