If one were to ask an Indian wine drinker if he has tasted a Romanian wine, typically he would look surprised with ‘do they make wines’ look or ‘where on earth is Romania,’ with a few saying,’ weren’t they a communist country? As if communists didn’t drink wine! (The reverse is also true undeniably-not many Romanians would know that India even makes wine).
Romania has one of the oldest wine making traditions in the world, its viticulture dating back more than 6000 years. Due to the hot dry summers, the location proved successful for vines and thus the grape vineyards thrived. Since the medieval times, wine has been the traditional alcoholic beverage of the Romanians.
Romania was part of the Eastern Block with communist rule till 1989 uprising when it became free and almost immediately, the wine business along with several others, was privatised by the new regime allowing even foreign investments. The results have been astounding. Romania which had been producing wines for captive Russian market in big quantities but cheap quality, had lagged behind the free world because of their continuing technological advancements and improved quality, but it has been making very good quality at reasonable prices in the last decade or more.
Bordering Black Sea in the East where it shares maritime border with Turkey, it has Ukraine, Hungary and Moldovia on the North, Serbia on the West and Bulgaria on the south. It has been a part of the European Union since 2007; since then the quality has seen quantum jump.
Romania has currently 34 PDO’s (Protected Denomination of Origin) and 12 PGI’s (Protected Geographic Indications) each with its own rules and discipline.
Romania's most cultivated grape varieties for white wines are the indigenous varieties Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală, Sauvignon, , Tămâioasă Românească, Grasă de Cotnari, Galbenă de Odobești. Crâmpoșie Selecționată can be traced back to more than two millennia ago. Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Aligoté, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are popular international varieties.
Romania is well known for a plethora of grape varieties grown across its 34 DOCs; five of these are most important for export. It is interesting to note that 40% of wine production comes from these indigenous grape varieties. The Băbeasca Neagră variety dates since the 14th-century approximately.
A new addition to the list of local Romanian grape varieties, Negru de Drăgășani produces medium-sized, blueberries and blackberries. This variety was developed in the historic winemaking region of Drăgășani by cross fertilisation with Romanian variety Negru Vârtos with Saperavi, a grape native to Georgia. Of all the indigenous varieties Fetească Neagrā is the one to watch as I found from the taste in the glass during the evening. The flagship red variety has the most characteristic of Romanian grapes and is very pleasant for Indian palates.
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are the main international red varieties.
The evening was organised by Ambassador of Romania in India by H. E. Mr. Radu Octavian Dobre who conceded that this was the first time such a wine evening ever was being organised by the embassy in Delhi. He knew that Romania and Romanian wines were relatively unknown in India but said it would be his desire to promote the wines through more of such initiatives, as he introduced Senator Wines and Sorina Mashhadi, owner’s married daughter who lives in Saudi Arabia.
Focus on organic wines
Senator Wines is a family winery, founded by two brothers in Vrancea, one of the oldest wine regions of Romania in 1991, two years after the country’s freedom from the communist regime. It has expanded to 800 hAs of land in 4 areas: Vrancea, Insuratei (Braila), Husi and Tirol (Caras Severin). Husi and Insuratei have 330 hAs of vineyards which have been certified organic since 2003. Company is committed to organic farming. It claims to own the largest single vineyard of 330 hA in Europe.
Senator Wine also has the biggest collection of grape varietals in Romania, with over 20 different varieties in the vineyards. Its main export markets are: China, Japan, Canada, USA etc.
Senator Wines had several labels based on the grape varieties and styles of wine making and includes:
Monşer has the biggest selection of Romanian local varieties
Glia is a selection of high quality, limited edition wines
Varius boasts is a selection of international varieties
Omnia, Hereditas and Secolul 13 Reserve are organic wines
Cuza Voda are premium wines from local varieties
Suav is a brand created for the ladies with a higher sugar content
Senator Private Collection are their signature blends
Occultus, on the other hand is a super premium red blend of 4 varieties
It has the biggest collection of grape varietals in Romania, with over 20 different varieties in the vineyards. Senator Wines are currently exported mainly to China, Japan, Canada and USA. .
Tasting and Dinner
We tasted about 12 wines. White wines were fine but it’s the Rose and a Red that captivated my attention. The wines were of very good quality. Sorina did not elaborate much on the prices of these wines but the guests enjoyed the wines, some enquiring about the availability of these wines which ought to be sooner than later. One hopes the embassy would do such events more often, sharing the history of wines that goes back at least 1500 years in the recent history.
Rose wine from Băbeasca Neagră grapes was really delicious- clean, brilliant, fruity flavours of strawberries and raspberries and the beautiful colour like Provence wines, this wine was quite aromatic and perfumed with hint of tannins only-it would go very well with Indian cuisine; vegetarians would simply adore it.
The red Secolul 13 had ripe tannins and was fresh even after 7-8 years in the bottles for its 2011 vintage . Tannins were soft but majestic and gave backbone to the homogenous wines–one knowing that they were a main feature of this excellent wine. It could even be categorised as a meditation wine with a great balance and full on the palate. It is a very feminine and delicate wine as well.
Another noteworthy wine was Sauv. Targeted at the women buyers, the company insists this is best for women. Perhaps- I found the acidity a bit low as compared to the sugar content. At any rate, I explained to Sorina that Suav wines like that had a very small market.
Wine was not the only the important ingredient that made people smile. Food catered by the Taj Mansingh under the superb supervision of Chef Boby Jacob was diversified and delicious and really elaborate. Chef Jacob had curated 5 different salads from lighter to the heaviest for Salad eating health freaks. When I complimented the Ambassador for a great gastronomical experience but commented the food was too much- almost taking away a bit of sunshine from the wines, he smiled and said, ‘what can we do? We love to eat and drink a lot in Romania!’ Since Sorina was also keenly interested in food and wine match, it could be ascribed to food and wine match exercise for wine lovers. There was a lot of buzz in the audience to try out different wines with different dishes.
General consensus was that the wines were delicious. H.E Ambassador Dobre looked seemingly happy and pleased. He said he had been approached by several Romanian producers interested in such an evening and it would not be long before the next evening would be organised. He would do well to have more of such soirees and get stakeholders including more importers and hospitality industry to establish first Brand Romania.
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