You might not know it, but Romania is actually the 12th in the world in terms of wine production, behind Portgual. However, most of us barely know about Romanian wine because it's mostly drank locally. Exports make up less than 10% of the country's wine production, importing more wine than it exports. This is due to a mix of a vast majority of small scale producers, as well as a shortage of skilled workers, however this is slowly changing as wine tourisn & a shift towards quality is boosting the reputation of Romanian wine
General Terroir & History
Being one of the msot ancient wine-making traditions in the world, it's viticulture, like it's other Caucasus neighbors, has a long & rich history dating back to before Greek civilisation.
Romania’s viticulture is made more colorful by its mythological and historical roots. Legend has it that Dionysus, the Thracian god of the grape harvest, winemaking, theater, and ecstasy was born on its sunny soils. Another famous historical figure and philosophical legend, Plato, called the country’s vineyards the best in the world. Archaeological evidence showed that viticulture went on for 6,000 long, undisrupted years. It was during this time that viticulture grew in Georgia, the Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean.
During the 1880s, the blossoming wine industry found itself battling phylloxera, a sap-sucking insect that came from North America, as the infestation spread to Europe, destroying a staggering number of vineyards including those in Romania. This, however, did not stop the Romanian wine industry from flourishing. Winemakers turned to imported vines from France and other countries, paving the way for the arrival of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
In 1989, Romanian wines are beginning to gain a favorable reputation, shifting away from the days of high quantity and low quality. Located in eastern Europe, Romania’s central terrain is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains. Its towering peaks serve as barriers for the country’s highest vineyard sites in the region of Transylvania. The cool climate of Transylvania’s Târnave DOC produces white wines with high acidity from the varieties Feteasca Alba and Traminer Rosé. While Romania’s domestic preference is for white wines, red grape plantings are on the rise to compete with the international market. Native red grapes such as Feteasca Neagra are used to produce higher quality wines in the region of Muntenia-Oltenia, but popular varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also contribute to red wine production.
Romania’s geographical location has always been another important factor in its thriving wine culture. With Ukraine to the north and Bulgaria to the south, Romania is clearly a country with Slavic influences.
Situated hundreds of miles inland from France, Romanian climate enjoys hot, dry summers which are highly conducive to growing healthy and flourishing grapevines. The cold, harsh winters from it's continental climate does mean that they require more hardy grapes, except the coastal region that has some respite from the Black Sea. Thus, the country hosts several vineyards, including the Murfatlar on the Black Sea, where the soil is perfect for making Botrytis-affected sweet wines.
Major Wine Varietals & Styles
Overall, Romania sees a lot of similarities in wines with Moldova, sharing local & international grape varietals. They do still have some unique local grapes that only are grown in Romania, that are better able to withstand the continental climate. What's interesting is that they do have so ancient grapes that managed to survive the phylloxera plague in the 19th century. With the same latitude of France, the cliamte is ideal for producing not only local native grapes, but also vines of classic French varietals that were imported after the plague.
The white Feteasca grapes (both Feteasca Regala and Alba variants) are Romania's most widely planted. They account for a substantial proportion of the country's white wine production. Romanian 'Riesling' is more likely to be Welschriesling than true Rhine Riesling. Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat (Ottonel) and Sauvignon Blanc are reliably identifiable.
As for the red wines, Bordeaux favorites Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are planted in large numbers in Romanian vineyards and account for roughly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) between them. Other well-known reds used here are Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch (Kekfrankos/Lemberger). Feteasca Neagra has a home in the east of the country in the province of Moldova (or Moldavia) on the border with the country of the same name.
Sparkling wines are abundant in Romania, with various styles & grape varietals used. Depending on winery, either the traditional Champagne or Charmat method is used, and there's actually quite a rich history of sparkling wines made. The traditional method was actually the default for a long period of time, until the Communisn era forced many wineries to shift towards quantity over quality.
From sparkling wines of the Romanian Prince Stirbey & Rhein Extra wineries being served on the legendary Orient-Express, to wines of the Carastelec Winery being featured in the luxurious fourth edition of Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, Romania is producing world class sparkling wines, from both international grapes like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir to local varietals like Cramposie or Cadarca.
Light Bodied White Wine
International Varieties: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
Local Varieties: Cramposie, Feteasca Alba
Cramposie is an ancient Romanian white grape varietal that survived the phylloxera plague, and is planted only in Romania, mainly in the southern part. Producing various styles from traditional style sparkling, to dry whites & sweet wines, it has notes of apple, pear, citrus & intense mineral notes. Fruity & fresh.
Known for it's exquisiteness, floral aromas, lightness, and freshness, Feteasca Alba is a clone of the Feteasca Neagra & is excellent for a variety of white styles. Expect notes of acacia flowers, wildflowers, citrus, green apple, a result of it's Muscat family origins. Planted mainly in Transylvania, it produces wines that embody the elegance of feminity. Usually dry, we can find it fresh with green fruits temps, citric or floral, but also complex, especially after barrel maturation.
Pinot Grigio from Romania tends to be made in a lighter, refreshing style full of crisp & tangy notes. Similar to the styles from Veneto, Italy. Sauvignon Blanc from Romania has the racy acidity that you would expect from a NZ SB
Full Bodied White Wine
Local Varieties: Mustoasa de Maderat
Mustoasa de Maderat or Juicy of Maderat is an ancient grape variety that is specific to the region of Minis, in Transylvania. Usually the wine is made dry, it is fresh and fruity with above average acidity that’s make it appropriate for sparkling wine also.
Aromatic White Wine
International Varieties: Riesling, Gewurztrmainer, Muscat
Local Varieties: Feteasca Regala, Tamaioasa Romaneasca
Feteasca Regala, or Royal Maiden (an ode to the Romanian royal family that helped developed the winemaking industry) has notes of floral & grapefruit aromas are dominant on a medium body & textured taste. Expect nuances of pear & citrus, and is best to be drunk young & dry. Some winemakers oak age these, which give it the potential for ageing. It has only 100 years and it was born from the natural crossing happened in Transylvania between Feteasca Alba (White Maiden or White Fairy) and Grasa de Cotnari (Oily of Cotnari) grape varieties.
Tamaioasa Romaneasca or Romanian Incense has the roots in ancient Greece but the old plantation of this variety in Romania – more than 2000 years – adapted it to our area and has survived until now days, inclusive the filoxera attack. It appears in historical inscriptions as the wine drunk at the royals meeting or used as a trade value. The grape is Muscat like, very aromatic that give birth usually to sweet and demi-sweet wines, the harvest being made at super-maturation of the grapes. Tamaioasa Romaneasca has a specific wine-making technique, with long maturation of the marc that make the wine to be one of the best. It has notes of wild flowers aromas, linden, acacia and honey.
Local Varieties: Busuioaca de Bohotin
Busuioaca de Bohotin (Basil of Bohotin) is a variety planted in a small limited area, around Bohotin in the east side of Romania. The uniqueness of this Romanian variety is that it gives birth to a pure rose vine. The wine-making style presume a long maceration on the violet skin of the grape, this way the wine gets the roses taste and the unique rose color. The best quality is reached at supra-maturation when the wine gets the best balance between the taste and the acidity. But the supra-maturation process presume ideal climatic conditions which is different each year, that’s why the wine from Busuioaca de Bohotin is surprising year after year. The main taste is roses and basil (where the name comes from). The wine is mostly sweet or demi-sweet with a good level of acidity for a perfect and surprising balance. The wine is suitable for aging, if so the color shifts to orange tint. Lately some winemakers have been using the dry wine-making style with astonishing results.
Light Bodied Red Wine
International Varieties: Pinot Noir
With it's latitude similar to Burgundy, Romania has a talent for making excellent, inexpensive, seriously easy-drinking, cherry-bomb wines from Pinot Noir. Don’t expect the complexity of Burgundy, but quality affordable Pinots
Medium Bodied Red Wine
International Varieties: Blaufrankisch
Local Varieties: Rara Neagra (Babeasca Neagra)
Babeasca Neagra is an ancient grape variety whose history is lost in the dacian period, more than 2000 years ago. The name suggests the old superstitions and remedies, from immemorial times. At the beginning of 17’Th century the red wine of Nicoresti area (east part of Romania, considered the birthplace of this grape) from Babeasca Neagra variety, was praised by Richelieu, the French cardinal. The wine is light and acid, it’s suitable also for sparkling or to be drunk in the firs year after harvest. The wine from Babeasca Neagra should be drunk in his “young” period in order to enjoy the fresh taste of the grapes completed with a medium plus acidity which complement the intense and fresh taste which is not so common for a red wine. Usually the wine has a ruby color, intense fruity flavors and light to medium body, high acidity and a tonic sense for the aftertaste. It is common to have aromas of red fruits like sour cherries and plums, completed by flowers.
Originating from the Austrian Alps area, Blaufrankisch is the parent grape of Gamay & Zweigelt, and is thought of the Pinot Noir of Eastern Europe. Usually, they are made as dry styles with herbaceous spice and an earthy finish, to pair with it's cherry & blackberry notes. Best cellared for a couple years from bottling to let the tannins mellow out.
Full Bodied Red Wine
International Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Local Varieties: Feteasca Neagra, Negru de Dragasani
Feteasca Neagra or Black Maiden and Black Fairy is the jewel of Romanian indigenous grape varieties that has a millennial history. Seeds of Feteasca Neagra were discovered in ancient vestiges from Romania, more than 2000 years old. For the Romanians, Feteasca Neagra wine is similar to a sophisticated, hard to tame, seductive and mysterious fairy, imposing through her presence, complexity and acidity, all very well balanced like an irresistible woman. The maximum potential is reached after the maturation in oak barrels followed by the aging in the bottle, resulting high quality wines with a strong typicality. Depending of the wine-making techniques the the wines get various flavors and fine tannins, good acidity, medium to full body and often more than 13,5% alcohol. It is typical to have aromas of dried plums, blackberries, and black blueberries along with nice black pepper, vanilla and coffee flavors, and for the old wines toast and skin senses.
Negru de Dragasani or Black of Dragasani is a recent red grape variety obtained after the mixing of two ancient grapes: the forgotten Negru Vartos or Stout Black and gerogian grape Saperavi. It is planted in a limited area in Dragasani, in the south of Romania. At full maturity the grapes accumulate an average of 233-234 g/ l of sugar and 4.5 g/ l of acidity (H2SO4). High content in anthocyanins. It has potential to give high quality dry wines, fresh and fruity, suitable for aging in oak barrels that increases the complexity. The wine has good body and intense taste, in the aromatic palette we can find aromas of black cherries, sour cherries, blackberries and spices. The astringency and the acidity are medium, the alcohol level is at least 12.5%.
Dessert & Fortified Wine
Local Varieties: Cadarca, Grasa de Cotnari
Cadarca is a grape variety originating in the west part of Romania. When Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the red wine from Cadarca grapes was considered to be the best red wine in the empire and it was preferred by the emperor house. The wine-making style from Minis area (village in the west part of Romania) assume the fermentation of the fresh wine together with over maturated dried grape berries (raisins) in order to obtain the wine’s best complexity of body and taste. The dried grapes are obtained only in the best years by removing some of the vine leaves. In October the raisins are placed on the mats. After a few days, only healthy grapes are selected and the dried ones are placed in a high tub, in a dry place, for 5-6 days, after which they are knead by hand resulting in a mild composition that is distributed in containers with good quality red wine on top. The containers are covered and the mixture is left for fermentation for 4-6 weeks, while mixing it with a wooden shovel and gathering the seeds. After the fermentation the wine is kept in 100 liter containers and it is consumed usually after 1 or 2 years and it can be aged. Cadarca’s color is ranging from purple to dark red, because of this the locals named this wine as “bull-blood”, reputation still preserved that defines the color, personality and power. It has a particular and consistent fresh fruit aroma of red ripen fruits, full body, velvety and can be acidic. Due to the usage of the raisins the wines produced are oxidative with favors of cloves (beside the red fruits) and slightly astringents.
Grasa de Cotnari is an ancient white grape variety, sun lover, that’s been lucky to survive until now days and to become a reference variety among Romanian indigenous grapes. The tales were saying that the grape was planted in the center of Transylvania for more than 2000 years and has arrived in Moldavia (eastern Romania) and sowed in a limited area of Cotnari in the medieval period. Stephan the Great – king of Moldavia received from Matei Corvin – king of Hungary some seeds as a gift. The seeds supposed to be Furmint variety but Matei Corvin didn’t want to give this kind and he gave Stefan a low fertile grape variety. This variety was planted by Stefan on the sunny hills of Cotnari area and the king got fantastic qualities, becoming one of the most appreciated grape in Romania.
The main wine-making style for the Grasa wine is sweet and demi-sweet, botrytisation technique is used. They are harvested late and “threated” with the Botrys cinerea mushroom. The mold generated by the mushroom pinch the grape and raises it, the result is a light alcohol wine, sweet or demi-sweet, with exceptional body, taste and acidity. We can find tastes like raisins, honey, apricots, well delivered after aging in the botle.
Major Regions / Sub-Regions
Romania has 7 different wine regions, but it's continental climate allows grapes to be grown all around the country. Across the regions, white grape varietals are the dominating grape grown.
Out of the 7 regions, the Muntenia region is the region best know for the production of top quality white wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in large number across all the wine regions.
The subregions of Aiud, Alba Iulia, Sebeş-Apold, Lechinţa, and Târnave here is where traces of vine cultivation and wine production date back more than 2000 years. The plateau is surrounded by the highest Romanian mountains, which add to the region's beauty, as well as unique winemaking styles. White and sparkling wines are exclusive to this area and are affected by the cooler environment and the minerals from the mountains. This is the birthplace of the Fetească Regală (Royal Maiden) grape.
Dealurile Moldovei (Hills of Moldova)
This region stretches for hundreds of kilometers near the Eastern Carpathians. It's Romania's largest region in terms of wine production and the diversity of Romanian grape varietals. It is the home of numerous indigenous rare grapes, including Fetească Neagră, the top red grape, and Busuioacă de Bohotin, the only grape that produces pure rose wines as the flesh itself is red.
Dealurile Munteniei and Olteniei (Hills of Vallachia and Oltenia)
Located in the southern Carpathians, these regions are an outstanding place for cultivating high-quality wine types over the ages, thanks to it's "perfect" terroir conditions. The region's most well-known Romanian wines are those made from indigenous grapes such as Fetească Neagră, Negru de Drăgășani, Novac, and the white Crâmpoșie Selecționată
Hills of Banat
The region is along the Hungarian border, and is known for producing quality sweet wines as well as a modest number of fine dry white wines. Feteasca regală, Fetească Alba, Welsh Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and Sauvignon Blanc are the basic varieties