One thing that you will not encounter in Romania, at least if you stay away from "international" grape varieties, is repetition and boredom! I am not saying that all the wines made here from international grape varieties are boring. On the contrary, some of them are excellent and could stand well against international competition. I tasted some excellent cabernets, merlots, syrahs, pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs, for example. But travelling to a country for the first time, and especially to a country that has a long-standing wine-making history (older than France anyway), what I hope for above all is to be surprised, to learn, and to discover something different. Here is one of the wines that I enjoyed during the past days and which fits this bill perfectly. There are more to come!
Stirbey is a smallish (25 hectares of vines) family estate in the attractively hilly and wooded Dragasani district that lies about 150 kilometres to the west of Bucarest. It overlooks the broad valley formed by the River Olt, which flows south from the Carpathians into the Danube (see top photo). The estate (apart from the catastrophic communist interruption!) has been in the Stirbey family for centuries, and has now thankfully returned there. The current owners have regenerated the vineyard, rebuilt the winery and are making some excellent wines with the help of Oliver Bauer, a very cheerful and friendly winemaker from Germany.
Oliver works for the Kripp-Stirbey couple and is as conviced as are the owners of the merits of local Romanian grape varieties. They have planted or, in some cases, reclaimed in older vineyard plots, the following local varieties: cramposie, feteasca regala and tamaiosa romaneasca (whites), and the very interesting red novac. Alongside these they also grow sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. All the wines are impressive for their limpid, lifted style (very little and deft use of oak, and only for some of the reds), and their apparent capacity for ageing. The winery only re-opened less than 10 years ago, so it is of course early days to be talking about ageing for these wines. Yet I tasted a 5 year old Feteasca Alba that has taken on an added dimension with regard to its younger cousin.
all photographs by David Cobbold