Time to rediscover Romanian Wines?
Romanian wines do not currently have much of a presence in the UK market and don’t have a great reputation, a hangover from the cheap Romanian wines that were available in UK supermarkets in the 1980s. I remember an abundance of Romanian wines, mainly Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many Bulgarian and Hungarian wines, that were very affordable, popular wines. Export of Romanian wines was rather stopped in its tracks by the Romanian Revolution of December 1989. This lead to a very serious economic downturn and severe under-investment in the wine industry. Wine farms had been nationalised and, after the fall of communism, it proved almost impossible to find the original owners, many of whom has emigrated or disappeared. The result was a virtual standstill of the Romanian wine industry, let alone any export of Romanian wines. There have been precious few Romanian wines available in the UK since the last century, but now there are some serious wines appearing for sale in the UK once again and the Romanian wine industry is getting itself back on track.
Romania is one of the oldest wine-producing countries, with a history of viticultural history stretching back 6000 years and, I was surprised to learn, one of the world’s largest producers of wine (11th largest in 2009 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations). During the communist era there was much planting of international grape varieties (the usual suspects – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay etc.) but there is also a good selection of indigenous varieties including red grape varieties such as Feteasca Neagra, and Burgund Mare (also known as Blaufraenkisch), and white grape varieties such as Feteasca Alba and Busuioaca de Bohotin.
Romanian Wines & Lacerta Winery
Lacerta Winery is at the forefront of the new wave of quality Romanian wines that are now being produced. Lacerta winery is located approximately 100kms to the north east of Bucharest, some 2 hours drive by car, in Fintesti, Buzau County in the Dealu Mare wine growing region.
Dealu Mare is located in the Muntenia area of Romania and is recognised as being one of the most important wine producing regions in Romania. Lacerta boasts of being situated on the 45th parallel, the same latitude many of the fine wines of Bordeaux and Tuscany. Lacerta Winery is one of the most modern wineries in Romania which was achieved with an impressive 7 million Euro investment.
The company was founded in 2003 by a group of investors headed by Austrian businessman Walter Friedl with the dream of producing some of the best Romanian wines possible. The first vines were planted in 2005, the vineyards now cover some 80 hectares and the first wine was launched in 2011. The ultra-modern winery is almost entirely gravity-fed with minimal use of pumps to move the wine around. The theory behind this is that the handling of the wine is gentler, the wine is not subjected to agitation (and electric fields, which could have an effect on long chain molecules in the wine) and there is less chance for any oxidation to take place. Therefore the wine should remain in a more natural state. There is a high degree of vineyard management (green harvesting) and yields are kept low at around 1kg of grapes per vine. There is also careful sorting of the grapes after harvest at the winery. The wines are aged in a combination of different oak barriques (225L) sourced from France, USA, Russia, Hungary and Romania. The barrels are used for a maximum of three years. Lacerta Winery is targeting production of some 150,000 bottles per year. The winemaker is Mihai Banita.
This white wine is made from 100% Feteasca Alba an indigenous grape variety to Romania (and Moldova) and Feteasca translates as “maiden” in Romanian, so Feteasca Alba is literally “white maiden”. The grapes come from vineyards with an age of 5 to 8 years old with clay and limestone soils. It is vinified in stainless steel, it undergoes cold maceration for 2 days prior to fermentation followed by malolactic fermentation in tank.
The wine is a bright, light golden colour with green hints. The aromas on the nose are reminiscent of floral / white blossom notes, citrus and tropical fruit. The palate fresh and citrus-y (grapefruit). A well-balanced wine with good minerality, acidity and a good, clean and crisp finish. Try with salads, white meats, grilled fish, pasta and couscous.
As mentioned above, Romania has never been shy to use international grape varieties as well as their own indigenous grapes. The Lacerta Chardonnay is a case in point, it is 100% Chardonnay, sourced from the oldest wines on the estate, which are now 10 years old. After harvest the grapes undergo a 2 day period of cold maceration, followed by alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation in tank and then the Lacerta Chardonnay Reserva is aged for 12 months in 225L French oak barriques.
Lacerta Chardonnay Reserva has a golden, yellow colour. The nose has aromas of citrus, tropical notes and hints of vanilla, spice and toasted oak from the oak aging. The palate is full with flavours of melon and pineapple along with more creamy, vanilla character from the barriques. Full, complex wine with well-integrated oak influences and good mouthfeel. Try with richer white meat dishes, seafood or roasted Mediterranean vegetables and spicy couscous.
Lacerta Cuvee IX
The Lacerta Cuvee IX is the estate’s top red wine blend and which consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufraenkisch, Feteasca Neagra and Merlot sourced from vines with an aged of 10 years old. Most will be familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Feteasca Neagra (literally “black maiden”), like the white grape Feteasca Alba from which it is thought to derive, is indigenous to Romania and Moldova. Blaufraenkisch (known elsewhere as Blaufrankisch without an ‘e’) is widely grown across central Europe. It is also known as Burgund Mare in Romania. After harvest the grapes are cold macerated for 2 days prior to alcoholic fermentation. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in tank prior to 12 months ageing in a combination of French and East European 225L oak barriques.
Lacerta Cuvee IX has a deep, dark, red colour. The nose is redolent with aromas of dark and red fruits including black cherry, blackberry, plums and damson. The barrique ageing adds spicy (hints of clove), mocha and vanilla character. Although this is a full-bodied red wine it is also soft and quite supple. There is a touch of natural sweetness on the palate. The finish is long and persistant. Lacerta Cuvee IX will be a great match for any red meats, mature cheese and even richer game dishes.