Romania has long been a wine industry conundrum. It has huge potential to be a great wine making country, possessing strong microclimates, diverse regions, interesting local grape varieties and abundant space. Yet like other countries in this part of Europe, a tumultuous past has stunted the growth of quality focussed producers. Instead, the Romanian wine scene, particularly those with international exposure, are resposnible for large volumes of average wine. Romania is desperately in need of further investment in its wine industry, but with the quality and intrigue of local grape varities, there is no doubt this investment would be a worthy bet.
While the number of interesting producers is low compared to the size of the country, there are plenty of wineries well worth getting acquainted with along with some key varieties.
A continental climate generally prevails in Romania although a country of this size clearly has tremendously complex regional climates as well as and exciting set of microclimates.
In terms of international varieties, Merlot is doing particularly well. In the Dealu Mar region in southern Romania, it takes on a ripe and fleshy character and with similar soils to those on Bordeaux's right bank, the best wines (from villages such as Ceptura) can quietly resemble Pomerol.
The big challenge at the moment is to reduce the amount of sugar accumulated during the growing season. Varieties such as Feteasca Neagra and Cabernet Sauvignon are picked on the ripe side, meaning that they often produce wines at 14.5% - 15%. The natural tendency then is to oak the wines excessively resulting in wines that are hard to balance.
Some of the most interesting red wines at the moment are therefore coming from the cooler areas of Transylvania, where white wines have traditionally been the main focus. Producers are experimenting with local and international varieties with promising results. The climate imparts a natural freshness to grapes such as Feteasca Neagra that growers elsewhere are struggling to achieve.
Technically there is a quality system in Romania but it still counts for very little. Some areas have been successful in creating DOC wines that reflect the nuances of the local environment, while other areas still bottle most of their wines with a regional identification and sometimes merely as table wine.
DOC-CMD: Grapes harvested at full maturity
DOC-CT: Late-harvested grapes
DOC-CIB: Botrytis-affected grapes