When you think of Romania, you’re probably more inclined to think of Dracula than wine. However, our eastern European country is actually one of the top 20 wine producing countries in the world! In addition to growing international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, we also have some cool grapes of our own. If you have the opportunity to try Romanian wine, be sure to seek out wines made from these top ten native Romanian varieties.
White Romanian Grapes
Imagine yourself on a torrid summer day, lying in the freshly cut grass of an orchard, looking at the blue sky and enjoying a piece of cantaloupe and maybe an ice tea with honey. These are the aromas you would feel by swirling a glass of Feteasca Alba (white maiden). This easy to drink, light and usually dry or off-dry wine, comes loaded with white floral and herbal notes. Put it next to that plain chicken dish, it will taste livelier. Best for fans of Viognier.
Grasa de Cotnari
Grasa de Cotnari means “the fat lady of Cotnari” and is the source of countless jokes. Incredibly versatile, this gold-hue, aromatic variety was previously used to make sweet wine in the communist 80’s. Today, it used in a dry and more modern style, preserving all its fruitiness and bringing in more structure and elegance by maintaining its acidity. On the palate, flavors can range from stone fruits, like peach and apricots in the drier, fresh versions to sultanas, honey, and almonds in the off-dry expressions. If you’re a fan of Gewürztraminer, you’ll love the fat lady!
Get ready for a carousel of citric, floral, and spicy aromas, all reminiscent of the Muscat family of which this grape is a proud member. As its sibling (or parent), the Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains or Moscato Bianco, if you are more familiar with the Italian variety, it comes forward as the choice for excellent sweet wines, sometimes even sparkling ones. The aromas include fresh grapes, cantaloupe and sometimes honey, especially in older wines. Most of the time, it has a lower alcoholic ABV, making it the perfect choice for late summer nights. I like to pair it with peach cheesecake to enhance the aromas.
There is speculation that this grape was named in honor of the Queen Mother, Elena of Romania, who was a young girl when it was created. Wines produced from this grape are usually dry and aromatic. You can smell peaches, green apple and sometimes freshly cut grass. The body of the wines are generally fuller and intense. It also can achieve wonderfully complex results when oaked lightly which adds almond notes. If you’re looking for a wine to pair with your creamy pasta, look no further.
When you are in Romania, it’s hard to find Albariño or a Vinho Verde, but Cramposie (Crampo-shee-ie) can be a great alternative. This is a white, crisp, variety with high acidity and mineral notes. It’s full of citric aromas, green apples, and pear. Some even say it’s like a dry Tokaji. Try to drink it young and don’t miss the chance if you can have it as a sparkling wine. Expect something closer to a prosecco than champagne.
Zghihara de Husi
If you are looking for something refreshing like lemonade with alcohol, step away from the Radler beer and try a Zghihara (zghee-ha-ra, I know, almost impossible to pronounce) instead. The color is a pale lemon, translucent and the wine is best enjoyed while young. The nose can bring hints of green apple, grapes, and gooseberry, but very subtle. The style is always dry, with high acidity and lower alcohol, which makes it perfect for summer. On the palate, the flavors include lime, grapefruit and most of all, green apple with hints of pear. Its best served chilled, 10-12 degrees next to shrimp.
Red Romanian Grapes
The most emblematic dark Romanian grape, the black maiden, comes with aromas of plums, black fruits (cherries, blackcurrant) and sometimes jammy red fruits. Most good versions also have some spicy notes like black pepper and cloves, wrapped in additional aromas of tobacco and chocolate. These come from oak aging, which is necessary to soften the tannins. If you usually pick up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, try this one instead and enjoy it with a juicy steak or a hamburger.
Negru de Dragasani
Fans of Merlot will be pleasantly surprised by this velvety red. It opens up with aromas of dark cherries, sour cherries and a mix of forest fruits. As a mark of higher quality wine, you can find some spices, including pepper, but also cinnamon and vanilla. This is more on the fruity side compared to Feteasca Neagra and usually comes with a more elegant finish, a subtler complexity. It’s not pretentious though, mix it with a slice of spicy pizza or Chinese take-out.
This grape is, in fact, the feisty brother of Negru de Dragasani, they share the same grape parents. There are many similarities between the two in terms of aroma and taste. The notable difference would be a higher acidity and more distinct notes of red fruits, spices and herbs in the Novac. Don’t feel confused if you can smell juniper, cloves, and pepper. Pair it with some Asian food for a truly globalized experience.
Busuioaca de Bohotin (for Rosé)
We’ve saved the best for last, to end up in a pink and positive note. This highly aromatic grape is only used for rosés. The final result smells like an English garden full of roses with a hint of basil, hence the name (“busuioc” is Romanian for basil). As you can expect, a favorite of the ladies and Instagram alike, it’s an excellent choice if you just want wine which is easy to enjoy. It works well with some finger food if you go for the dry ones or dessert if you are in the mood for something sweeter. Don’t expect Provence-like sophistication, just a bit of uncomplicated fun. Think of it as a Tinder date.
Click here to learn more about Romanian grape varieties.