By Rose Murray Brown MW Published by The Scotsman 3 April 2021
At a recent Romanian tasting, I was surprised to find that my highest scorer was a certified organic natural ‘orange’ wine selling at £10.
This is not what we normally think of when it comes to Romanian wine. In the UK, Romania is better known for cheap and cheerful light styles of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay often sold for little more than a fiver.
Orange wine, a white wine made like a red wine with extended skin contact, is not new to Romania – and this is not the first in the UK - but this 2020 vintage is the first one to be ‘certified organic’. It is also made naturally using minimal intervention with no sulphur dioxide - and partly aged in clay. It offers a gentle introduction to the orange wine style – and ticks the trendy ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ boxes too.
“Solara is a five-grape blend of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Ottonel. We add no yeast, no temperature control, no oak, no fining or sulphur – and age 15% in large amphoras for one month – so we just give it our love and care”, says Philip Cox of Cramele Recas, the man behind the new wine.
Englishman Cox has lived and worked in Romania for 30 years – he is a very astute businessman with his finger on the pulse. Back in 1998 he bought a run-down former state-owned winery with his Romanian wife Elvira and another family. Cramele Recas is now Romania’s biggest winery by turnover and a major wine retailer in the country. They initially focused on fruit-forward New World-style wines at entry level price points and are now highlighting new trends and moving to premium wines.
Cox’s international team of six winemakers have been fine-tuning orange wine for 5 years. Now with organic certification of their vast 1,250 hectares of vineyards in Banat in western Romania, they can also label all their wines as certified organic for the first time (they have been using vegan finings since 2018) – and are focusing more on the natural winemaking trend too.
“Out of our 25 million bottle production - 300,000 bottles are now ‘natural’ wine – which makes us the larger producer of natural wine in Eastern Europe”, he says.
Cox is also spearheading new wines from indigenous Romanian varieties. International grapes like the Solara blend and Pinot Noir are useful door openers, he says, but the future of Romanian wine lies with native grapes offering drinkers a new flavour spectrum.
He believes that grapes with most potential in Romania’s harsh warm continental climate are Feteasca Regala and Chardonnay for whites - and Feteasca Neagra, Shiraz and Negru de Dragasani for reds.
Of the native Feteasca varieties, Cox has had most success with white Regala. Known as the Royal Maiden, it is Romania’s most planted grape with 14,100 hectares. This hardy aromatic grape was initially thought to be a Feteasca Alba and Grasa de Cotnari cross, but according to Eastern European wine expert, Dr Caroline Gilby MW, recent DNA analysis highlights it is actually a cross between Feteasca Alba and Moldova’s Francusa instead.
Cramele Recas has two new wines from this aromatic Romanian white grape just arriving in Aldi and Marks & Spencer, although their initial listing with Asda is being discontinued.
For reds, Feteasca Neagra can be versatile and useful in blends with international grapes as in Majestic Wine’s new Solomonar Reserve red. The grape many producers believe has most exciting potential is Negru de Dragasani, developed in early 1990s as a crossing between Saperavi from Georgia with Novac, but it is still early days for this young cross.
With 182,000 hectares, Romania is Europe’s fifth largest wine producer - and bigger than Australia - but roughly only half (97,222 hectares) are classic vitis vinifera, the rest are hybrids used for the popular home winemaking culture.
“Romania is in a state of flux right now with 42,000 hectares of vineyards replanted since 2015”, says Cox. “230 new wineries have opened in the last 15 years and many are small boutique producers. The future is very exciting here with a new generation of growers experimenting with new varieties in different regions as they have the freedom to do that in Romania”, says Cox.
SOLARA ORGANIC 2020 ***STAR BUY***
£10 Noble Green Wines; The Whisky Exchange
Stone fruit and ginger notes, baked apple fruits with vivid acidity and rich tannins – an attractive gentle introduction to the orange style.
DEALURI FETEASCA REGALA 2020
Light floral and peardrop notes, initially succulent limey fruits on palate, light on alcohol (11.5%) lacks any complexity and length – but very quaffable for under a fiver.
SANZIANA PINOT GRIGIO 2019
£8.50 Corney & Barrow
Overt New World style of Pinot Gris, grapefruit and melon notes with zesty palate; easy and approachable – but lacks a little on the finish.
‘FOUND’ FETEASCA REGALA 2020 ***STAR BUY***
£7.50 Marks & Spencer
Brand new wine to M&S created by their wine buyer Sue Daniels; loved its exotic quince, white flower and lime notes, vibrant lively dry palate and moderate 11.5% alcohol.
SANZIANA PINOT NOIR 2019
£8.50 Corney & Barrow
A light supple easy-drinking style of Pinot Noir – light cherry fruits, crisp, savoury hints with a soft smooth texture.
SOLOMONAR RESERVE RED 2019
£9.99 Majestic Wine
New Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Feteasca Neagra blend styled on Puglian Primitivo – it has rich plummy black fruit notes, juicy fruit mid-palate, soft tannins, high alcohol (14.5%) and velvet smooth texture; it is just too sweet with 9 g/l residual sugar.
All wines above made by Cramele Recas
Join Rose’s ‘Looking East’ wine tasting focusing on Hungary, Slovakia, Romania & Greece on Fridays 16 & 23 April in association with Corney & Barrow www.rosemurraybrown.com