Romania’s viticultural history goes back to the seventh century B.C. when enterprising Greek traders planted the first vineyards on the coastal plains of the Black Sea. By the first century A.D, viticulture was well established in Tirnave, Odobesti and Dragasui.
Archaeologists are still unearthing wine-related artefacts that may prove that winemaking was already popular more than 3000 years ago.
The occupation of the Ottoman Empire of Dacia (Romania was called Dacia by Romans who occupied the region for a long time), did not stop viticulture but slowed it down, as Turks being Muslims, frowned upon consuming alcoholic beverages.
Regardless, Romanians continued making and drinking wine if not as much as before the occupation.
Romania became a political entity in 1861 when Walachia and Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova) united.
Vineyard acreage started to expand and reached 150,000 hectares, but soon after phylloxera devastates vast tracts of vineyards.
Between 1947 and 1989 Romania was a “socialist” (aka Soviet satellite state) country and collectivized vineyards creating huge wine conglomerates in an attempt to increase production at the expense of quality.
Inexpensive wines were exported to western European countries, and inferior bulk wine to other republics of the U S S R, but Romanians enjoyed their wines more than Bulgarians ad Hungarians. Only 15 per cent of production was exported.
Romania is a mountainous country, with the Carpathian Mountain chain and Transylvanian Alps making up a large part of the country.
Still today, there are approximately 230,000 hectares under vines.
The climate is continental, although the Black Sea to the east has a moderating effect in the winter.
The country has several carefully delimited wine regions of which the most famous are – Murfatlar (on the Black Sea coast), Cotnari (in the north), Odobesti, Dealul Mare, Dragasani, Tirnave, Severin, Moldova, Nona (both close to the Serbian border), and Drosiy on the Hungarian border.
For whtie wines growers prefer: feteasca alba, feteasca regala, busuioaca, bohotin, grasa de Cotnari (all indigenous) sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, welschriesling, muscat- ottonel, and pinot gris.
For reds the following varieties are popular : feteasca neagra, tamaiosa, romaneasca (all indigenous), kekoporto, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir.
Romania’s wine laws are extensive, but enforcement weak.
For varietal wines 85 per cent of the variety on the label must be in the blend.
Quality levels are as follows:
Current wines (labelled VM or Vin de masa)
VSO a notch higher than VM
Superior quality wines from delimited regions are labelled as VDOC that corresponds more or less to the D O C G requirements of Italian wine laws.
VDOC labelled white wines must be aged for one to two years, but 50 per cent of the time in barrels; for reds two to three years.
Packaging leaves a lot to be desired. The bottles are heavy and of poor quality, labels reflect Soviet era practices, corks are short and of poor quality, often fail to fit snugly and oxidize wines. Screw caps are rare.
Since the privatization of the industry at the beginning of 1990, efforts have been made to improve packaging.
Romania has significant quality and quantity potential, but ti will take a long time and effort to achieve satisfactory results.
The following regions excelled in quality and reputation prior to the Soviet era and are again slowly regaining their fame.
Trinave, Odobesti, Dealul Mare, Banat, Murfatlar, and Cotnari.
Tirnave is the oldest and largest wine-growing region of the country. It has a relatively cool climate on 300 metres above sea level sloped vineyards. The wines of Tirnave are mostly white and made in the Germanic style, i.e fruity, off dry.
Sparkling and sherry-type wines are also produced but in limited quantities.
Aius is the historic viticultural school in Tirnave.
Odebesti’s deep and fertile soils are known for their standard every day wines vinted using local galebna grapes. Feteasca alba, welschriesling and sarba (a cross of welschriesling and tamaiosa) was developed at Odobesti’s research station in 1972. Sarba offers a racy and vibrant acidity.
Dealul Mare, located on the south facing slopes of the Carpathian Mountain chain north of Bucharest is famous for its light red wines made using pinot noir, and feteasca neagra.
Vineyards are on 130 – 600 metres above sea level and by a quirk of nature are protected from winter freeze.
Banat is a region on the Serbian border encompassing Teremia, Recas, Buzias-Silagia and Moldova Nona.
Teremia’s sandy soils yield basic tables wines, but Racas grows cabernet sauvignon, kadarka, burgundymare and produces fine and deeply flavoured wines.
Moldova nona is known for its very mild climate and varietal wines of burgundymare, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, oporto, feteasca regala, welschriesling and muscat-ottonel.
Banat, is a region well known in western European markets, particularly Germany. Banat was home to many German families who had settled there before World War II, and created a prosperous agricultural community including meticulously planted and maintained vineyards.
Murfatlar is the most easterly region of Romania on the shores of the Black Sea. The chalky soil yields suitable chardonnay crops for sparkling wines, pinot gris, riesling, welschriesling, pinot noir and merlot to produce mid-weight wines.
Cotnari, once competed with Tokay wines from Hungary in northern European courts. This region’s wines were still popular in Paris at the end of the 19th century.
Cotnari’s sweet wines blended from local grasa (for body), frincusa (for acidity) and feteasca alba are botrytis affected approximately three times in a decade.
Finished grasa de Cotnari contains 12 per cent ABV and 60 grams/litre sugar, and must be barrel aged for 12 months during which time winemakers try to prevent contact with oxygen to the extent possible to preserve freshness and aromatic components.