Setting up a winery in Romania after the fall of the Ceausescu regime was a masterstroke for Cramele Recas co-founder Philip Cox and his fellow directors. It has allowed him to build a winery of scale with state-of-the-art equipment, using a mix of bought-in and estate fruit, with more and more hectares of vine planted with indigenous and international grape varieties. The wines are quality and value-driven and with the eight that Cox has selected to represent the 2020 vintage, there is a wide mix of fascinating blends and winemaking techniques that play to a mainstream audience, at the same time as pushing the envelope in key areas.
“Feteascã Neagrã is a local variety in Romania, it should be better known and full marks to Cramele Recas for trying to turn the wine world onto these indigenous varieties – this is refreshingly different but not too ‘out there’,” writes Dean.
Tasting the new wines of Romania-based Cramele Recas with its co-founder and commercial director, Philip Cox, is always a pleasure – restricted this year to a Zoom tasting but still full of his insights and witticisms about the European wine markets and what makes them tick. A more humble and self-effacing wine magnate you will not meet, his mild-mannered approach belying the fact that in the past year he has sold a third more wine than the previous year, over a staggering 30 million litres.
Cox is unashamedly populist, his team of winemakers producing quality, value-driven wines according to the demands of his various export (and domestic) markets, but he is also keen to push categories that are less obvious for mass market consumers such as indigenous Romanian grapes and, for the first time this year, a natural orange wine, and to also allow winemakers to experiment with unusual blends and techniques. One trend that has been apparent in all his export markets he says is for consumers to be looking for softness and elegance in wines with a general trend to bring down the ABV.
Before the tasting commences Cox brings us up to speed with the lie of the land in Romania which has experienced unusual weather.
“We’ve had very strange weather and seeing the effects of climate change I think. In the West of Romania the Spring was wet and cold right up to the end of May and then super, super hot in the high 30s with no rain for 2 months… whether we can get enough grapes remains to be seen as we need a lot!”
Cramele Recas has also been busy with its sustainability programme:
“40% of carbon from wineries comes from glass bottles and electricity,” Cox says, “So we have been busy with our sustainability programme, we have installed 2000 solar panels – half of our electricity now comes from our own solar energy. We have also changed our car fleet with 15 electric cars, which we charge ourselves… and we have also convinced the bottle factory to bring the bottles down to 350 gms.”
So how were the white wines tasting?
Curious Parallel Feteascã Regalã 2020
An indigenous Romanian grape – picked with a mix of machine and hand-harvesting with 25% of the wine aged with Transylvanian oak staves for 60 days before being blended back into the wine and matured in stainless steel.
Medium straw-coloured; the bouquet is fruity and floral with apple blossom and elderflower notes, ripe white peach, quince and apricots, there’s also a dried herb/ grass quality and a spice, perhaps white pepper – the combination is quite original if you’re not familiar with the grape. On the palate the wine is light-bodied, full of flavour and nicely balanced, with a hit of mineral on the dry finish. 11.5% abv. Virgin Wines £9.99.
Wildflower Cuvee Blanc 2020 DOC Recas
0.27% of Pinot Noir going into this white blend just about sums up how eclectic this award-winner is. The rest of the grapes are Feteascã Regalã, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel and Chardonnay which makes up the bulk (47.26% to be precise) and comes from the winery’s oldest vines. The winemaking is just as eclectic with the Chardonnay barrel-fermented in new Alliers oak barriques for three months and the Muscat given skin contact.
Medium golden-yellow with a green hue; the bouquet is highly complex and unique – you can find elderflower, a mix of white-fleshed orchard, exotic and stone fruits, a strong hit of oak and vanilla; the palate is also complex, medium-bodied, fruity with firm acidity, the long, dry finish also has a marked taste of apricot seed. You won’t find another wine like this anywhere. Me personally? I think the oak is too much on the nose, but the list of medals and impressive critics’ scores might prove me wrong. 13% abv. On-trade – St-Austell’s Wine.
Frunza Pinot Grigio, 2020
A fruity, punchy, nicely balanced Pinot Grigio that has high acidity and a mineral core that keeps it mainstream and appealing to more discerning tastes. The vinification is all about handling the fruit with kid gloves – picking it early both calendar-wise and in the morning to avoid the wine going too pink, there’s light pressing and fine lees that the wine sits on until bottling which gives this wine a fine texture.
The aromatics are fruit-driven, with tinned peaches, yellow grapefruit, a slight confected uplift; the palate is medium-bodied, tangy lime, ripe grapefruit, cantaloupe melon. Very nice actually. On-trade – Jascots.
Orange Natural Wine 2020
A new wine that is different from the 2019 orange wine it produced on account of the varieties used – now a blend of Pinot Gris, Muscat Ottonel, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc – and also that 20% of the maceration was in clay amphorae. The aim is to make a natural wine that is clean, fruity, clear and ‘plays to the groundlings’ ie. that will be enjoyed by a mass market.
To look at the wine is clear, dark straw-coloured with an orange hue; the bouquet is complex and inviting, you can find quince, ripe pear, floral notes like honeysuckle, and lighter citrus (mandarin), with a hint of wild fennel; the palate is light and dry, with the whole bunch and the amphora lending the wine a fine texture. The fruit is perhaps lacking some intensity but there is no denying its drinkability.
Technically speaking, the grapes were hand-picked, lightly crushed then macerated with full skin contact for 3.5 weeks until 100% malolactic fermentation had occurred. There was no added yeast, SO2, sugars, additives or sulphur, all wines were blended and lightly oaked for two months in one year-old French barriques before a cold stabilisation and bottling with no further SO2 addition or filtration. 13% abv. Tanners £12.50.
Sanziana Pinot Grigio Rosé 2020
100% Pinot Grigio is used in this excellent, expressive, dry, textured rosé that shows what happens to the grape if you give it more hang-time on the vine (than when making a white wine) and allow it some skin contact.
The wine is light to medium pink copper colour; the nose has redcurrants, peach and is quite understated; the palate is light, with a wonderful texture and a nice fruit basket of crisp green apple, pear and a slight bitter almond quality on the dry finish. Corney & Barrow £8.50.
And onto the red wines….
Sanziana Pinot Noir 2020
25% whole bunch, carbonic maceration, 75% destemmed and oaked with French oak staves for two months, both wines then blended.
Very pale ruby-purple, almost transparent; the bouquet begins with raspberry, red cherry, and also has dried flower petals, cake spice, and some rustic Pinot nuances. The mouthfeel is light-medium bodied, smooth, with ripe red fruit (raspberry and strawberry), juicy and very easy drinking both solo and with food. Nicely judged. 12.5% abv. Corney and Barrow, £8.50
Curious Parallel Feteascã Neagrã 2020
The parallel in the title refers to the 45th parallel that runs through the vineyards of Bordeaux, the Rhône and also the vineyards of Romania, where this excellent Feteascã Neagrã comes from. A local variety in Romania, it should be better known and full marks to Cramele Recas for trying to turn the wine world onto these indigenous varieties – this is refreshingly different but not too ‘out there’.
Medium purple to look at, the nose is black-fruited and exotic – it reminds me of good Greek wine, or wines from other parts of Central and Eastern Europe. The bouquet begins with wild blackberry, black cherries, there’s lifted spice and wood (20% oaked).
In the mouth the wine has medium weight, fine-grained texture and well integrated ripe tannins (impressive for such a young wine), there’s some structure here, but the ripe fruit balances it well. Rounded with a lip-smacking, dry finish. 13.5% abv. Virgin Wines £9.99.
Paparuda Merlot 2020
Hugely popular 100% Merlot that delivers to those looking for a well made, fruity, dry red wine that has ripeness and smoothness but with just that little bit of edge and acidity that keeps it serious and in check.
Light cherry red with a purple hue, the bouquet is floral with ripe red plum, fruits of the forest, with a touch of vanilla bean and caramel (from three months maturation with French oak staves presumably). There is concentrated red and black fruit on the palate, but there is texture too, with the full malolactic fermentation giving the wine an impressive rounded quaffability given its age. Tanners Wines £7.70.
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