Dinner date with the Black Maiden?

If you are looking to spice up your oenological life, look no further than the wines of Romania and Georgia. Neither countries are suitably recognised for their wine production, particularly in comparison with the western European stalwarts of France, Italy and Spain. This is a travesty when you consider that archeological evidence shows that the first wines ever vinified were produced c.8000 years ago in (what we now call) Georgia. Indeed, the word wine (vino, vin, vinho) is believed to have developed from the Georgian for wine: GHVINO.

This is something that Georgi, our colleague at The Old Cellar, is working hard to correct. Hailing from a winemaking family in Bulgaria (featuring in the next blog), he now works in the UK, importing wines from the wider Balkan region and educating wine lovers and professionals alike about the wonders of wine from his homeland and beyond.

The 20th and 21st centuries were largely unkind to Romanian or Georgian wine. Centuries of local expertise, artisanal methods and cultural practices were almost eradicated by the mass industrialisation and homogenisation of wine production under the Soviet Union. Fortunately, since its dissolution in 1991, the regions have been working hard to reclaim their oenological heritage, producing wines from indigenous varieties using both traditional and modern winemaking techniques. There is a strong sense of local pride in both their heritage and culture of wine, to which they are now starting to gain recognition internationally.

There was, of course, a transition period: the freedom of the early 90’s led to a flurry of production and ‘returning to their roots’ in winemaking. However, as the newly formed Russia continued to be the primary consumer of both Georgian and Romanian wines, the vast majority of production continued to be of the standard and style sold and widely enjoyed within the former USSR. Sadly, this wine was not popular with the discerning wider European palates to which both countries now had access!

Therefore, in a move to not only champion their heritage and improve winemaking standards, but also appeal to a wider audience, things have ameliorated. Since the early 2000’s replanting in the region has been highly targeted and quality driven, with a conscious focus on sustainable eco-friendly farming. The vines planted in the first phase of this re-planting are now reaching the maturity required to produce high quality wines, and there are some real gems to enjoy. Georgi knows it; we know it; and you should too – take a glimpse below and see what you might like to try!

Dugladze Tsinandali Dry White, 2020 Georgia – If you are looking for a great alternative to a Côtes du Rhone Blanc or a Viognier, look no further than the Georgian PDO Tsinandali. In this area grapes (here, Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane) are blended to give fresh, fruity and aromatic wine. Think peaches, apricots, and a hint of orange blossom. I found there to be a pleasant amount of weight to this wine, particularly given it is typically billed as a light bodied wine. A great option for someone looking to branch away from traditional fruity white wines, but not quite ready to take the plunge with a qvevri-fermented orange wine.

Dugladze Kisi Qvevri, 2018 Georgia – A great example of a full-bodied amber wine with notes of apricot, almond, and sweet spice. While Kisi wines are typically floral, produced in tank or qvevri, this particular version is pleasantly restrained, showing more nutty and mineral characteristics. Hints of smoked almonds and dried apricots mingle with sweeter orchard fruits. It would be a great accompaniment for semi-cured and hard white cheeses (I’d suggest Comté or Pecorino), or maybe even a slice of Jamón Serano.

‘Nomad’ Feteasca Neagra, Aurelia Visinescu, 2018  Romania – If you are in the mood for an easy drinking, bold fruity red, then look no further than Nomad. This single varietal wine made from Fetească Neagră (in English: Black Maiden), which is an old pre-phylloxera example of an indigenous Romanian-Moldovan grape. While this ‘maiden’ can initially seem brooding, offering dark blackberry fruit and subtle smoke notes, there is a sweeter cherry-driven side to her nature that makes this wine really easy to drink. If you like Primativo, or even Duoro valley wines, give this one a try.

Alira Concordia, 2015, Romania – Bored of Bordeaux? This wine offers a great alternative: a smooth blend of Fetească Neagră, playing the role of a ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Although the fruit is certainly riper than your average Bordeaux vintage, there are notes of chocolate, balsamic, and cedar that a reminiscent of time in cool French cellars. By no means over-blown or jammy – this is an elegant wine with a blackcurrant and blackberry core.

Budureasca Noble 5, 2017 Romania –  This wine is unapologetically bold. The bottle looks like it belongs on a list of possible murder weapons used in a Mafia-themed version of Cluedo. As such, it wears its heart on its proverbial sleeve: a blend of five ‘Noble’ grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Fetească Neagră, Shiraz and Pinot Noir) it packs a punch. Not for the fainthearted, but a seriously fun alternative to an Australian Shiraz or a beefy Malbec. Never judge a book by its cover, or a wine by its label… this one will surprise you.