Romania is one of the wine regions I was really looking forward to visiting this year.
I had planned to go in April, which of course has come and gone in lockdown, and like just about everyone in the country, I've got a bad case of "the best-laid plans". However, I had a chance to visit vicariously with a virtual wine tasting.
It is likely that when it comes to wine, you immediately think of France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Australia and New Zealand; and Romania would be considerably further down the list. It is, to an extent, but as the 13th largest producer in the world, its position is probably a bit more significant than you realise.
Like many of the countries in Europe, wine-making here dates back to the Romans, and further still if you consider that there is evidence of humans living here 40,000 years ago, so it is likely that they had vines for at least some of that time. As phylloxera swept through Europe in the late 19th century, it took the vines of Romania with it, and despite the fact that many of the indigenous vines were grafted onto American rootstock, viticulture development was slow.
It was further exacerbated in the 1940s when Communist rule meant that the focus was purely on quantity rather than quality, and after the Iron Curtain eventually fell, there were the inevitable complications of land ownership and privatisation. More than 20 years of court cases did little to further the development of the wine industry.
EU funding, coupled with investment, meant that the industry had an opportunity to grow. Despite this, much of the land remains in small, family-owned fragmented plots, where people have little interest in making wine; so much of this growth is the result of a few key wineries doing things on a large scale.
Cramele Recaş, which was established in the Banat region outside Timisoara in western Romania in 1998, and is owned by a British and Romanian couple Philip and Elvira Cox, is one of these companies. You may have tried their Wildflower Pinot Noir, which I have recommended on a few occasions, and which is available in O'Briens. In many ways, this wine sums up what is good about Romanian wine - it is accessible, well-made and very good value for money.
While Romania has had much success with international varieties such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, the indigenous varieties offer a point of difference; but with names like Fetească Regala, Tamaioasa Romaneasca, Negru de Dragasani and Kadarka, they don't exactly roll off the tongue. Other developments include a move into low-intervention wine, and it is likely that we will be seeing a few of these hitting our shores in the next year. So the wines in today's line-up all come from Romania. Most of them sound familiar, but it is also worth checking out the Fetească Neagră for something a little different.
Wine of the week: La Putere Fetească Neagră 2019
€16.99, 14.5pc, from Martin’s Fairview; The Vintry Rathgar; Baggot Street Wines
Native to Romania and the Republic of Moldova, the name of this newly fashionable grape translates to black maiden. Often described as a little bit smoky, it has a good intensity of fruit with a freshness which makes it particularly appealing. The grapes for this wine were grown on some of the steeper slopes, and with bright juicy plum, blackberry and black pepper wrapped around a linear core, this is very quaffable.