Last week I flew to Bucharest to take part in IWCB for the second time. I first attended the Bucharest International Wine Contest back in 2017, and having missed the event last year when it was held in Iasi, I was delighted to return to look into developments across the Romanian wine scene.

My impressions of the industry on my first visit were mizxed. This vast, predominantly rural country has huge potential to make quality wine. Land and labour is cheap, perfect growing conditions are easy to come by, and to top the excitement off, there is even a collection of grape varieties indigenous to the area. Conversely though, investment is sporadic, the culture of wine appreciation is hard to spread and a lack of formal infratructure to help build the industry is frustratingly evident.

As such, initiatives like IWBC are extremely important for the growth of Romania's wine sector. Bringing a focussed group of international journalists over to taste such a large number of local wines (around 1,000) facilitates discussion, new perspectives and of course the motivation to keep building.

The judging session

As with any competition, there is a large amount of fairly inexpensive wines and quality should not be, primarily, judged on what's served up under tasting conditions. It's generally understood (although rarely referenced) that, having more to lose than gain, the very best wines are rarely submitted into such unpredictable environments.

In short, the wines are better overall. There were far fewer bad (and faulty) wines than in 2017. Whatever the reason (I'd hazard a guess that it's down to a combination of better technology, greater understanding of the importance of clean cellars, and a more discerning approach in the vineyard) the wines were generally balanced and well made. Perhaps not a great deal more than that however....

The next step of course is the hardest to take. Knocking out simple, fruity wine for a good price-quality ratio is only one pillar in the goal of building a strong territorial brand. Romanian wine now needs some stars. It needs iconic wines that can be held up and celebrated as internationally great wines.

As an admirer of Europe's regional appellation system, I was personally delighted to see a greater use of Romania's DOC classification. Labelling seems increasingly clear as well. Many of my fellow international collegues cared little about the reference to unknown villages in little-known regions, but I believe in starting as one means to go on and the current system is the marker of origin we currently have. Compared with countries like Bulgaria, Romania's DOC system is clear, accessible and yet designed with growth and scale in mind.

In terms of the trip itself, I crossed paths with some great people. My emotional response to Bucharest's food, wine and city atmosphere was heightened by the contagious energy and enthusiasm of host Ruxandra Padararu, the endlessly mischievous Moldvan writer and wine bar owner Andrei Cibotaru, Swiss Oenologist Richard Pfister's quiet urban cool and of course Charine Tan's relentlessly inquisitive banter.

There was also time to taking in Romanian wine writer Marinella Ardelean's popular Ro-vino festival. The event built on her Italian connections and brought a range of Italian food and wine alongside numerous domestic wineries. It was a good opportunity to taste wines in a more social setting and as tends to happen when overtaken by a less judgemental mood, I found myself revising previous assessments of certain wines. For better or worse....

Rovino Wine Festival